Panama City Beach – reaching out to the spring breakers

Haemi Kim—Staff Writer

This year, PLIA boasted 16 different sites, including new sites such as Panama City Beach (PCB), Florida. PCB is known for attracting college students to come party over spring break. Many of these students are hurting and searching for meaning.

PCB group picture 2

Photo by Darling Hernandez

Seven Dordt students went to PCB, along with one Dordt faculty member and his family, with the goal of sharing the gospel and evangelizing spring breakers. This group joined other college students to serve in an organization called Beach Reach, where evangelism takes the form of free night van rides and morning pancakes.

After driving 13 hours to Memphis, Tennessee, and then eight hours to Panama City Beach, Florida, Dordt students arrived at Laguna Beach Christian Retreat. The Beach Reach started on Saturday, March 9th and kicked off with an opening session to welcome students, including a short worship and prayer walk. The main purpose of prayer walks is for students to become familiar with what they are going to experience throughout the week and to pray for the people and places they will interact with.

On Sunday, after breakfast and a short message, an orientation outlined what was going to happen during the week, which included pancakes, street ministry, van ministry, base ministry, prayer ministry and disaster relief ministry. The group went out on the PCB strips again to distribute cards that advertised the free van rides and pancake breakfast.

A couple of group members then went on the navigator’s meeting to learn navigation for the van rides. After dinner, all the students came together for worship and a message that encouraged the group to think about not only the transformation of those being reached, but also for the group reaching out. Starting from 9:00 p.m. through 2:00 a.m., the group divided into van ministry and street ministry to start their first assignments.

Monday through Thursday followed a similar daily pattern. Starting at 10:00 a.m., the group got ready to go to the arcade in town where the free pancake breakfast was served. Each group had their own shift. The PLIA group, when it was their shift, divided the roles of holding signs, pouring syrup and cleaning up, joined by other students who were distributing pancakes, welcoming visitors at the door, wearing pancake costumes, etc. When the group was not on their shift, they attended the breakfast to talk to the various spring breakers, Beach Reachers, locals.

Because of recent Hurricane Michael which hit Panama City, Beach Reach also had a shift of students cross the bridge to help out with disaster relief. The PLIA group went to three different schools on two different days, where they helped remove litter and do gardening.

After dinner, worship started again, along with the van and street ministries, with students switching up their roles each night. When the van picked up passengers, groups sitting in each row had conversations to share the love of Christ. However, because of the different reactions that people had, the PLIA group tried not to force the conversation but still aimed to ask the spring breakers a lot of questions.

When the time was right, they talked about the love of Christ. As the night went on and more drunk students were on the streets, vans were called and students were walked to their hotels by street teams to ensure their safety.

Some nights, the group joined the prayer ministry where half of the night, instead of going out, they stayed in the chapel and prayed for the different van and street ministries. This group watched the live feed of prayer requests and van rides.

“I came away with a better understanding of God’s love,” sophomore Colton Ott said. “He wants all people to come to Him, not just the people society would say you can talk to. That means going to the drug addicts, alcoholics, hard partiers, and the homeless, and spreading God’s love to them. It’s also a lesson in trust: that God will watch over us and use what we say to further His kingdom. To quote the first night, ‘God has spoken before through an ass, and He probably will again tonight.'”

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