College students see lives change through GenSend

By Brandon Elrod

(ALPHARETTA, Ga.)—A group of students in Calgary had the opportunity to share their faith with another student and saw him come to Christ. The next week, another team of students, 3,400 miles away in Puerto Rico, led a grandmother to Christ. In New York City, an unexpected subway detour led a student to a gospel conversation with a Muslim man.

All summer long, students participating in Send Relief’s GenSend program have been living “on mission” in nineteen cities across North America by serving with North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionaries.

“We teach students how to live their lives on mission in a different context by putting them alongside church planting and compassion ministry missionaries,” said Steve Turner, senior director of next generation mobilization with NAMB’s Send Relief ministry. “We teach a set of principles that are transferable no matter where they go.”

In Calgary, students serving with Send Relief’s GenSend summer missions program lived in summer housing at a local university. While staying there, they were able to lead a college student to the Lord. Send Relief is the compassion ministry arm of the North American Mission Board (NAMB). GenSend sent nearly 280 students to 19 different locations across North America. NAMB photo.

The GenSend team in Calgary stayed in summer lodging at a local university and had the opportunity to interact with other college students living there, including the one who gave his life to Christ.

“He spoke to us about everything that he was struggling with and told us that he needed Jesus,” reported Carly Hale, a member of Cross Church in Fayetteville, Ark., on behalf of her team. “We were able to pray with him and lead him to the Lord.”

In Puerto Rico, part of their GenSend team worked with a local church plant’s Vacation Bible School (VBS). As parents and guardians dropped of their children, the college students were able to share the gospel with the adults. There, a grandmother who had grown up in and around the church heard the gospel for the first time.

“After a lengthy chat, she confessed her need for Christ,” said Itamar Elizalde of the Puerto Rico GenSend team. “Later, the grandmother admitted that she went [to the VBS] so her grandchildren could be entertained but understood that the Lord had a deeper purpose.”

College students prayer walk in Puerto Rico where they have been working with church planters and assisting in the rebuild of homes still damaged from Hurricane Maria. Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), sent out college students through GenSend for the summer to serve alongside NAMB missionaries and reach communities with the gospel. NAMB photo.

As GenSend students live in their cities over the summer, their intentional focus to share the gospel with their neighbors leads them to cross generational, ethnic and religious boundaries.

Several teams reported encounters with members of other faiths—including Baha’i, Later Day Saints and Hinduism—where they had to engage in respectful dialogue to defend and share their faith.

When the recent blackout in New York City led GenSend student Bruno Telma to take a different subway train, he wound up sharing the gospel with a man named Saleh who was asking for money.

“I asked him if I could pray for him,” Telma said. “Then I started telling him about Jesus, and he told me he was a Muslim, but he really wanted [to respond]. So, he accepted Christ right there.”

Katherine Hafley of Bush Memorial Baptist Church in Troy, Ala., and a student at Troy University described her anxiety ahead of going door-to-door to invite people to a sports camp hosted by a Washington, D.C., church plant. She realized that she needed the Holy Spirit’s help to have the courage and overcome a fear of rejection.

“Between the group of four people, we had about five gospel conversations and one profession of faith. And that’s just the fruit we saw that day,” Hafley said. Several kids from the neighborhood signed up for the sports camp and one person started attending the church regularly.

“The work…reminds me that we have no idea what God can do through our faithful action,” said Joel Whitson, a student at Spurgeon College at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary who has been serving in Chicago this summer. “We simply need to listen, act and watch as God grows the kingdom one soul at a time.”

GenSend, a Send Relief summer missions program for college students, sent a team to New York City where the group worked with local church plants and Send Relief’s Ministry Center to send the hope of the gospel. One student had the opportunity to lead a Muslim to faith after getting off the subway. NAMB photo.

During their summer in the city, the students are encouraged to learn the city’s routines by visiting coffee shops, hosting activities at public parks and finding the hubs where residents are building community. Turner calls this “exegeting the culture.”

“We teach them to find people of peace. We teach them to really find the places of community where you can hang out, meet people and build relationships,” said Turner.

Part of reading their community led GenSend participants to take note of the needs affecting their cities. GenSend introduces students to how Send Relief’s compassion ministry efforts aid in making gospel conversations easier as students and churches seek to meet needs with the goal of seeing lives changed through the power of the gospel.

For example, GenSend students continued to help citizens in Puerto Rico rebuild after the devastating hurricane in 2017. Across North America, GenSend encouraged students to meet needs through Send Relief ministry centers and through their local church plants.

For ways local churches can get more involved in meeting needs in the community, visit for ministry guides and other helpful resources.

Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.
MASHALLTOWN, Iowa (BP) — Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams have begun cleanup work in Marshalltown, Iowa, following a devastating tornado July 19.

A Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief team arrived Tuesday to set up incident command at Iglesia Karios in Marshalltown. Chainsaw teams from Iowa have dispersed throughout the city to clear debris. An SBDR feeding team has prepared meals for recovery workers in the area.

Additional SBDR volunteers from Kansas-Nebraska and Florida already are on the ground in Marshalltown. Carlson, co-director of Iowa Baptist Disaster Relief, expects volunteers from other nearby states to arrive later this week and early next week. Teams from other states interested in providing assistance should contact their state disaster relief director.

“It looks like a war zone to tell you the truth,” Carlson said. “When you go downtown, you’ll see a lot of glass and brick everywhere.

“On the east part of town, there are about 10 blocks that are very heavily hit. There’s really not many trees standing. A lot of those homes aren’t livable,” Carlson said.

The EF-3 tornado injured at least 235 people in the town of 27,000 located 50 miles northeast of Des Moines. Carlson estimates that at least 100 homes were destroyed. Many more homes will take substantial work before people can return to live in them. Carlson believes it will take months, if not years, for Marshalltown to rebuild.

Some of the worst damage in Marshalltown came to the town’s courthouse and the brick buildings in the town square. In recent years officials and property owners had slowly worked to revamp the buildings, many of which are now destroyed. Jenny Etter, executive director of the Marshalltown Central Business District, estimates that the city had spent $50 million in building renovations since 2002.

A dozen or more tornadoes hit central Iowa last Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. The two biggest tornadoes, both rated EF-3, hit Marshalltown and Pella, with peak winds of 144 mph.

SBDR chaplains are also in Marshalltown to provide support and counsel to residents impacted by the tornado. Sam Porter, the North American Mission Board’s executive director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, prays the SBDR response will provide volunteers opportunities to share the Gospel.

“[The] number one goal with disaster relief is to earn the right to share the Gospel,” Porter said. “We work with those impacted. We treat them with respect. We pray with them. When they ask the question, ‘What makes you do this for no charge?’ that’s when you’ve earned the right to share the Gospel.”

The Marshalltown tornado comes on the heels of the SBDR response to flooding in Des Moines, Iowa, where teams wrapped up work last week. Eight people came to faith last week during SBDR efforts in the capital city, Carlson said.

Porter and Carlson urge Southern Baptists to pray for Marshalltown and the rest of Central Iowa.

“Pray for all the people who live here,” Carlson said. “A lot of them lost their homes. They lost their cars. They lost their job. There is a lot of a need here.”

Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board.,

Published July 25, 2019