NextGen Making Immediate Impact on Spiritual Lostness

Sticky notes plastered to the wall represented all the ways summer volunteers are embarking on the missionary task. The handwritten notes ranged from hiking to remote villages that have never heard Jesus’ name to teaching English using Bible stories at public schools.

Janna Smith, International Mission Board missionary serving in the Americas, pointed around the room at the six tasks of missionaries — entry, evangelism, disciple-making, healthy church formation, leadership development and exit/partnerships — atop the sticky notes.

“Everything you do this summer will be part of this missionary task. You will be working on the front lines of lostness,” Smith told the NextGen teams as they were sent out this summer. “You are a strategic part of reaching the nations with the gospel.”

Gavin Norris looked at his teammate, Alex Hamm, and couldn’t stop smiling as their purpose sank in. The two college students from Alabama are part of more than 1,600 individuals who are serving and working with IMB missionaries in 72 countries as IMB’s NextGen teams. This includes youth, college students and young adults — ages 15-29. They serve through summer, semester or a gap season overseas. Each opportunity is tailor-made to join a strategy that engages the missionary task while serving alongside IMB missionary teams that mentor and train them.

Norris and Hamm are spending their time in rural South America among two unreached people groups. The job description couldn’t be any more of a perfect fit. Like many teams around the world, they hike into rural areas, research and learn more about these peoples while creating a way for the UPGs to have access to the gospel.

“I can’t believe God is going to use our love of the outdoors, nature and hiking for His glory,” Norris said. “It’s humbling to think that God may use us to share the gospel with people who have never heard.”

A social media team going to Argentina echoed the hikers’ amazement at how God lined up their unique giftings. Kareyn Hellman just graduated from Texas Christian University with a degree in strategic communications. She joined artist Kat Ivey, Georgia, and business/marketing major Argyent Contreras, Texas.

This team is creating content and strategies for using social media to connect with people in Buenos Aires. In this bustling city of 15 million people, everyone is always busy. IMB missionary Heather Tolbert told her NextGen team this can make it difficult to engage with individuals. They are not only creating a strategy for digitally engaging people but also learning how to take online relationships to “in real life” ones.

Hellman didn’t understand why God kept bringing this opportunity to the forefront when she should have been thinking about finding a job after college. She didn’t feel qualified to go to Argentina. She didn’t speak Spanish and didn’t even have a passport. So she prayed about it, and, in the process, developed a heart for the nations.

“I was like, ‘I can’t stay here. I have to go!’ ” Hellman said. “These are the people who need the gospel.”

Watching young adults like Hellman grapple with the question, “What is my role in God’s divine mission?” is something Andy Pettigrew, IMB’s NextGen mobilization manager, has done for the past 15 years. IMB’s wide range of opportunities across the globe aim to invest in this next generation and provide opportunities for them to serve. He sees them making an immediate impact on a spiritually lost world.

“When more than 50 percent of the world’s population is below the age of 30, we need teens, college students and young adults to share Christ’s love with people like them all over the world,” Pettigrew said. “Our mission, given by God, requires the faithfulness of His children — including the NextGen.”

— Sue Sprenkle is a writer for the IMB.