Tens of thousands of people recently flocked to the beaches of Panama City, Fla. and South Padre Island, Texas from all over the world. Most of them desired a week of partying hard on the beach and in the local bars.
These “spring breakers” were not the only ones to make the trek, however. Thousands of students and college ministers also went down to participate in a ministry called Beach Reach.
Beach Reach is an annual collaboration of Baptist student groups from college and university campuses across the nation, aimed at bringing “Light” to the pervasive darkness that descends on Panama City and South Padre Island during Spring Break each year. This outreach initiative began on South Padre Island in 1980 and in Panama City in 1995.
The ministry seeks to serve immediate physical needs of spring breakers by offering van rides and serving pancakes, then uses those encounters to share the Gospel. Beach Reachers who are not helping in the vans or with the food can be found either in the prayer room as real-time prayer requests come in from the vans or out on the beaches seeking people with whom to share the Gospel.
Clayton Bullion, co-coordinator for Beach Reach: South Padre Island, mentioned a conversation he had with a young man.
“I’ve done some really awful things this week, and I need a change of direction in my life,” the young man told Bullion. “I want something different. I want new life.”
“This is grace upon grace that this is how I get to spend my energy,” Bullion said, reflecting not only on this conversation but on the many chats he had during Beach Reach.
This year, 75 students and leaders from multiple Oklahoma Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) joined nearly 2,000 others in participating in Beach Reach. Tulsa University and Tulsa Community College came together to minister at South Padre Island, while Oklahoma State University participated in Beach Reach at Panama City.
The immediate presence of such a vast number of people who do not know Jesus and are not seeking to follow Him—coupled with physical exhaustion that takes place—highlights the absolute necessity of prayer and dependence on God for each of the “Beach Reachers.”
Brandon Brister, BCM director at TU, said he was pleased with the many ministry opportunities Beach Reach offered, allowing BCM students to engage college students and share the Gospel.
Riley Sowell, BCM Director at Tulsa Community College, noted that it is easy for Christians to get caught in their comfort zones, often forgetting God’s calling and failing to enter conversations and situations that require complete reliance on the Holy Spirit.
“I had 60 people on my (prayer) team,” Sowell said, “and we soaked the Island, the spring breakers and each other in prayer after prayer because we needed Jesus. We needed one another.”
God answered those prayers in mighty ways. One spring-breaker, Henry, received a ride one evening with some of the Tulsa students who engaged him in a spiritual conversation. Henry was a convinced atheist and had anger towards Christianity. One of the students began praying that the Lord would bring Henry back to their van the following night.
South Padre had nearly 900 Beach Reachers in more than 80 different vans, so the odds were against Henry finding his way back to this specific group. But God answered those prayers. Henry reconnected with these Tulsa students and even stayed to talk about spiritual things for more than an hour after they reached his destination.
While Henry did not make a profession of faith that night, his anger lessened tremendously. He thanked the Beach Reachers for the love they had shown him and for giving him answers to some of the questions he had.
“My word for the week was ‘awestruck,’ said Mary Hibbits, a senior at OSU. “I truly underestimated the power and goodness of God.”
Andrew Thorpe, a student at TCC, shared similar feelings. “(Beach Reach) was life changing,” he said. “I watched the truth of Christ change hearts and minds all over the island. I felt myself yield to the Lord.”
The four combined weeks of ministry at both South Padre and Panama City allowed Beach Reachers to offer nearly 40,000 safe rides to Spring Break participants. The Gospel was shared more than 18,000 times, and Beach Reach witnessed more than 350 people make professions of faith in Christ. South Padre observed 49 baptisms, which were done in partnership with local Baptist churches.