SOUTH PADRE ISLAND --God loves the one lost lamb so much that He would leave the 99 to go find it—even if that one lost lamb is lying on a beach on South Padre Island. During March, the spring break month for many colleges, more than 400 students from 20 college ministries will Beach Reach, a ministry sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention, which goes to find the lost lambs at spring break party locations and offer them rides to and from their hotel rooms and even pancake breakfasts to show them the love of God.
Eric Herrstrom, an organizer for the outreach, said, "We're incredibly concerned about their well-being.” He said one of the things they are providing for the late partiers is “safety and protection.”
The key audiences whom the ministry reaches out to are the souls who either party on the beach or hang at bars. Even though some spring breakers might be doing something against the morality of the students, they say they are here to judge the partygoers but spiritually help them.
"We're not going up to them and yelling at them that what they're doing is wrong," said Stephanie Moore, a sophomore at Austin Community College, who describes herself as “not perfect” either.
More importantly, Herrstrom affirms what they are doing is effective because “Christ developed a relationship with people by serving them." Herrstrom is the minister of college and missions at Lake Arlington Baptist Church in Arlington, TX.
Beach Reach was started in 1980 by then seminary student Buddy Young who was serving part-time Baptist Student Ministry Director in Dallas. Now, Young is the director of Beach Reach which also ministers at tourist hot spots such as Panama City, FL., where the United States Campus Ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) is hosting their 2004 Spring Break Conference throughout three sessions this month. CCC participants are also ministering to people on the beaches. In the future, Beach Reach plans to expand its operation to Virginia Beach, Va., and the California coast.
Even though working in a mission field where many people are in swimsuits, the students of Beach Reach go fully clothed.
One participant, named Randy Hofman, approached her ministering opportunity outside a Radisson Resort by etching the face of Jesus on a towering mound of sand. As students holding beer cans pass by, Hofman and other Beach Reach students would ask, "Does it mean anything to you?"
"People aren't always so receptive," said Texas A&M sophomore Connie Curtis as she tried to use the sculpture as discussion starters. "But we're just glad to use our knowledge and our faith to help them out. We're not here to judge anyone."
Students also hand out pink cards to inform the others about their services.
Pastor Bill Waddell also baptized some people in the beach.
At night, the students don’t rest but continue their outreach by going out to popular island clubs such as Louie’s Backyard to lend a ride home or morning breakfast to those coming out of the bars. They work until 4 or 5 a.m. and return to Island Baptist Church to set up the breakfast.
Melissa Keasler, sophomore at Howard Payne, said the experience has been “eye-opening” to her. She said she is seeing things she is not used to such as people yelling, taking off their shirts and passing out beads.
However, Keasler concludes that they must come out of their “comfort zone” and “Christian bubble” in order to spread the word of God.
To some Beach Reach students, there is no better way they could have spent their spring break than serving God through giving out His unconditional love to others.
"I think that this is what God wants me to do," Texas A&M senior Jenny Macias said. "We're here to show love to all these people, even if they don't love us back."