Missions First: BSU Summer Program Prepares MC Students to Fulfill the Great Commission
Sarah Katherine (SK) Spires is putting her faith into practice, traveling further from home than she’s ever been to counsel and minister to children in Alaska.
Alaina Weeks is a veteran of short-term missionary assignments, having served in Mississippi, Tennessee, Boston, Massachusetts, Oaxaca, Mexico, and Eastern Europe. She said that the Lord has shown her that, while the goal of serving is to help others establish a relationship with Jesus, the intentionality of the missions is how she is to live her life every day.
Spires and Weeks are two of 13 MC BSU missionaries serving five-to-nine-week terms this summer, sharing the Gospel in various locations, both international and domestic.
“It’s important for college students to be involved in missions because, as believers, we are called to love God and love people,” said Weeks, a senior elementary education major from Pontotoc. “Matthew 22:37-38 says, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love God and love people.”
“This experience will help me grow closer to the Lord and strengthen my faith, as well as strengthen others that I’m ministering to,” said Spires, a sophomore administration of justice/pre-law major from Vicksburg. “I’m hoping I’ll also come back to Mississippi College more confident to share the Gospel with people around me.”
For decades, the Baptist Student Union at MC, in conjunction with statewide BSU and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, has developed and supported these important mission opportunities for students, which have had an incredible impact on the world – and the students themselves, according to Mandy Phillips.
“One of the strengths of the program is its consistency,” said Phillips, BSU director at MC. “We highlight a lot of the same positions each year, and as students come back to campus and share their stories, often their friends, classmates, and peers take on those same projects and build on that work over and over again.
“These students have a maturity about them. They realize these things are eternal. They could spend their summer chasing money or doing things they won’t remember in five years and won’t remember in eternity, but instead, they have chosen to spend their time doing something that will change eternity for other people.”
The statewide BSU, the International Mission Board, and the North American Mission Board highlight a number of mission opportunities for college students each year. Jennie Taylor, associate director of collegiate ministry for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board and an MC alum, customizes the list of trips to ensure maximum effectiveness for the students. Phillips and her team inform the students about mission opportunities, interview applicants, help prepare them for the mission field, and pray with them throughout the process.
"We try to help students not to be overwhelmed by the opportunities,” she said. “Sometimes it can be a little much to think, ‘I can literally go anywhere in the world.’
“When a mission description is provided, the students usually look more at what kind of work they will be doing rather than the location. We encourage that, because they need to find something that’s going to fit their gifts and abilities.”
Once approved by the statewide BSU and cleared by the International Mission Board or their local supervisors, the students are assigned to one of three locations they had pre-selected or offered another fitting position based on input from their campus leaders and the state BSU Missions Team. Whenever possible, the MC representatives are paired on their assignments with other students from BSUs in Mississippi.
Almost all of the field costs for stateside assignments are covered by the BSUs, who raise funds throughout the year for summer missions. Students selected for international assignments receive a $100 stipend for each week they will be serving, but must come up with the remaining funds on their own.
“That’s a pretty big sacrifice for the students,” Phillips said. “Not only do some of them have to raise a good bit, but they’re also not earning money during the summer. But I have been in collegiate ministry for 23 years, and I’ve never seen a student who attempted to raise funds for summer missions be unsuccessful and not be able to get to the mission field.
“It has bolstered my faith to watch how God always comes through, time and time again, to provide the funds for these students to go. I’ve heard all kinds of stories of how God has used different people to provide for this. He uses churches, He uses individuals, and often, He uses other students. Sometimes, they’ll work for a semester and give their money to a fellow student to see their classmate go on one of these projects.
“God has not let us down yet – He has provided every time we have asked Him. We just do our part, and He provides.”
According to Cody Counts, associate director of the BSU, the scope of mission programs the group represents is noteworthy.
“Looking at our list of summer missionaries, it truly is amazing that our 13 students are serving on five different continents,” Counts said.
While each mission opportunity has a similar goal, Phillips said that every assignment is different.
“The commonalities between all of the positions are that the students will be working with Christian partners, they’re going to be connected to a local church in the field, and they are going to have supervisors to assist them in furthering their work,” she said. “In some cases, they may be a year or two out from actually starting a church, but our students are doing the demographics and research to help church planters figure out the best way to reach the community.
“There’s not a set standard. In other cases, we have students doing sports clubs and outreach this summer to help make contacts for churches. The main connection is helping missionaries in the field further their work, often through church planting and helping with existing community ministries.”
Spires always knew she wanted to attend Mississippi College. Her parents, John and Stephanie, are proud alumni, and her sister, Abby, is a senior at MC. She learned about the BSU program through Abby, who participated in Summer Missions in New Orleans last year. While she recognized it was a terrific opportunity for her sister, Spires didn’t think much more about it.
Once she became a student at MC, she developed a greater awareness of the program – and what participating in missions could mean to her spiritually.
“I got involved with the BSU, and I felt like the Lord was calling me to go on missions,” she said. “I attended the statewide BSU Conference, and missions was an emphasis there. That’s when I knew that’s where the Lord wanted me this summer, and that’s what He wanted me to do.”
Spires will join three other Mississippi BSU students who will serve as counselors at Camp Baldwin in Fairbanks, Alaska, an organization affiliated with Salcha Baptist Church. They will live at the camp during the week and stay in local “host” homes on the weekends.
“I grew up in the church, so I grew up going on mission trips not too far from home,” she said. “I’m a little nervous about being in a new environment, but I’m mainly excited - depending on the Lord and relying on Him.”
Weeks said she greatly admired how BSU mobilizes students to use their summers for the glory of the Lord.
“College students are in a unique stage of their lives, with greater flexibility in their schedules during the summertime,” said Weeks, who will be serving in Seville, Spain. “BSU equips students to meet lost individuals exactly where they are. College students have a passion and enthusiasm for ministry that can eternally impact innumerable lives.
“This program is something I have prayed about, and I applied this summer so that the nations might know and love the God that I know and love. I have not been to Spain, and I believe it will grow me in ways that I can’t anticipate.”
Her Mississippi BSU partner, Emily Boyd from East Central Community College, and two students from Alabama will join Weeks on her journey. They will live on a university campus and serve in various ministries within the locally established church. They will also organize student events like English chats and game nights.
Weeks is no stranger to international mission assignments, and has been forever changed by the conversations and experiences they have provided.
“Each one has shown me the depth of lostness in people outside of my typical avenues,” she said. “Our goal is to speak the Gospel so that others might have a relationship with Jesus. The Lord is pursuing the hearts of the people in Spain, and I am humbled that I can be a part of the work for the summer.”
She admits there are some intimidating aspects to her journey.
“There is a language barrier that we will learn to navigate. The culture is very different. I haven’t met the individuals on the team prior to serving with them. And there are portions of the ministry description that are outside of my skill set.
“However, I trust the Lord completely. I know that each of the hard things will make me depend on Jesus alone. I pray that God will use my hands, my feet, my words, my knowledge, and my obedience for His glory alone. Thus, all the many emotions that come with leaving home for the summer – the anxiety, intimidation, nerves, excitement, anticipation, expectancy, joy – are worth experiencing if it means that the name of the Lord is glorified.”
Students who participate in MC’s summer mission trip program are not required to major in any particular subject. The statewide BSU provides all the training they need to share their faith in the field, including a missionary learning retreat.
“Our goal is to help every MC student recognize that, as a Christian, their job is to leverage their life for the Gospel,” Phillips said. “Some of them will do that with the title ‘missionary,’ others will do it by being a ‘missional Christian.’ Most of the student missionaries will come back and say, ‘I will never look at the mission field the same again. But I will be convinced of how I can use my life, either to go myself or to get more people to go and be a part of the Great Commission, because of what I saw this summer.’
“It almost always changes their perspective of how the church functions in different parts of the world, how it looks to live out the Gospel in a place where Christians are very much in the minority and the church members lean on each other in a special way.”
She said that awareness would be more difficult to achieve without support from Mississippi College.
“The BSU gets encouragement and motivation from MC, and we’re working more intentionally every year,” she said. “As students prepare for their careers, they’re using the time to think strategically about missions. That’s something not just being done through BSU, but throughout the university, where missions is emphasized. It helps to know MC is encouraging this from multiple outlets.
“Some students will decide to go into career missions, while others will decide to go on with their plan to become a doctor or an educator, but they’re going to help educate others about missions so that others can give, others can pray, and others can become a part of the Great Commission as well. They can help others understand that God’s heart for the nations is a heart that we should all emulate.”
Weeks said that her understanding and passion for the Gospel has grown as she has seen the need for “laborers in the harvest.”
“God is moving in ways we do not see,” she said. “He does not need us to go, but He chooses to use us for His glory and for our good. College students have a unique opportunity to make an eternal impact on the lives of people. These experiences will shape your outlook on life and ministry in a very humbling way, and will leave lasting implications in your life and those around you.”
“As Christians, we are called to go out and share the Gospel,” Spires said. “That’s an important part of our faith. For those who may not be quite as confident about doing that, going to BSU will help them to grow. The BSU has been so supportive, and I have found a home there.”