Katie Warnock came to Boston wanting to spend her spring break for a worthy cause, but she left the city a changed person.
The University of North Carolina freshman was one of about 650 students who participated in the Boston Plunge, a collegiate ministry initiative focused on sharing God's love with residents of Boston.
"The biggest thing that stood out in my mind was the perspective [the trip] gave me, ... riding the subway and seeing homeless people," said Warnock.
Warnock and several members of her group also spent a night at the Red Cross shelter during a severe snowstorm, talking to people and sharing their faith with those who had come in to spend the night.
Another time, on the bus, a drug deal took place right in front of some of their group members. "The bus was absolutely packed," Warnock said. "I didn't see it but I heard it take place ... . We were all sitting right there."
The three-week effort was the first major project of Hearts for Boston, the name for Southern Baptists' Strategic Focus Cities evangelism and church planting emphasis being held in the city this year. The event - conducted in partnership with the Baptist Convention of New England and the Greater Boston Baptist Association - brought students from schools in thirteen states.
Curtis Cook, Boston-area collegiate coordinator for Baptist Convention of New England, was impressed by the response.
"It's exciting that students have gained a vision and passion for ministries in the cities and for Boston. It's good to see that God is raising up laborers for Boston. It's an answer to prayer," he said.
Volunteers spent their time prayer walking college campuses and other areas of the city, passing out pop-tarts and hot chocolate, helping with construction at some area churches and ministries, and serving as volunteers at Boston-area non-profit organizations. Some of the places students spent their time and energy include the Greater Boston Food Bank, the Red Cross, and ministry bases such as the Salvation Army in the South End and the Urban Outreach Center in Dorchester.
Many of the groups also participated in vision tours, where Hearts for Boston leaders pointed out historical and cultural sites and existing ministry efforts, and discussed the need for more outreach in the city.
"It was a very positive event for a number of ministries in the city. We were able to assist them and provide needed laborers for them ... and introduce students around the country to the ministry here," said Cook.
Ignatius Meimaris, executive director of the Greater Boston Baptist Association and co-city coordinator for Hearts for Boston, said the effort "helped in making a really good first impression with the churches and other organizations we will be working with this year and in years to come. The students really set the pace in terms of their dedication, commitment, and creativity."
For a Southern girl like Warnock, the departure from her normal routine helped her better understand realities of the urban culture such as homelessness and open drug use.
The experience, "was scary, but at the same time it was good ... because that kind of stuff really happens," she said.
The snowstorm meant a lot of changed plans during the week Warnock's group was there, but they adapted, she said. Her team improvised and spent time passing out hot chocolate and playing with neighborhood children, engaging them in snowball fights.
"We don't do enough and as the church we could do so much more ... maybe that's why God took us there [to Boston]," she said. "If it breaks the heart of God, then it needs to break our hearts, too."
For Jimmy Mauldin, senior at the University of Texas at Arlington, the time in Boston was a time of preparation. He will be entering Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary this fall.
"I came away with a deeper vision of what [God's] doing in Boston," he said.
Mauldin was pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the people, but he also sensed spiritual need in many of those he encountered.
"I talked to one guy on the bus and asked him what he did every day," Mauldin said. The man told him he goes to work and then goes home, and that was about all. "I asked him if his life had any purpose; he said he didn't know."
Mauldin found the trip to be one of prayer and vision-casting for the city of Boston; "to see what God is doing in Boston and help out a bit."
"I had a great time," he said.
Many of the students pledged continued support of the Boston effort. Hundreds committed to be prayer partners for the city, and dozens of others feel led to possibly return to Boston as transfer or graduate students. Others felt challenged to spend time as a semester missionary there, or to move and plant their lives there, according to written response forms.
"These are desires God has put in my heart throughout this week," wrote one student. Another student wrote, "I want to return someday to see the work the Lord has done!"
And students weren't the only ones affected. Lance Martin, a volunteer who works with the Baptist Student Ministry at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, said that despite his Mississippi roots, "I really feel direction in my life to serve in Boston."
Getting out of the South enabled God to reveal new things to him. "I know that God worked in my life in growing me a few more steps personally," he said. "He showed me that there's a whole world out there apart from the Bible Belt where we live down here. If you just give a little bit of yourself, you can change somebody else's life."
"All in all, I think it's just about being open to what God wants," he said.
The North American Mission Board
One Master Calling
"Go and Make Disciples"
Two Primary Tasks
Church Planting & Evangelism
Three Major Delivery Systems
Mission Strategy, Ministry Systems, and Media Support
Baptize New Believers, Plant Churches, Mobilize On Mission Christians, and Deploy Effective Missionary Personnel
Five Immediate Points of Focus
Canada, Volunteers, Students, Ethnic Groups, Cities
We see a day when every person in every community in the United States and Canada will have the opportunity to hear the gospel, respond with faith in Christ, and participate in a New Testament fellowship of believers.
The North American Mission Board exists to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, start New Testament congregations, minister to persons in the name of Christ, and assist churches in the United States and Canada in effectively performing these functions.