Most college students struggle figuring out their next step after graduation, but for Bob Smith,* a memorable mission trip to Southeast Asia after his freshman year cemented exactly what he wanted to spend his life doing.
“I'll always remember sitting across from a student who we had just met and shared the Gospel with, and tears just began to fill his eyes, and he said, ‘This is the kind of love I’ve been searching for my whole life,’ in response to the love of Christ,” Smith said.
Smith recently returned from spending his first two years after graduation from the University of North Carolina once again ministering in Southeast Asia through the International Mission Board’s Journeyman program.
A global studies graduate with a minor in bio-med, Smith is no longer pursuing medical school and instead plans to return to Southeast Asia to do full-time ministry. He also encourages other college seniors to pursue some type of ministry work immediately upon their graduation.
“Everything we do can expand to the global goal of God being worshipped among all people and nations,” Smith said. “Not only will it be a great adventure, but it will allow you to experience God's glory and know Him more than anything else will. We make His glory known and enjoy Him more.”
College students such as Smith are the target of the newly-established SBC initiative called GO2, which challenges college seniors to give their first two years after graduation to the mission field as either a Journeyman missionary with the International Mission Board or as part of a church plant in one of the North American Mission Board’s Send Cities.
SBC President J. D. Greear launched the mobilization strategy in partnership with NAMB and IMB in 2018. Todd Unzicker, associate pastor at The Summit Church, where Greear serves as lead pastor, said the concept of sending out college students after graduation is something their church has been doing for many years. Greear wanted to bring the same focus to the whole Convention when he became president in 2018.
Unzicker said GO2 “seemed like a natural fit” within two of Greear’s five initiatives as president of the SBC in terms of missions and church planting as well as reaching the next generation.
“When Southern Baptists have been at their best they've always been about sending, and we want sending to be not only the primary but also the main purpose of our convention of churches coming together,” Unzicker said. “NAMB and IMB are 100 percent committed to this, and want to be the pathway for sending all graduates to church plants and missionary teams. We believe this is a movement of God that will sweep across the Southern Baptist Convention and beyond.”
Along with Smith, many college graduates have committed their early years after graduation to missions before GO2 was made an official SBC initiative by Greear last year.
One such student is Melissa Fredrick,* who grew a desire for global missions after spending a summer doing mission work in South Africa. Fredrick is planning on future foreign mission work as a Journeyman once travel is cleared again by the IMB.
Fredrick expects her time overseas to be a difficult but rewarding experience.
“I know going overseas can be stressful and I definitely expect to see a lot more of my weakness and my sin,” Fredrick said. “I also am hoping that I will get to learn from people who have been on the field for a long time and sit under their teaching as I go along with their ministry.”
International ministry is not the only avenue in which college students have paved the way for the GO2 movement.
Unlike the IMB, the North American Mission Board previously did not have a follow-up program to their summer missions internship taking place throughout the Send Cities, titled GenSend. However, many students informally have chosen to relocate to one of the Send Cities as a result of time spent there during their GenSend summer.
One such example is Abbey Caudell, who relocated to New Orleans, Louisiana, after being a part of New Orleans’s first ever GenSend team in the summer of 2016.
Caudell now serves as the missions director at Lakeshore Church in New Orleans and additionally will soon be working for Send Relief full-time on a two-year contract. Caudell said GenSend taught her both how to live on mission and about the role of domestic ministry.
“Learning how to live on mission with a lens of intentionality was a game-changer for me, and it shaped evangelism for me and the weight and practicality of it,” Caudell said.
“Before GenSend I was very much on team ‘foreign missions is basically the only thing that matters,’ but coming and serving here totally changed my view of that. We need people on the ground bringing the Gospel to places in the States too because not everyone has access to Bible-believing and Jesus-preaching churches. I think GO2 will be a great way to equip and raise up future leaders in the SBC.”
The GO2 initiative will also be available to newly married couples with no children. Dylan and Autumn Pentecost currently serve as part of a church plant in Montreal, Canada, after both doing GenSend there in separate summers.
Dylan said after they were engaged in 2017, his fiancée Autumn decided she need to do the GenSend program to see if she was called to live in Montreal as well.
Autumn said she quickly felt broken for the lost in the city the same way Dylan had when he did GenSend there. The couple married that August and moved to Montreal as NAMB church planters in early 2018. Dylan now encourages other couples to consider mission work during the early part of their marriage.
“Now that you are married, you are a team and the Lord has created you to be a team, you both have to have this vision,” Pentecost said. “Think about how the Lord could strengthen your marriage and your faith in Him. It will be one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences for your marriage.”
Pentecost said he started advertising GO2 to college students he knew as soon as he heard about the initiative.
“I think it’s a great option for college students who are really trying to figure out the rest of their lives,” Pentecost said. “We are called to live life on mission at all times, and then you just do it wherever you are at the time. You have to be saying ‘yes’ in your obedience right now in your walk with the Lord and then GO2 will be an easy ‘yes’ for you.”
Whether foreign or domestic missions, married or single, Unzicker imagines a future movement within the Southern Baptist Convention where all college seniors give their first two years after graduation to missions.
Unzicker encourages college students to surrender to God wherever and however He might use them.
“We tell graduates do what you do well, and do it somewhere strategic for the mission of God,” Unzicker said. “Put your ‘yes’ on the table and let God put it on the map.”
College seniors can get involved with the GO2 movement by visiting go2years.net.
* Name changed for security reasons
Timothy Cockes is a graduate divinity student at Liberty University and freelance writer in Lynchburg, Virginia, and is a member of Bedrock Lynchburg.