Summer 2020 brought unique missions and ministry opportunities for Summer Catalysts serving with the South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC). The collegiate students anticipated going to their national or international placements, but as COVID-19-related closures began to occur in March, those opportunities rapidly closed. According to SEND Team Leader Ken Owens, a whirlwind planning process to engage students in a new way led to the Catalysts beginning their hybrid home-and-onsite work in late May.
“The Lord redirects and changes plans, but He’s always faithful to provide and we’ve seen that with this for sure. I’ll be anxious to see all that God does in and through these students from this point forward,” Owens says.
Twenty Catalysts served through the team areas of the SCBC’s ADVANCE initiative. In addition to exposure to larger mission concepts, the students were placed in fields of ministry alongside convention staff and ministry partners around the state. The Catalysts had different opportunities to learn and serve depending on their SCBC team and grew as a student small group within that team. Each student was also trained to share their faith in relational disciple-making.
“This is a way for SCBC staff as a whole to pour into these students in a deeper way than we might otherwise pour into them. There is a close connection between these students and our work and ADVANCE strategies, much more closely tied through this than through other expressions,” Owens explains.
As a SERVE Team Catalyst, Kinsleigh Spencer met weekly with a supervisor individually and then with her small group to explore understanding poverty culture, Heart4Schools, and ways to connect with local church and ministry centers. SERVE Team Leader Jon Jamison says the goal for his three Catalysts was that they would help lead their congregations and Baptist Collegiate Ministries to view ministry opportunities within their community in new ways. Spencer gained experience serving at The Bridge at Green Street, a food and clothing ministry of First Church Spartanburg, where she talked and prayed with clients two days a week.
“God has taught me that sometimes I have to stop myself, put away my bias, and see the person I'm helping the way Jesus does. It doesn't matter what someone looks like or what clothes they wear, what matters is that they get to see a glimpse of Jesus while they are there,” she says.
Spencer’s experience is exactly what Owens, who oversaw the work of the larger Catalyst group as well as the four SEND Catalysts, hoped would occur across the board. The SCBC is seizing the opportunity to engage college students who have a passion for missions and ministry by pairing their gifts and talents to specific team focuses. Some also provided key assistance in areas of need.
SCBC Mission Partnership Director Tim Rice helped the SEND Catalysts research, visit, and upload ethnic points of interest in Greenville, Spartanburg, Charleston, and Rock Hill as part of ongoing work to identify and engage unreached people groups. The students engaged and prayed with people originally from many other countries like Cameroon, Burundi, India, and Myanmar. The data will be used to help local SCBC churches engage and plant churches for every people group. Rice says the Catalysts played a vital role in “moving us forward in this process as they devoted time to researching and engaging people groups this summer. It gives us a great opportunity to set an example of how churches can do local mission trips that engage ethnic peoples living nearby.”
Another important role for the Catalysts was missionary contact and communication. Catalysts across the teams were in touch with International Mission Board and North American Mission Board missionaries, learning about their needs, what God is doing in their lives, and collecting prayer requests. Owens says it’s powerful to connect in students’ minds their personal impact in providing partner support to missionaries, as well as influencing their home churches to become involved.
Three SHARE Catalysts learned to love their neighbors this summer. SHARE Team Evangelism Strategist Melanie Ratcliffe led this group through a 10-day Bible study on Neighboring before reading a book on being a good neighbor and having gospel conversations. The group moved on to real-life experience by prayer walking each of the Catalyst’s hometown neighborhoods, engaging neighbors in conversation, and offering to pray when given the opportunity.
“The goal is for Christ to impact their lives first so that they can then impact the lives of others. We want them to begin seeing their neighborhoods as their mission fields. They were also challenged to create new partnerships to approach SCBC churches not currently involved in Neighboring in their community to commit to join the Catalyst in it,” Ratcliffe says.
The students delivered cookies to houses in Catalyst Bracey Bantum’s neighborhood in late June. They went to every door and had great conversations, including with some neighbors Bantum had never met. The team also hosted outdoor movie nights in each of their neighborhoods.
“I’ve met a great group of new friends that have encouraged me to step out in my faith this summer and be a light in my neighborhood,” Bracey says of the experience with her team.
START Team Church Planting Strategist Darryl Gaddy helped his six Catalysts learn about every step in the process of new work. During weekly video conferenced calls, the team studied Scriptures and how they relate to certain aspects of church planting and then were assigned a day that week to visit with a church planter in the region where they live. The Catalysts also helped record a church planting video to close their summer experience.
“These catalysts have been exposed to and moved by the diverse experiences and pastors to whom they have spoken. They are developing questions that are asked in response to the state of the communities, lostness, and traditional apathy we see in many churches today. I have been amazed by the sharpness and intelligence of these catalysts, and I am hopeful for the direction of the Church as they find their place in ministry and serve the kingdom of God in the future,” Gaddy says.
START Catalyst Amanda Spidle is grateful to have learned what a healthy church is, how to be truly multicultural, about the need for church plants, and the convention’s process of supporting and identifying pastors for those roles. She calls her time with church planters “refreshing,” and appreciates how they have poured into the Catalysts this summer.
“During week three, the Lord vividly spoke to me. I have known I wanted to be in ministry for about a year now but was unsure as to where and what that looked like. After meeting with Pastor Bryan Plyler at River Church in Camden, I was reminded that I’ve known all along where God wanted me and how He has gifted me,” Spidle says of her personal call to music ministry confirmed through her Catalyst experience.
“To see these Catalysts’ desire and to watch them share the Lord with other people has been really powerful to see. If we had more people doing what they’re doing this summer, we’ll see the nations impacted for the gospel here in our state,” says Owens.
The Catalysts have concluded their Summer assignments, as they now prepare for the fall semester. For more information about their work visit www.scbaptist.org/advance-summer-catalyst.