By Kay Harms
Twelve college students and recent graduates from southeastern states spent six weeks of their summer scouting out the population patterns and rhythms for two potential Phoenix area church plants.
GenSend is a summer collegiate program of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) that provides young adults with an immersive missions experience in about 16 different cities across the country. The Phoenix area GenSend students were from Georgia, Tennessee and, predominantly, Alabama. They stayed in dormitories on Arizona State University Downtown campus.
“The students relied completely on public transportation or walking,” said Jesse Powell, NAMB church planting catalyst and GenSend coordinator for the group. “But it’s that kind of immersion into the area that made it possible for these young people to experience intimately the areas they were scouting and to engage in conversations with the people they encountered.”
Split into two groups, the students were tasked with exploring neighborhoods in Tempe and the Encanto region of Phoenix before church planters arrived in the areas. According to Powell, they spent time in coffee shops, parks and shopping areas, discovering where the people gather and play and learning how communication takes place among them.
In fact, Dave Wiley, a church planter from Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., arrived in Tempe during the GenSend group’s last week on the field. Because of the GenSend students’ research in Tempe, he was better able to begin strategizing how to reach people in the area by working through the natural rhythms in the community.
“The Tempe prospectus they prepared for us is literally priceless,” Wiley said. “It would have taken us months to find and compile this info.”
But the GenSend experience was twofold. Not only did the students benefit church planting efforts in Arizona, but they grew from their involvement as well.
“We want to send them home with the ability to have conversations about the gospel and a new understanding of how to live intentionally on mission,” Powell said. To that end, the students met with other church planters in the area so they could discuss living on mission. They learned how to start small-group Bible studies among their acquaintances, how to initiate spiritual conversations and how to grow personally through discipleship.
“GenSend was a life-changing experience,” said Holly Walker, a student at Troy University in Troy, Ala. “It’s not often you find a program that encourages intentionality, emphasizes the importance of church planting and also teaches students to live on mission rather than just have a short-term missions mentality.”
Clay Graham, also from Troy University, said, “One of my favorite things about GenSend was [being given] the freedom to use my gifts to share the gospel in unique ways, such as communicating through sign language.”
To learn more about the GenSend experience or to apply, visit www.sendrelief.org/gensend. The application process for GenSend 2019 opens Sept. 1.