ST. LOUIS – He took off his shoes, put them in a cubby and entered through the door labeled “For Men Only” at the Grand Masjid (mosque) in St. Louis. “I was nervous,” said Daniel Black, a University of Arkansas junior. “I had never talked to a Muslim before.” That day he and his campus minister Cole Penick discussed religion with an imam for close to 3 hours. It changed Black: “Now, whenever I come across another Muslim on campus, I won’t be afraid to talk about the differences in our beliefs.”
Black was one of 21 Arkansas collegiates and 143 students nationwide participating in the For St. Louis mission project June 9-13. The group completed 20 ministry projects in the city and saw approximately 30 people accept Christ, said Darren Casper, associate director of St. Louis Metro Association.
“We wanted to expose students to other cultures and let them see what it’s like to live missionally for a day,” said Courtney Vernon, freshman ministry catalyst for the University of Arkansas BCM. “Most of these students had never interacted to this degree with other cultures.” Vernon said the trip helped students “catch a vision of church planting.” Each day, church planters across the metro told students about their work.
“I’ve heard of church planting before, but I did not realize the effort it took,” said Christian Capehart from Northwest Arkansas Community College. “I thought it was easy–you make a church plant, wait a few weeks and people start coming. It’s not like that.” A mentor challenged Capehart not to waste his summers in college because at no other time in his life would he be freer to serve God–“And what better way to serve God than on a mission trip?”
A “non-traditional” Rich Mountain Community College student in Mena said this first mission trip for her was also the first time she’d been away from her 2-year-old. “I’ve learned when God says go, you go,” said Katie Nichols. “It was definitely worth it. I’m glad I went for so many reasons; it was amazing to see God work.” She teamed up with Taylor Greeson, sophomore at National Park College in Hot Springs.
“We ran into this eight-year-old kid at the park and his grandma,” said Greeson. “‘I live in a house full of devils,’ he told us, ‘but I know God, so I’m okay.’” He’d been praying since he was 7 for his family, and he said he held his Bible to his chest when things got rough. “He wants to be a minister,” Greeson said. “It was awesome to see that kind of faith. We prayed for him before we left.”
Another sophomore, Jacob Muasau from the College of Ouachitas in Malvern, stood quietly as his friends shared the gospel in a Spanish neighborhood. Although he could not speak or understand the language, Muasau said the people seemed willing to talk about faith which surprised him. “I’m used to people who have a take it or leave it perspective,” he said, “and seeing these other people who were so eager and excited about God was so good to see.”
Both Muasau and Nichols said the St. Louis project showed them the importance of international missions within their own country. Casper described the SEND city as a metropolitan area of 2.8 million people made up of over 100 different people groups. It also contains the largest population of Bosnians in the world outside of Europe.