By Danielle Waddell
In early June, 170 college students from across the nation arrived in Phoenix for the North American Mission Board’s GenSend program orientation.
In the following seven weeks, these students were sent to serve alongside church planters in 15 North American cities.
For Phoenix, it was a group of 14 Alabama students — the first GenSend team in the Valley. Under the direction of Alabama native and NAMB Church Planting Catalyst Jesse Powell, the team identified and surveyed the Encanto area of Phoenix for a potential church plant in the near future. Information gathered from their time there became the content of a prospectus, a document outlining a church, a community and a specific way in which the two can connect and grow.
“I was just fine with how I was growing with Christ at my university, reading my Bible and hanging out with my Christian friends,” GenSender Noah Grayhek said. “Going to Phoenix was like dropping a goldfish in the ocean. I realized that I was lacking and not living up to all God could do through me.”
With no established church’s official support and guidance, the team at first experienced difficulty in interacting with the people of Encanto. Set on glorifying Christ in word and deed, the students sought to share the gospel with the area’s residents, yet could not find where to connect with those people. After prayerful perseverance, the team witnessed several breakthrough moments.
“Encanto residents, like most people, were a little stand-offish and distrustful when we first approached them,” team member Lindsey McCarty said. “It took multiple conversations and being consistently friendly to really see those walls come down for our [new] friends in Phoenix.”
Coffee shops and public parks became the team’s local hubs. Southern accents sparked interest, willingness to spend time in conversation raised questions and availability to play with children in parks induced smiles. The openness of Encanto residents surprised the team, yet evidenced the hand of the Holy Spirit in GenSend’s work, a program that was not initially set to serve in Phoenix.
The process of what would later become GenSend Phoenix started with a conversation between Powell and fellow Troy University alumnus Chris Mills. Powell mentioned his desire to host and lead a mission team in Phoenix, and Mills, a student missions mobilizer for the Alabama State Board of Missions, responded with equal eagerness and began recruiting college students to form a team.
After months of discussing the team’s layout, a few fallouts in a handful of GenSend cities and a conversation with NAMB Director of Next Generation Mobilization Steve Turner, Powell’s small Alabama-based missions team became GenSend Phoenix.
It was this GenSend team that impacted the church planting movement in Phoenix, especially in Encanto.
“Encanto has been at the top of our radar for a while,” Powell said. “I really think one of our next plants will be there.”
Not only did God allow GenSend Phoenix to gather information about the Encanto area to hand off to a more long-term church planter, but He also offered the team opportunities to invest deeply in the lives of Phoenix residents and begin breaking down barriers to the gospel. Powell said the team’s influence will continue, even as the group’s time in the city has ended.
“GenSend’s work put us about six months ahead of schedule in Encanto” he said. “The prospectus, the relationships they built, those are things that take time. It’s information we can give to a planter and let them be a little more informed.”
From the work of Alabama’s GenSenders to the process of GenSend actually landing in Phoenix, God’s hand is evidently and actively at work in the Valley; this summer is only a glimpse.