BEEBE, Ark. – The month of April traditionally means baseball, softball, spring-time rains, and high school proms. For 11 years April also meant hundreds of Arkansas Baptist students descending on a selected community where they would partner with an association of local churches to meet needs and share the Gospel. Through the years, this student missions event known as CONNECT involved over 2200 students and adult leaders in over 500 ministry projects, resulting in over 50 salvation decisions.
And then the pandemic happened. In 2020, after 11 years straight years, CONNECT was cancelled for the foreseeable future. As restrictions were lifted, plans began in earnest to prepare for the return of CONNECT in 2022. On the weekend of April 29-May 1, 180 students and their adult leaders from 16 churches came together in Beebe for a weekend of ministry and missions. After two long years, CONNECT was finally back!
CONNECT kicked off with worship on Friday night as participants prepared to go out and serve on Saturday. The worship band was made up of students from Ouachita Baptist University. Adam Venters, Baptist Campus Ministry (BCM) Minister at the Little Rock BCM served as the speaker. That night, five students heard Adam share the Gospel message and responded by making professions of faith. The next day these sixth-grade boys were trained, along with everyone else, in how to share the Gospel and start spiritual conversations as they served others by meeting needs. These brand-new believers then went out with their leaders and began to serve and to share. By the end of the day, they had helped to lead three adults to faith in Christ.
According to Travis McCormick, Missions Team member and leader of the CONNECT planning team, this is what CONNECT is all about. “We are called to make disciples who make disciples. CONNECT is designed to help students and adults learn how to meet needs to help spark spiritual conversations and begin the process of making disciples where they live.”
Union Valley Baptist Church in Beebe served as the host church for the weekend. Pastor Tommy Miller and Student Pastor Casey Longing served alongside other volunteers as they led the church to provide a place for participants to sleep, eat and worship. Shower units from First Baptist Church in Ozark and Mt. Zion Association provided a place for participants to clean up after the projects. Judy Gray led the Calvary Association Disaster Relief Team in cooking breakfast and supper for participants on Saturday.
Joe Garner, Associational Missionary for Calvary Baptist Association, worked hard to involve his association of churches to provide 23 projects and volunteers to lead each project. Thomas Little, student pastor at First Baptist of Royal, served as the construction coordinator for all the projects. These projects involved the students in building wheelchair ramps, replacing a deck, cleaning yards, serving at a fishing rodeo, building a “gaga ball” pit, cleaning church vans, providing free washes at a local laundromat, installing a French drain at a church, delivering meals to the elderly, power washing and striping the parking lot of the local pregnancy care center, and door-to-door evangelism. Garner summed up the purpose of the ministry project when he said, “CONNECT is James 2:18 being lived out in real life. It’s faith in action. It’s a tangible way for youth to be a Christian, rather than just talking about being a Christian.”
Thomas Little, Youth Pastor at First Baptist Church in Royal, shared his perspective, “As the construction coordinator on the CONNECT leadership team, I have a unique opportunity to visit with those individuals that we will be ministering to. I get to hear their story and then I get to share their story with the student groups that will be doing the actual ministry work. If there is one thing I can say about CONNECT to the student ministers throughout Arkansas, it’s this: ‘Utilize CONNECT as a tool to grow your students and adult leaders into the missionaries that God has called them to be’.”
CONNECT is a ministry of the Dixie Jackson Missions Offering and a Cooperative Program ministry of the Missions Team of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. All students in 7th – 12th grades are invited to join us for CONNECT in Cabot the weekend of October 14-16, 2022.