For most college students, the dog days of summer mean lakeside fun, long evenings with friends and time at that pesky part-time job. But for one group of students from Dallas’ Criswell College, summer took on a new meaning.
Nine students and two professors embarked on Criswell’s first mission trip to England last month, bringing the hope of Christ and a healthy appetite for tea with them. The team left July 18 for eight days filled with street evangelism, discipleship and personal interaction with residents of the rural towns and villages in northern England.
“For most students this was their first opportunity to reach people without the Christian dialect we have here in the Bible Belt,” said Criswell professor Joel Wilson. “Our mandate is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Jesus is the answer. This is one way we do it.”
Criswell students have answered that mandate. For Ginger McFadden from Criswell’s class of 2008 the trip made the top of the list of things to do with her summer after graduation.
“I’ve had a passion for about seven or eight years now for missions over seas,” McFadden said. “This trip continued that passion. I had been to several countries on mission, but never to Europe.”
To another student, senior R.J Nanny, the self-proclaimed last minute fill in, the trip offered an unusually diverse mission experience.
“This was a buffet mission trip,” said Nanny, who was with the college’s Oxford scholarship study group shortly before the trip. “I love the English people? We did outreach to an elementary school, in a city that is a stronghold of Islam, in a town that is known for its gay community, as well as door-to-door evangelism in regular English neighborhoods.”
Regardless of the individual reasons for going, the team was reminded of their common purpose.
Once in the town of Inskip, the students and professors stayed in the homes of other believers from a local evangelical church called Inskip Baptist Chapel. Each morning the team joined several deacons and pastors from the church for prayer and devotion before departing to their location for the day.
“Every day was different but they always started with breakfast and Bible study and ended with prayer,” McFadden said. “Whatever the Lord led us to do we were able to do. The people at the church were really hospitable, demonstrating Christ’s love towards us and welcoming us into their homes.”
But despite the welcome they received within the church, the students also met their fair share of resistance to the gospel among some of the people they interacted with outside the church.
“Really the whole area surprised me,” Nanny said. “If you do evangelism [in the U.S.] people are fairly open, but [in England] you don’t talk to people you don’t know. People think you’re weird for talking to them. They’re like, ‘Get away from me.’ Culturally speaking some people call this British reserve versus American openness through friendly conversation.'”
Despite setbacks, the team also saw the fruit of some of their labors. During their stay, they were able to offer significant help promoting a community barbecue held at the church. The event drew two-thirds of Baptist Chapel’s 80 or so members and more than 120 people from the local community, many of whom were not Christians.
“This church is nearing its 200th-year anniversary. It is very encouraging to receive so many non-Christian people from our community to our annual outreach barbecue. The Criswell students certainly made a significant contribution to help achieve that result,” said Baptist Chapel Pastor Daniel Ralph.
For the students involved, the energy around the barbecue was contagious.
“It was good to see the village come together,” McFadden said. “People who were not used to coming to a church interacted with Christians. It was my favorite part of the trip.”
Interaction with local believers and non-believers wasn’t all social, however.
Later, after meeting with local missionaries to the Muslim community, the team attended a faculty Bible study at the university in Prescott.
“The leader announced to us that he was a Christian Anarchist,” Wilson said. “The next faculty member referred to himself as a ‘liberal’ from the Church of England. We also met a Pentecostal,as well as an East German lady who confessed to loving God yet hating the established church.”
The study was from John 5 about the man needing to get into the pool. As an Old Testament instructor, Brooks offered some insights from Jesus’ use of Moses. Wilson said he prayed during the Bible study that those attending would have as transformational an encounter with Jesus as the man with the infirmity in John 5 did.
Criswell College requires each of its students to participate in a mission trip before graduation. One of its core values is the development of “God-called men and women in the Word and by the Word.”
The team brought this value to England by teaching adults, youth, and children in services not only at Inskip Baptist Chapel, but also in other churches and in a public school. After delivering a sermon on living out the resurrection power of Christ, Wilson was approached by members of the congregation.
“They very gratefully received the message, and were encouraged by the way they felt I had made the Scriptures very personal to some of them,” Wilson said. “We’ve just got to believe that the Bible is inerrant, and let the Holy Spirit guide us as we open up the scriptures. He opens our minds and hearts to God’s truth.”
Overall, the American and English believers said they were encouraged by the time they spent together spreading the gospel.
“When the Spirit unifies God’s people around the cross, we see love for one another through Christ. This spans countries and cultures. It was wonderful for us to see how the members of Inskip Baptist Chapel are able to bring a glimpse of biblical truth to their dark region. It was our privilege to bring them encouragement and support,” Wilson said.
For students like Nanny, the lessons they learned from their English brothers and sisters sink far deeper than a cross-cultural experience or a typical college summer experience.
“Even when it seems like sin abounds, God’s people are still there,” Nanny said. “I just thought Europe was dead, but God does have an open door. Those people are very healthy. They aren’t like the big Southern Baptist churches; they are in small pockets. A remnant? It’s not over yet.”