Students spend life-changing summer with Phoenix church plant

By Francine Biere | Aug 17, 2021

Members of the GenSend team brave the 112-degree heat to hand out free water and ice pops and set up face-painting activities in a park. Photo by Lauren Standford

Eight students from the Bible Belt landed in Phoenix this summer and stepped off the plane into 100+ degree heat. From small southern towns to a large metropolis surrounded by diverse cultures, they began a six-week mission opportunity with the GenSend summer program.

“GenSend is a missionary development program of the North American Mission Board which offers students an opportunity to work with a church plant and engage in the community,” said Jesse Powell, a NAMB church planting catalyst in Arizona.

“These students had to learn how to navigate a more urban area, engage with non-believers and talk with those who have never been to church,” Powell added.

Valley Life North Mountain Church in Phoenix was the group’s destination.

“They were missionaries this summer in and around our church and additional hands and feet in what the church is already doing,” said Pastor Mike Lee.

Their first hurdle was developing as a team.

“We were challenged with getting to know each other, viewing different ideas on how to serve, and sharing the gospel,” said student Lauren Stanford. “We gained more respect for each other and learned how to work as a team.”

“Shifting our focus to the Lord instead of ourselves was unifying and uplifting,” student Devin McGlon said. “Coming back after a hard day’s work and sharing with each other was encouraging.”

The GenSend group sings praises as they close their community group meeting. Photo by Jared Nelson

The team served everywhere, both in and outside of the church from the worship team and kids’ ministry to coffee shops, parks and a farmer’s market.

“The owner of the coffee shop was so impressed he invited the students to return and take on a kids’ art project, which led to gospel conversations,” Lee said. Their involvement in the community led to strangers coming to church and worshipping, he said.

While they learned to engage with strangers and a different environment, both physically and culturally, they grew in their spiritual walk. This experience affirmed their purpose, challenged them to dig deeper into God’s Word and led several to make life-changing decisions.

Micah Lauer is graduating early in order to return to Phoenix to begin classes at Gateway Seminary and intern with a church plant.

“Because of the connections I made through GenSend, I found God’s call in my life,” he said.

Lauren Stanford wasn’t planning on coming back to Phoenix.

“After seeing the need for sharing the gospel, this experience affirmed my purpose to be involved in worship, leadership and music ministry,” she said. She hopes to come back as an intern.

Mike Lee, pastor of Valley Life North Mountain Church, leads a farewell prayer. “We have been incredibly blessed by our GenSend team this summer,” he says. “As they return home, let’s pray they continue to boldly live on mission in their communities.” Photo by Nathalie Warner

Another student, Santana Stevenson, has already moved to Mesa, accepted a position as a teacher and will be working with a church in Tempe to start a children’s ministry.

“It’s really scary when you think you know what God wants you to do, but it’s very hard to take steps toward the goal,” she said. “But you know you’re safe because He’s there with you.”

Devin McGlon found herself relying on God as she worked in the city.

“God taught me who He is,” she said. “Building relationships takes longer and we don’t always see the fruit, but the Lord never promised us that; instead, we are planting seeds.” She is an intern at her church in Alabama, where she’s learning about the relationship as well as the logistical sides of ministry. “The Lord is preparing me for something,” she said.

Lee expressed his appreciation for GenSend.

“This program is fantastic and, as a church, we want to thank NAMB for their generosity and [Arizona Southern Baptists] for their contributions,” he said. “These donations go to the real gospel work that’s getting done.”

Francine Biere, a freelance writer living in Sierra Vista, is a member of Village Meadows Baptist Church, Sierra Vista.

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