Three young women sat casually on stools on a recent Thursday. Before them, about 50 of their peers listened as they shared mission-trip experience from last summer.
Kendall Scarborough talked about her time in Argentina; Kylie Schantz worked at a church camp in North Carolina; and Erin Fourhman traveled to southeast Asia.
“I want to encourage you to go. I went all summer, but even if you have two weeks, you could go for two weeks,” Scarborough told the gathering.
There was a celebratory mood at the lunch, a weekly gathering of the Baptist Collegiate Ministry near the main Columbus State University campus. There was also a bit of music, and later on, games, while some students rushed out to class.
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Participants in the ministry will also celebrate as a group tonight, marking 50 years as an organization at CSU. The old Woodruff Gym will be transformed into a catered barbecue dinner.
Three of the two previous full-time directors, the Revs. Bill Neal and Jerry Johnson, are scheduled to attend. The first director was John Wortham, now deceased.
Neal runs Development Disabled Ministries in the Atlanta area and is a member of First Baptist Church of Decatur, Ga., and Johnson leads the BCM at Georgia Southern University.
“It was a great time for me,” Neal said this week. “We had great student leadership and were probably the most active student organization in those days.”
The Rev. Tony Gray is the third full-time director of the BCM. He’ll have led the local ministry 14 years in January.
A continuing theme Gray sees through the five decades: “The presence on the campus, and being a blessing, and helping (students) walk through the good, the bad and the ugly” is what BCM is all about. (The ministry, an arm of the Georgia Baptist Convention, was renamed from the Baptist Student Union several years ago.)
“The philosophy is to reach and teach and send them out,” Gray said.
In recent years, Gray has seen students more time-strapped than ever — juggling jobs on top of classes. So, BCM leaders are often on campus, going where students meet.
“They are so busy these days, you have to meet them where they are,” said Gray, who also has oversight of the BCM at Andrew College to the south and LaGrange College to the north. If students want to connect to others through the BCM, they have ample opportunity: in addition to the weekly lunches, there’s an intramural team meeting twice a week, worship on Mondays and activities such as bowling on Friday nights.
He’s also found less loyalty among young people to a denomination, mirroring a national trend.
“We’re Baptist, but our main call is to reach and impact students for Christ,” said Gray.
The event starts at 6 p.m. today. Cost is $20, with half the proceeds going to mission projects.
Allison Kennedy, 706-576-6237.