ONE OF THE incredible ministries that you support through the Cooperative Program as Arkansas Baptists is called Nehemiah Teams. The vision statement of Nehemiah Teams is “to lead students to finish the Great Commission in this generation.” Hannah Sneed, a student at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, learned this first-hand last summer.
Serving with Nehemiah Teams wasn’t always on Sneed’s mind. In fact, not so long ago she wasn’t a Christian at all. After switching dorms during her freshman year, Hannah’s new roommates had a different essence to them. “I recognized that they had something I didn’t,” Hannah said. “They had a joy that I didn’t have. When I would have a bad day, it would be like the world was ending. But when they had a bad day, they always find joy in something instead. I wanted that.” She explains that they actively loved her and served her and really were the hands and feet of Jesus. They broke down her walls, and in January of 2018, Hannah accepted Christ.
“One night, I heard the voice of the Lord telling me that I was created for so much more than the lifestyle I was living and the choices I was making,” Sneed said. “I contacted someone later that night and said, ‘I think I heard the Lord and I want to be saved; I need to be saved.’
“He redeemed me from so much sin that I just had to tell others about what the Lord did on my behalf – that’s what really encouraged me to do Nehemiah Teams.”
Stepping up and stepping out
Grey Falanga, pastor of Walnut Street Baptist Church, Jonesboro, was instrumental in Hannah learning and getting connected with Nehemiah Teams, she says. Falanga was a part of the very first Nehemiah Team in 2004. “He always talks about it and how it was a pivotal point in his relationship with the Lord,” Hannah said, which is what inspired her to finally go.
Nehemiah Teams is an eight-week summer missions program for students ages 17-29 that involves a cross-cultural mission assignment to unreached, and hard to reach, groups of people. With Nehemiah Teams, which is a partnership between International Mission Board and local entities like the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, different placements mean different activities. You could be teaching English somewhere, participating and helping run sports camps, working with music, or a number of activities. Nehemiah Teams serves 31 countries.
Sneed served in Nairobi, Kenya for eight weeks. She was a camp counselor for four weeks and then worked in village ministry the last four weeks. As a camp counselor, she worked with kids from different religions and backgrounds.
“It’s not just for a few days; you are being a missionary, on the field for 52 days and learning what it means,” Sneed said.
“The camp was an international camp so I worked with kids who were from Germany, as well as Kenya and Ethiopia.” In the village ministry, they served the community the best way possible, and she learned what it really meant to serve someone.
“There was this boy, and he was from this Islamic slum and he had been going to this Christian school, which it was a miracle that the parents even let him go since it was a Christian school. There was this other boy, his friend, who had been having dreams about Jesus,” Sneed said.
This boy had already been facing persecution because he’d converted to Christianity. His family had disowned him and thrown him out. He was only seven years old. He was living on the streets, homeless. He was sexually assaulted, which Sneed said was a side effect to living on the streets.
“He was encouraging his friend [though], who was having dreams about Jesus; he said, ‘You just need to follow Him. Sometimes we have to bear our cross just like Jesus bore His.’ And he was seven and just the fact that he was encouraging his friend, even though he knew he was going to be persecuted,” Sneed said. “Sometimes we don’t even share when we know we won’t be [persecuted]. That’s something that always sticks out in my mind.”
Coming back to the states after serving all summer wasn’t easy. Sneed talked about how missions isn’t a calling, but a command for believers. She feels personally responsible for mobilizing students to go and serve.
“The people were such a blessing to me, even though I was sent to be a blessing to them,” Sneed said. “The Lord just freed me from my strongholds, deepened my faith, and my Bible knowledge increased. There are just so many benefits to serving with the Nehemiah Teams.”
What are Nehemiah Teams?
In 1993, Jess and Wendy Jennings began serving as cross-cultural workers with the IMB in Southeast Asia. For 15 years, they planted churches in rural, poor areas. In 2004, they founded Nehemiah Teams as a way to incorporate more young people into their work. Since then, 3,200 students have trained and gone out on short-term mission trips to 30+ countries around the world.
Nehemiah Teams come from the story of Nehemiah, who in 52 days led his people to rebuild Jerusalem. If you look throughout history in the Bible, many mission stories involve young people being called by God and following that calling to obey the Lord and win people over for the kingdom.
Another key statement that Nehemiah Teams draws inspiration from comes from President Roosevelt’s inaugural speech in 1936, “There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations, much is given. Of other generations, much is expected. This generation has a rendezvous with destiny.” Nehemiah Teams believes that this generation “has a rendezvous with destiny.”
A bigger picture
Sneed described another experience she had while in Kenya that stood out to her and really cemented the idea of why she was there doing what she was doing.
“We were in a village in Northern Kenya working with village schools. I stayed with a local pastor there and his family. His nephew had never seen someone with my skin color before, and he didn’t know how to interact with me. It was a great example of how God created us in His own image. He doesn’t see us differently no matter our skin color.”
Everyone deserves to hear the gospel, from those in our own backyards and neighborhoods to those across the globe in little villages in Kenya. Jesus came to save everyone, and it’s our job to share that mission.
Sending others out
If there’s one thing that Sneed would tell other students on the fence about serving it’s this, “Just do it.
“There is no greater reward than storing up eternal treasures. As college students, we are given the gift of our summers, of our time, and we need to take advantage of that.”
Sneed continues to live out what she learned and witnessed in Kenya in her everyday life.
“It would’ve been wrong of me to do that [serve] all summer and then come back and just disregard it,” Sneed said.
While she doesn’t know if she’ll do another Nehemiah Team, Sneed does say she wants to do more long-term missions elsewhere. “I’m really interested in doing [another missions program like] Journeyman or Teach Beyond since I’m going to school to be a teacher.” Without Nehemiah Teams, though, Sneed says, she would’ve never imagined serving in long-term missions and for that she’s very grateful and thankful.
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