Tennessee, United States
Southern Adventist University students witnessed the baptism of more than 1300 people, including members of the notoriously violent MS-13 street gang, while conducting evangelistic meetings in five countries of Central and South America.
Gang members kind of hung around at first, perched outside like pigeons on a fence. But as they listened to the sermons they invited their friends to join them at the meetings, and they gave their hearts to Christ.
About 100 students and staff broke into groups for the mission trips to Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Nicaragua in May.
Freddy Fuentes, associate professor for the School of Education and Psychology, traveled with 13 students to El Salvador, seeking to bring a message of Jesus’ love to a country mired in crime and turmoil. The United Nations estimates that 60,000 El Salvadorans belong to street gangs, meaning that gangsters and their immediate families account for a significant 6 percent of the country’s population.
“Gang members kind of hung around at first, perched outside like pigeons on a fence,” Fuentes said. “But as they listened to the sermons they invited their friends to join them at the meetings, and they gave their hearts to Christ.”
His group saw 174 baptisms.
Leziel Dela Cruz, front row with girl in lap, is a senior business major who preached in this Colombia church. [Photo courtesy: Southern Adventist University]
Carlos Martin, professor in the School of Religion, led 20 students to Bolivia and participated in what he called “pure, old-fashion evangelism.”
The multi-ethnic group represented 13 nationalities, a quality Martin saw as attractive to its audience.
“We seemed to represent the cultural diversity of the world church, and I think people appreciated that,” Martin said.
The mission trips were organised by Southern Adventist University’s Evangelistic Resource Center, and the $US330,000 cost was split between the university, the Southern Union, local conferences, and the student volunteers.
Local congregations and conferences laid the groundwork for the evangelistic meetings before the students arrived.
Although students mostly preached, they also worked in medical clinics, children’s ministries, and construction, especially in Costa Rica.
Daniel Jeon, second left, a senior theology major, posing with people he met while preaching in Bolivia. [Photo courtesy: Southern Adventist University]
The mission trips not only influenced the people who attended the meetings but also those who led them. The student preachers gained a better understanding of biblical doctrines and increased confidence in their ability to share Jesus, said Martin, the professor.
“Some students were brought into the church as child members without full instruction before baptism,” Martin said. “But for these meetings they had to study and explain the doctrines to others. Many will go on to become lawyers, architects, and surgeons who already know how to preach doctrines.”
Chris Janetzko, senior mass communications major, turned to social media to seek the prayers and encouragement of friends and family while preaching in Colombia. This was especially true while preparing a sermon about Daniel’s 2300-day prophecy, a topic that he didn’t feel particularly confident in his ability to share. When the presentation was finished, Janetzko’s faith was affirmed through the experience and he took to Facebook to express his excitement.
“The Spirit lead tonight! Who ever doubted He would?” he wrote.