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Engaging the community with Christ
April 03, 2006
By Garrett E. Wishall

Jacob Preston prays with a man at the Jefferson Street Baptist Center during Reaching Out, March 18. Preston was one of 70 students of Southern Seminary who took part in the event. Photo by John Gill

Seventy students from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary combined with three churches and a local homeless shelter to share the Gospel and practice servant evangelism March 18, during Reaching Out Spring 2006.

The goal of this semi-annual event is to impact Louisville and the surrounding area with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, while offering help and encouragement to local churches.

Tom Bohnert, assistant to the director of the Great Commission Center at Southern Seminary, noted that in addition to helping local churches, students gain valuable practical experience.

"When 15 students show up to help local churches go door-to-door in the community it serves as a great encouragement to them," he said. "Reaching Out also provides an opportunity for students to practice the skills and techniques they are taught in class."

Students worked with Carlisle Avenue Baptist and New Heights Baptist, doing evangelistic surveying and canvassing in the neighborhoods surrounding those churches. Other students combined with First Gethsemane Baptist to reach out to the University of Louisville campus and nearby neighborhoods. The students had several unique encounters.

"One group of students talked to a follower of Jainism and another person who practiced Hinduism," Bohnert said. "Even though there are 92 ethno linguistic groups in Louisville, most of the ministry in Reaching Out is not cross cultural. That was a neat opportunity for cross-cultural exchange."

The final group of students did servant evangelism, working with Jefferson Street Baptist Center, a ministry to homeless people in Louisville. Jacob Preston, student missions coordinator at Southern Seminary, worked with that team and said the group served in various ways, from painting hallways and doorways to throwing away old furniture to preparing rooms for the residents to sleep in. However, he said the most meaningful part of the time was the conversations they had with residents.

"We were able to have a lot of conversations with different gentlemen, hearing their story and sharing with them," he said. "They really need someone to listen to them, and give them a sense of hope from the Gospel and we would stop what we were doing and have conversations with them [whenever we could]."

Preston related two specific conversations he had.

"I found one guy in his room, reading from his Bible in the book of Genesis," he said. "It was just a pretty bare room and he was searching the Scriptures for hope and that really impacted me. I had a chance to pray with him about his situation.

"Another guy named Terry had spent all of his money on alcohol and a worldly lifestyle and he was just there trying to get back on his feet. Stories like that helped show me and other students the reality of what the world is like. It made me want to have a missional approach to the world and to love people deeply and share the truth of the Gospel with them."

Preston said that while Reaching Out is just one morning out of the semester, the seminary's goal is for the event to be the start of something much larger.

"Our hope in the Great Commission Center is that this event would fan a flame in students' hearts for the Gospel to be heard by all people," he said. "This will not be a one time event students can check off a list to feel better about themselves, but possibly a catalyst to ignite a continuing passion for evangelization."

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