JACKSON, Tenn. – March 30, 2011 – Two Union University students stepped out of the glaring sun into a cool, dim Starbucks in Tampa, Fla., to see if they could get a picture with Alex Rodriguez.
The New York Yankees third baseman had just walked in and said no to the picture, but then Rodriguez’s girlfriend, actress Cameron Diaz, walked through the door.
While she was waiting for her drink, the two students introduced themselves and explained to her that they were walking in that area of Tampa, praying. They asked if they could pray for her as they walked, and explained that it was the love of Jesus that compelled them to love others.
Diaz asked them to pray for the people who did not have as much as her and commended them for what they were doing.
The students were members of the first Union University team to partner with Covenant Life Church in Tampa. The Tampa team was just one of 12 Global Opportunities teams in which about 130 students, faculty and staff members participated during spring break.
Composed of seven students and two leaders from Union, the Tampa team’s main objective was to share the gospel in a city where more than 70 percent of the population doesn’t attend church. One of the pastors of Covenant Life Church, Justin Perry, is a Union graduate.
The students said they were glad to join with the church in several different activities.
“The most memorable aspect (of the trip) was being able to have conversations with random strangers — the homeless, college students, parents and even a celebrity,” Union junior Jordan Timbs said.
Though they were doing a different activity in a different part of the city nearly every day, the team members’ main goal remained the same: to seek opportunities to share the gospel by starting conversations and asking questions of the people they met.
“I was nervous about having confidence in plainly and clearly laying out the entire gospel and about how I would integrate that into conversations,” sophomore Jamie Mitchell said.
She and her fellow students didn’t have to wait long to put themselves to the test. On the first day of the trip they handed out granola bars that had an information card about Covenant Life Church taped to each wrapper. As they handed the snacks out, they struck up conversations with people at a chalk art festival and a nearby park. Many of the residents were receptive to hearing about the church and some of the team members shared the gospel with or prayed for people they met.
The next day, sophomore Lindsay Olford saw her prayers for boldness in sharing the gospel answered. Covenant Life Church is located one block from the University of Tampa, and the Union team partnered with the Campus Crusade for Christ group at the university to survey students with the purpose of sharing the gospel.
Olford met a University of Tampa student named Jessica.
“The first opportunity I had to share the gospel, I was not with a partner,” Olford said. “I walked into the Stadium (the university’s dining area), where a lot of students were eating lunch. One girl was sitting with a computer. I knew I needed to talk to her. I hesitated at first, then just walked up and asked her if she had a few minutes for a survey.”
The “Spiritual Interest” survey questions led to the opportunity for Olford to talk about her faith. While drawing on a napkin the often-depicted diagram of a chasm made passable with a cross, she explained to Jessica how Jesus’ death and resurrection bridges the gap between people and God that is caused by sin. At the end of their conversation, Olford left her with a Covenant Life information card.
“It was amazing walking away from that not feeling discouraged, but feeling empowered because I put the gospel out there,” Olford said. “I prayed that God would use whatever I said.”
In addition to passing out granola bars and surveying students, the team helped the Campus Crusade for Christ group host a tie-dye event and a ping pong tournament, volunteered at an inner-city middle school, talked to homeless men and women in downtown Tampa and served lunch and cleaned at Trinity Cafe, a ministry for the homeless.
Timbs, Mitchell and Olford agreed that through the trip they learned to speak the gospel more boldly.
“We understood that our mission was to spread the gospel — not to get people saved,” Timbs said. “We had faith that the Lord was working.”
Several times Mitchell said she could see the training she had received in youth group, Union classes and church coming into play when sharing the gospel.
“We learned a lot about intentionality with sharing the gospel,” Mitchell said. “It does not come naturally; it’s a choice. We should share what we have joyfully, relying on God. He will use it for good.”
By Samantha Adams (’13)