Miami streets prove to be fertile ground for Florida Baptist students
Jul 27, 2014
By BARBARA DENMAN
Florida Baptist Convention
MIAMI (FLBaptist)—Miami is a city of contrasts—home to the glamorous, rich and famous, from professional athletes and celebrities to international business tycoons. Yet, hundreds of thousands of its residents live in abject poverty, surviving in multifamily housing with low-wage jobs and little hope.
It is a city of immigrants. In the city of 5.6 million people, half were born in other countries. Two-thirds of Miami’s residents are Hispanic; 18 percent are African-American and 15 percent are Anglo. In the area’s schools, 180 languages are spoken.
It is a city of beauty. A tropical paradise, Miami’s international flavor and bright, vibrant colors and foliage permeate its surroundings.
It is a city in need of Christ. As the second-most unchurched city in the United States, Miami—known as the Gateway to the Americas—is one of 30 key North American cities included in the North American Mission Board’s “Send North America” evangelistic church-planting strategy. They are working hand in hand with the Florida Baptist Convention, which has mobilized Cooperative Program funding and personnel to reach this spiritually lost city.
This extraordinary mission field recently proved to be a lifestyle training ground for 200 Florida Baptist students and their leaders.
|Danielle Hehir from Community Harvest Baptist Church in Summerfield builds relationships with children from Renewing Life Church in Goulds. FBC photo by Barbara Denman|
Pounding the hot, urban pavement in steamy, mid-June temperatures while enduring tropical afternoon thunderstorms and language and cultural barriers, the students—many from rural middle Florida—took to Miami streets and neighborhoods to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.
Stretching beyond their comfort zone, the youth from 11 Florida Baptist churches participated in Super Summer MXP June 16-20. The camp, sponsored by the Florida Baptist Convention’s Personal Evangelism team, was designed to inspire the youth to live a missionary lifestyle while providing ministry to 12 diverse church plants.
At the conclusion of the week, the students had met and ministered to 2,325 South Florida residents, seeing 63 come to know Christ as Savior. This included three students who received Christ during the evening worship celebrations held at the Florida Baptists’ Urban Impact Center (UIC) in Hialeah, which served as the core gathering spot for the camp.
During their five days of activities, students visited homes, where they invited residents to their assigned church plants’ July 4th celebrations, canvassed neighborhoods, did door-to-door witnessing and helped with day camps and Bible schools. Others staffed food pantries and led sports camps.
They built relationships and bonds of unity among the church planters, who saw they were not on the mission field alone.
“This was amazingly beneficial for all our church plants,” said Alex Comasanas, NAMB Send City Miami strategist. “The church planters worked alongside the students to accomplish many tasks they could not have done on their own, reaching out to their neighborhoods. More than 2,000 people were contacted and reached in the work these kids did.
“This has been a win-win on every level.”
Sarasota Baptist Church
Using a large Evangecube witnessing tool, Sarasota Baptist Church Youth Pastor Jared Windham and youth from the church walked around the Florida International University campus with church planter Jose Prado, drawing students to hear the plan of salvation.
A few students gathered while others stood on the fringe, some listening intently, others listening indirectly. They found the collegians, including a few Muslims, were “very open to listening to their message,” Windham said. At the end of the day, three FIU students accepted Christ as Savior.
“Our students are excited,” Windham said. “We want to challenge them to be uncomfortable and to be bold in their witness.”
Windham said the goal of their activities was to bring people to Sovereign Grace Church, which Prado is planting on the FIU campus.
Community Harvest Baptist Church
Twenty students and leaders from Community Harvest Baptist Church in Summerfield, led by Pastor Danny Giltner, ministered in the Goulds/Homestead community by staffing a Vacation Bible School for children of two church plants—Kingdom Covenant and Renewing Life Church.
The VBS was held at Renewing Life Church, planted in March, which meets in an industrial office park located in the shadows of the Homestead Turnpike. Its neighborhood is surrounded by low-income multifamily housing.
The two churches lacked personnel to lead their own Bible schools, said Lisa Burns, wife of pastor Sherard Burns, and invited community children to attend.
The Central Florida teens led all activities and Bible studies, having shadowed the teachers during Community Harvest’s VBS the week before. The Summerfield church donated all of its resources, materials and props to illustrate the theme for the church plants’ event.
Sheridan Hills Baptist Church
More than 50 students from Sheridan Hills Baptist Church in Hollywood participated in Super Summer MXP, even though their church is located just north of the Dade-Broward County line.
While many of the students from other churches stayed in Miami hotels and the UIC dorm, the Sheridan Hills youth returned nightly to their building, where they slept on the floor.
It’s part of the philosophy the church tries to extend to their youth that we are “called to be servants of Christ, not consumers,” family pastor Matt Sanders said.
The church’s middle schoolers led VBS at Grace Community Church in Kendall. The older students helped Unified Christians Church in north Miami, going door to door, telling the impoverished community about the Haitian church’s food-pantry program, witnessing and inviting them to Wednesday night worship, which they led.
On Thursday, the team switched gears to set up a basketball mini-camp that drew the neighborhood’s youth. During a break time, the Sheridan Hills youth shared water, watermelon and the fruit of a Gospel message.
As a result of their work, 30 in the two communities came to know Christ.
Throughout the five-day event, the youth gathered together at the UIC to hear Christian musicians representing a diversity of worship styles, including DJ Smoove, the I-60 band and other local groups.
|Super Summer MXP students pray at the altar during worship celebrations held at the Florida Baptist Urban Impact Center in Hialeah. FBC photo by Barbara Denman|
Each morning they were challenged by Erik Cummings, pastor of New Life Church in Carol City, before hitting the Miami streets. During the evening worship, Jeff Hessinger, strategist for the Florida Baptist Convention’s Personal Evangelism team, stirred their hearts to act as a missionary in all walks of their lives.
The corporate worship and prayer was a key ingredient in the success of the week, said Comasanas, “energizing and exciting the youth, who saw they were not alone in what was happening across the city.”
Although this is the first time the Super Summer event was held in Miami, Hessinger said it will be an annual event that will lead to international trips, including one to Manaus, Brazil, planned for next year.
Southpointe Baptist Church
This was the second mission trip to Miami for the youth from Southpointe Baptist Fellowship in Leesburg.
“You can reach the world through Miami, it’s an international city,” Family Pastor Mike Storts said.
The trip was in keeping with the church’s purpose, he added, “to reach every man, woman and child with repeated opportunities to see and hear the gospel in our circle of influence.”
While shoveling mulch on the prayer garden at the Miami campus of the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, he called the week “phenomenal” for the students.
“They see other students here and other adults passionate about their faith,” he said.
As they worked with church planter Chase Chuan, pastor of the Imago Dei Church in Midtown-Morningside area of northeast Miami, the
Leesburg youth saw an example of a missionary lifestyle modeled by one of the their leaders.
While ordering lunch at a local pasta restaurant, the owner asked leader Rod Campbell why the group was in Miami. Telling of their purpose, the leader pulled out the miniature E-cube he was wearing on his belt and shared the Gospel message, a technique he had learned during the MXP training.
“His lips began to quiver, and eyes began to water, and I asked him if he would like to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior,” Campbell said. The two men prayed together right there and hugged each other as “brothers in Christ.”
The next day, the Southpointe group took Chuan to meet the new believer, “as the process of discipling now begins,” Storts said.
At the end of the week, Southpointe student Kaitlyn Cothern reflected on the events of week and confidently said, “I feel like I am leaving Miami a whole new person. I can be much more open about sharing Christ in all areas of my life.”
For one week, Miami, a city of spiritually lostness, proved to be a fertile spiritual training ground for the next generation of students learning to live as missionaries for Christ.
Super Summer MXP
by the numbers
2,325 people served
63 professions of faith,
including three students
11 participating churches:
First, Flora City
Community Harvest, Summerfield
Forest Grove, Alachua
College Park, Palatka
First, Crystal River
Sheridan Hills, Hollywood
You must be login before you can leave a comment. Click here to Register if you are a new user.