Virtual Sending Alternative for Summer Mission Experiences

Erin Todd is a rising sophomore at Lander University. The psychology major had planned to serve with a Baptist Collegiate Ministry student missions team in Denver, Colo., this summer, but is learning to love that city and its people from a distance.

She said the team’s weekly virtual meetings are providing a platform for the students to still pursue community and missions at the same time.

“It’s amazing how even through a virtual meeting and by praying for the people of Denver and the community of Dwell Church, I can feel close to a place I’ve never been before,” Erin said.

“I’m understanding that each of us is handpicked by God to be on mission for Him in different ways,” she said. “He’s equipped us with different personalities, strengths and experiences, all of which are unique. Even though everybody’s mission looks different, we are all called according to His purpose and are able to shine His light in many ways to reach many people.”

In mid-March, when it became clear that the emergence of COVID-19 would severely impact summer missions planning, Chad Stillwell, state director of Baptist Collegiate Ministries, and his team at the South Carolina Baptist Convention quickly worked with partners at home and abroad to overhaul the experience for the collegiate students committed to serving.

The careful planning involved meeting partner needs by connecting the students virtually. Within a few weeks, plans were adjusted and Stillwell said he is already seeing God at work, especially in the lives of student missionaries like Erin.

“Missions have continued. COVID took a lot away from us and there are things we can’t do, but there is a lot we still can do. Students on mission teams and those serving as Summer Catalysts continue to step forward to do a lot on mission,” said Stillwell.

Denver church planter Josh Cook is working with his team to explore their personal growth, develop a heart for his community, and build a foundation for missions and ministry. They have weekly group video calls, monthly one-on-one coaching calls, accompanying reading, and projects. Cook said it has been wonderful to watch the students learn more about themselves, which is leading them to better understand God’s calling on their lives.

For his part, Cook said he’s “not sure how this virtual experience will pan out, but we have learned something crucial: We can begin training missionaries for the field before they leave home.”

Another BCM team is serving with Bobby Wood, a University of South Carolina graduate and church planter living in Salt Lake City. The students are communicating through GroupMe chats and Zoom video calls, going on virtual prayer walks through a Mormon temple, and learning about the people living there.

As a former collegiate summer missionary to Utah himself, Wood is in a unique position to coach team members like Hannah Matthews in virtual missions.

“I have always had a heart for missions but had a hardened heart toward Mormons,” said Matthews, a junior at Lander University. “It is so early in this journey, but the Lord has already opened my eyes to a culture of people who are begging for the truth of the gospel within the LDS community. I have grown to love the people of Salt Lake City, and I am so glad I have the opportunity to serve them, even if it is all the way from South Carolina.”

A third group of students is working with an international partner from South Carolina who currently serves North African and Middle Eastern peoples living in Europe. This group is learning about God’s heart for the nations while working on specific virtual projects, such as creating an online follow-up system with Muslims who have watched the “JESUS” film and are interested in messaging for more information about the gospel.

“Students aren’t the missionaries of the future, they are missionaries of today. They are currently praying for people, finding ways to share the gospel with people virtually, currently sharing the gospel, and following up with people. That’s the work of the missionaries, too,” Stillwell said. “Students are invaluable members of our teams to reach the lost.”

Stillwell reports that more than half of the world’s current population is under the age of 30, and that young people are identified as one of the most responsive groups of people to the gospel. It makes sense, he said, to reach lost people by sending young missionaries to share the gospel with them. While virtual methods are unique, they are becoming quite effective in preparing the current group of summer missionaries for the task.

Stillwell applauded the students’ commitment to working with the missionaries, and he wants to be sure these missionaries know how much South Carolina supports their work.