East Texas Baptist University sent 18 Baptist Student Ministry student leaders to South Padre Island to participate in Beach Reach, an annual evangelism initiative to share the hope of Jesus by providing free food and transportation to beach visitors.

In partnership with Texas Baptists, the ETBU BSM team was a part of providing 11,422 rides, serving 7,495 pancake breakfasts, praying with 8,646 college students and having 6,943 Gospel conversations, resulting in 79 students beginning a relationship with Jesus and 40 recommitting their lives to Christ from March 8 through March 15.

"The servanthood evangelism model draws me to continue to lead teams to Beach Reach," ETBU BSM Director David Griffin said. "The spring breakers are often shocked to see Christians offering love rather than the judgment they expect. Nearly every person asked us why we paid money to serve others. These conversations offered us the opportunity to share our testimonies. It was wonderful to watch our students boldly share the Gospel and labor for the sake of Christ."

Regardless that Beach Reach was the first time some ETBU students had shared the Gospel outside of a training scenario, their boldness allowed for meaningful conversations. ETBU senior Clayton Bell shared his story with a full van of students, who wanted to understand the Gospel. Long after the van ride was over, ETBU senior Ashley Simmons continued to talk with an interested student via text messages. A previous rider accepted Jesus after considering the information given during his first ride with ETBU students.

"God consistently reminded and reassured me that He is much bigger than I am," ETBU senior Sarah Smitherman said. "One evening, our van received a call from a previous rider. We talked and laughed with him and his friends during the ride. Before dropping him off, one of our team members gave his phone number to connect further. I thought about how we didn't share the Gospel with him, but God told me that we did. We loved on them, and there wasn't any separation between them and us in that moment."

Many of the students expressed the importance of relying on the Lord to reach the lost through prayer and preparation. Each day, the Texas BSM students attended Island Baptist Church for worship and the study of the Bible and the South Padre Island Convention Center for Beach Reach training. Beach Reach consisted of "fishing for men," passing out hotline cards and sharing about the ministry, providing van rides, serving free pancakes, cleaning the beach and operating the control center.

"We spent time in community, studying God's word and preparing ourselves for all that we would come across," ETBU senior Raven Williams said. "In one worship service, West Texas A&M University BSM Director Buddy Young spoke about how the power of prayer, both during the week and as we return home, could have an eternally significant impact. Throughout Beach Reach, I experienced intentional conversations, in which people were open and willing for us to pray over them. I am confident that the Lord had something in store for each person we encountered."

New believers were baptized at the beach on Thursday, ETBU senior and Beach Reach participant Jamarcia "JC" Banks among them. In conjunction with IBC, 500 college students celebrated his decision on one of the major party beaches on the island. His baptism, among others, was a public testimony for all those watching.

"Although I came to know Christ during my junior year of high school, I experienced a breakthrough with one of the other students on a bus ride," Banks said. "As she shared her testimony, I realized underlying issues in my own life that I needed to deal with. With the weight lifted, I chose to be baptized because it felt like the right time in my life.

"The trip was one that I will never forget," Banks said. "Previously, I had been afraid for others to look to me for guidance. I worried that I would fail them. However, through the speakers and conversations, I was pushed to be the leader I knew I could be. I learned that it is not about falling, but about getting up and leaning on God."

Beach Reach began in 1980 with 20 students under the direction of Young along with his co-directors, Tarleton University BSM Director Clayton Bullion and UT Tyler BSM Director Joe Osteen. To learn more about Beach Reach, visit beachreach.org or follow the ministry on Twitter (@BeachReach) and Facebook (/BeachReachSPI).

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