SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (BP) -- Spring break is a week for many college students to catch up on homework, sleep or just have fun, but more than 750 young adults had a deeper aim.
The group spent their spring break on the Texas Gulf Coast sharing the Gospel among 60,000 students who came to party along South Padre Island's beaches.
Trevor Williams, college minister at First Baptist Church in Cooper, Texas, brought 12 students to Beach Reach in the church's third year of participation.
"When you throw them out in the thick of darkness it's a culture shock," Williams said. "There are kids everywhere partying it up."
Buddy Young, Baptist Student Ministry director at West Texas A&M University, started the ministry 33 years ago when he and friends went to South Padre, staying on the beach in tents, sharing the Gospel and giving first aid to students. The ministry grew to include free pancake breakfasts, free van rides on the island and a sand sculpture created on the beach each day. A Beach Reach ministry also is conducted each year at Panama City, Fla., sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Serving the students on spring break is not the ministry's sole purpose, Young said in one of Beach Reach's Sunday morning services on South Padre Island.
"We're not here just to give pancakes and to give rides," he said. "That's a means to an end" of sharing the Gospel.
Students who participated in Beach Reach represented 37 college Christian groups and churches across Texas.
Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth participated in Beach Reach for the first time with 36 participants, comprising the largest church group. Joey Tombrella, Birchman's minister to young adults, said others with whom he spoke were surprised that a church sent so many.
"I loved the fact that we got to go as a local church," Tombrella said.
Jonathan McGraw of FBC Cooper, a three-time Beach Reach participant, said sharing the Gospel with those who rode on the vans was his favorite way to minister.
"They had to be on the van, so they had to give you the time of day," Dillon Stegall, an FBC Cooper member and Texas A&M University - Commerce junior, said of those students.
Stegall and McGraw said their favorite part of the trip came the very first night before the breakfasts and van rides even started. After all the Beach Reachers arrived on Saturday, March 9, they prayed together in the parking lot of the host church, Island Baptist Church. A student approached Stegall and McGraw but, instead of asking to pray with them, he asked what was going on.
"We thought he was just another Beach Reacher," Stegall said.
Stegall and McGraw used that as an opportunity to share the Gospel and the young man on spring break prayed to receive Christ.
"It was amazing," Stegall said, "especially since it hadn't technically started. But God was already working."
Young said the success of Beach Reach is not just counted by the number of people participating or saved, although those have totaled thousands over 30 years.
"When students can be trained to share their faith and actively share their faith," Young said, "then it has been a successful week. When I see hundreds of students actively sharing their faith, I see hope for the next generation.
"There is a legacy going to be left."
Michelle Tyer is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
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