BEEBE, Ark. – Union Valley Baptist Church has a heart for reaching the next generation. Casey Longing has served as student pastor at the church since 1999 where he has helped lead the charge in NextGen Ministry.
Longing had this to say when asked about Union Valley’s ministry to students, “I just have to brag on our church. They really invest in our teenagers and our children’s ministry. We just have an incredible amount of support, not just financially but through prayer, time investment and much more.”
Student ministry was put on hold for a while as everything shut down due to COVID-19. The shutdown meant that the church’s annual Disciple Now (D-Now) event also had to be cancelled last year. Although disappointed, Longing knew that they would be able to get together again in the future, he just didn’t know when.
Once the mask mandate was lifted and things began to open back up, Longing and his adult leaders determined that it was time to bring everyone back together again after the year-long hiatus. He says he didn’t realize just how much his students missed being together for this event until he posted the sign-up sheet.
“Normally when I put a sign-up sheet the first night, there are only a handful of students to sign up. This time, the very first night I had 32 kids sign up and I knew that we might be on to something here,” he said.
Eventually, 59 students registered for the event. The most exciting part for Longing was that many of these students were unchurched. They would come for youth group on Wednesday nights but had never been to church on Sunday. The D-Now weekend would give them a chance to see what Sunday morning services were like.
D-Now was planned for April 9-11 which just happened to coincide with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention’s CONNECT Gospel Share (CGS) evangelism emphasis. CGS was introduced as a way to help students learn how to share the Gospel with their friends and others in their community using Gospel wristbands that would be provided at no charge to them. Longing says he talked to Travis McCormick of the ABSC Missions Team about CGS and realized that he could incorporate this emphasis into their D-Now weekend.
The theme for the weekend was “Imitators,” with lessons from Ephesians 5 that focused on becoming imitators of God. Longing took some time after one of the lessons on Friday night to train the students on how to use the Gospel wristbands. He held the bracelet up, explained the meaning of the symbols and then asked a few of the students to get up and do the same thing. They practiced giving away the bracelets and explaining the meaning.
On Saturday afternoon, the students provided a free community car wash. They divided into two different groups and washed cars at two different locations from 12:00 until 3:00 that afternoon. Longing says people would try to pay the students, but they would tell them their money was no good here. Then they would hand them an orange bracelet and explain what the symbols meant. They ended up passing out over a hundred wristbands.
Longing said people in the community were very supportive. Many of them asked why they were doing this for free.
They responded that Jesus had given them the ability to serve the community in this way. Then he would follow that up by saying, “This car wash is just like salvation. You just have to accept that you’ve not done anything to earn it.”
That night, Longing used the teaching time to once again share the Gospel with his students. “I just basically cast the net out and man, 13 teenagers gave their lives to Christ.”
The students had developed a motto for the weekend of “if one goes, we all go.” So, the group decided, and the adults agreed that they would all wear their “Imitator” shirts to church and when these 13 students went forward on Sunday morning to make their professions of faith known, everyone would go up front to stand with them.
Longing says he’ll never forget that visual of over 60 students and adult leaders standing there in front of the church supporting their classmates who had just made the most important decision of their lives.
“I’m telling you it was just electric. It was just an incredible feeling of the Spirt. It was really, really neat.”
On Sunday morning before the worship service, the group met together for a joint Sunday school lesson. One of the students raised their hand and said, “Hey, I have a question. Can we get some more orange bracelets?” Longing asked him what was up and what he wanted more bracelets for. The student said, “I don’t want to do just one carwash. We have to keep this thing going.”
Longing is excited to see what the future holds as the students have caught the vision for sharing the Gospel in Beebe and beyond. He said the students are wanting to pass the bracelets out to their friends at school. They are also wanting to do another carwash in a couple of weeks. “They are really driving the train now. As a student leader, it’s exciting to see the kids take ownership.”
*Thirteen students from that weekend were baptized Sunday, April 25.