Sunday, March 17, 2019

Beach Reach 2019: "More to Come"

I really formed a love for the ministry at Beach Reach when I was in college. It is so humbling to see God’s grace in my life in light of all that goes on in Panama City Beach during spring break. I know it could be me if life had taken a different trajectory, and it’s that attitude and a desire to see others’ lives changed the way mine has been that drives me and everyone on my team.

It was exciting to be back on Beach Reach this year after missing last year due to schedule differences. This time my spring break lined up with Northern Kentucky’s, and I was blessed to join the team as a leader. I was also blessed by my parents, grandparents, the Flannagans and Moores from back home, Merle from my church in Columbus, and the Leighters who I know through Christian Legal Society, from their generosity in providing funding for the trip.
As Dustin said, we didn't have an official group picture, but this probably summed it up best.

And finally, I was so happy to be on Beach Reach with a number of close friends I never thought I’d have the chance to share it with. Dustin hadn’t been in ten years and doesn’t have a spring break. I’d tried to pull in Monica for several years, and it worked out this time. I didn’t even know Bailey or Ashleigh the last time I was on Beach Reach, and Bailey was a last-minute addition. But God worked it out for them to be there along with many I’d worked with before.

This was the most impactful Beach Reach I’d been a part of, both on the group and the spring breakers. It is exciting to see the work and change that is happening within the BCM and Northern Kentucky community. This team was ahead of anything I’d seen and really jumped into the ministry.

As a quick overview for those that don’t know, Beach Reach takes the spring break of Christian college students and uses it to go to popular spring break destinations for our peers. We hit the streets late at night and offer free rides to get people to places safely, and provide a free pancake brunch in the mornings and afternoons. We also added in disaster relief for the damage from Hurricane Michael. But all our ministry to the spring breakers is to create opportunities to share the gospel with people. That is the point of the trip. The night ministry goes 9 pm to 2 am and is divided in half, and every team will either be on the streets, in the vans, or in a prayer room.

In the months of prayer and fasting leading up to Beach Reach, God had continually told me that He was going to heal the brokenness of the group, not just of the spring breakers. That really broke through on Tuesday night.

It had been a good trip up to that point. Sunday night we started in prayer that was so needed, then I hit the streets and my team spent the entire two-and-a-half hours talking with one person. Monday night most of us were off, and we used that time to share testimonies and then hear from the one team of our group that went out.

That was good momentum, but for me it slowed on Tuesday. It started out with the pancake brunch, and nothing seemed to work out for me. I went to talk to one table of spring breakers and someone beat me to them. I talked to two different tables of people as they were about to leave. Then a friend of mine at the drink table got into a conversation, so I jumped in to do that. I gave the people in that conversation my sunscreen and game card but didn’t get a chance to talk. Later, I decided to jump in line behind a couple guys and talk to them. But there was a delay of when they got their food and when I did, and when I got it they’d been stopped by a couple others, and that turned into a great conversation.

The support role is an important one in those situations, but I wanted to have an opportunity to talk. I took that frustration into the time afterwards, and I spent some time in prayer asking God to show up that night. I had the opportunity to be on a street team again with Ashleigh and our friends Isaac and Kelsey.

Some of the hurricane damage in Panama
City Beach. It was worse in Panama City
and even worse a little farther west.
It didn’t go as planned. We felt God pushing us down a dark street, and we walked by a wooded area. Isaac saw a scarf and something else that looked like a jacket. We also heard clanging that sounded like it was from the woods. Isaac and Ashleigh got a dark feeling like something was really off, fearing a sexual assault was taking place. We stood outside that area for a while, trying to figure out what to do and whether a spiritual feeling and circumstantial evidence was enough to call the police.

After a while, a man on a bike came out of the woods. I went into the woods, called out, and walked around. I found evidence of a homeless person living there, but no evidence of anything more. It seemed explainable that the scarf had just been lost and the man on the bike was just cutting through. That didn’t really ease Ashleigh’s and Isaac’s feeling, and we stopped to pray for a while. Ashleigh expressed that she was mad that we had to even worry about sexual assault and was questioning why God would ever allow it to happen.

The rest of the night was pretty uneventful. I was questioning myself. Were we supposed to go down the dark street and hang around the woods for half an hour? Did God have a purpose I didn’t see, or was it actually my own thoughts and not His leading?

I took these thoughts into what was supposed to be our shift in the prayer room. This is when I saw God’s intricate Providence unfold. I happened to shuffle out of the house next to Ashleigh. She was still upset by what had happened. Dustin came up along side us and we figured it was something we needed to talk through before going into the prayer room. We looked for a place to stop, and after looking at a couple places, we finally said, “Let’s just stand by the Gaga Ball pit.”

Soon our friend Zach joined us, and the four of us talked for a while. Dustin, Zach, and I answered questions and tried to explain why God allows bad things to happen to His children and others. We continually had to preface with, “This isn’t very encouraging, but…” The group leader, Matt, also joined us and we all continued to talk. Ashleigh was grateful that we didn’t compromise truth and were able to empathize with her as much as we were able. She also noted that she was having that conversation with four men, which is a testament to the dynamics of our group.

Then we began to pray. Let me tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever prayed like I prayed this week. I’d never seen such expectant, passionate prayer from a group. Dustin, Zach, Matt, and I began to pray over Ashleigh. She expressed some of her fears, and we took turns speaking over her and praying over her. Matt said that God wants her to recognize how much God loves her and how good He is. He said he felt this funnel of God’s love over us. Soon we’re smiling and laughing and jumping around and basking in God’s love, like we could physically feel it surrounding us. While that was going on, Dustin also spoke to another girl in our group and prayed over her.

People began to file out of the prayer room, which meant it was 2 am and we’d been there two hours already. We pulled Seanna over and she jumped under the funnel. Soon we had 12 or 15 people from our group standing around us, and we started pulling people into the circle and praying for them, and praying generally that we’d recognize who we are in Christ and that God would really move through the rest of the week. Then a group from East Tennessee State showed up and it turned out we were on their front lawn. They all jumped into the circle, and now we probably had 25 people bunched up, speaking over each other and praying for each other. People are confessing their fears and the struggles in their life and weeping as waves of love and healing washed over us.

When we finished, we realized that it was 4 am, and people shuffled back to their places. I grabbed Bailey and we walked over to a picnic area across the street from our group’s house to tell her about the entire day that had led up to that night. Meanwhile, across the street, a geyser had sprung up a couple doors down from our house. Matt and Dustin in their curiosity decided to check it out. As they were standing there, they noticed a couple spring breakers walking by. Dustin asked where they were going, and it ended up being over two miles away. We told them we’d drive them there in a van. On the way, Dustin said we were up so late because God showed up, and we were able to share the gospel with them and pray over them when we got to their place.

When we got back, it was 5 am, but it wasn’t easy to sleep. I thought about everything that had happened that day. Most of it had been spent in confusion and frustration. But I realized we had walked down that street to get Ashleigh thinking about things that were weighing on her so she could get some clarity. (And Isaac’s team the next night actually did prevent a rape of two girls that had been drugged.) That led to our conversation with Ashleigh, where we happened to stand on the front lawn of another group’s house. That entire night helped heal people in both groups that needed it. Then, Bailey and I happened to choose a spot to talk that was in view of the road, and a Providential geyser sprung up to keep Matt and Dustin outside, where we then saw the couple we were able to share with. And when we got back, the geyser was gone. Every specific detail of that night was ordered by God.

That night took us deeper in our relationships with God and with each other. If there were any reservations before, they were gone Wednesday and Thursday. I was over a van both nights, and we boldly vowed that not one person who entered would leave without hearing about Jesus, and they didn’t. One group we only had two minutes with, so we prayed with them and prayed that they would get more time with someone else. Monica’s group talked with them for 45 minutes at the end of the night, and we figured it out only after talking a few minutes and realizing they were the same people. I can’t even recall everyone we shared the gospel with those nights, but I recall clear examples of Providence.

Monica met a woman at Pier Park and offered the free rides, and my van ended up picking her up. At a restaurant I met a group of fellow Ohio State students that live a block from me. We had a NKU student in our vans twice, and I was able to talk with a Kentucky student during one of those rides and pray over her. The man we talked to the first night saw someone from our team the last night. Everyone has multiple stories like this. I really felt that we were to leave all the details and plans to God and just walk in obedience and complete abandon. If there was a door to the gospel cracked, were we going to kick it in. I’ve honestly never seen anything quite like it in ministry.

It was so awesome to be a part of this group and be able to influence and be influenced. This is something that is sustainable wherever we go. If you would, pray that this continues in the normalcy of our lives. Thank you to anyone who supported or prayed, and I’m glad to bring back a good report.

Besides the healing of brokenness, my theme this week was “More to Come,” coming from a song out of the Passion Conference this year. With all God was doing during the week, we knew that every night He had greater things. He was going to show up and blow the roof off our expectations. We prayed in faith and went in faith, and He delivered. My words to the group were that God still has more, and always has more, even in a different environment and different circumstances. That may be the most exciting aspect of the week—the mission continues.

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