By Troy Hill

For six weeks this summer, a group of 13 college students from all over the United States made their way to Phoenix to participate in the immersive missionary training experience known as the GenSend program.

Through GenSend, a program of the North American Mission Board, college students are sent to large cities across the country to assist with a local church plant for their six weeks.

The Phoenix GenSenders this year originated from many states, including Mississippi, Alabama, Wisconsin, and even two who attend Grand Canyon University but are from out of state.

This year’s group was split into two smaller groups, one assigned to Salt River Community Church in Tempe, and the other to Relentless Church in Phoenix.

Dylan Moore, a GenSender from Wisconsin studying accounting, said he enjoyed being in Phoenix for the summer and that he quickly adapted to the unique living situation and climate.

Moore said GenSend increased his trust with others in a team setting, showed him how to better engage with a church body and especially shifted his view on leadership.

“I’d kind of formed this idea in my mind that leadership needs to be front and center and in front of people,” Moore said. “I think the biggest change is not only learning but wanting to lead from the middle of the pack, or even behind, and just lead by example and by action.”

Kate Atkinson, a GenSender studying multiple abilities, a program that focuses on early childhood and special education, at the University of Alabama, said her perspective on the way she loves people is different, specifically people in the LGBT community.

“[Jesus] went to people in their brokenness and went to people in their heartache and their sin,” Atkinson said. “I really want to love people and to let them know, ‘Hey, you don’t have to clean yourself up, that’s Jesus’s job. He died on the cross for your sins.'”

Dave Wiley, pastor of Salt River Community Church, worked with the GenSend group assigned to his church. The GenSenders assisted the church with outreach to their community and learned how a church plant functions.

He went through a book on his model for church planting and discipleship as well as gave them guidance and advice for getting around their area of Tempe.

“In some ways, it’s me pouring into them. In other ways, they were doing things for us,” Wiley said. “We’re literally a baby plant at this point, and so having them here just gave you this sense of life in the church.”

Wiley said he and his wife enjoyed having students with southern accents, as they themselves are from the Georgia-Tennessee area, and that it was an encouragement just to have them around.

“Seeing them have no idea where they are and get lost … they just gave [my wife] a sense of comfort,” Wiley said. “They were huge in terms of spending time in our home, with our family and our church. That was big.”

Moore said he wants to continue to live out the change in his life as he returns and resettles back home.

“It’s just been a lot of trying to stay in the right mindset and improve relationships back here and just show them everything I’ve learned instead of trying to sit them down and tell them,” Moore said. “It’s been a round of busyness, work, and then also just restoring or starting up new, healthy relationships.”