MOBILE, Ala. (Christian Examiner) – Mapping out a strategy for a "Great American Road Trip," students at the University of Mobile had a lofty goal – to share the Gospel in all 50 states in one academic year.
"We believed that if we stepped up our game, our university could somehow make history," said Drew Ballesteros, who earned an undergraduate degree in theology from the University of Mobile in early May.
Joe Savage, executive dean of the School of Christian Ministries, agreed with the plan.
"We prayed and said it is doable. When school began, we launched," Savage said. "Our students took on this initiative to make God known across this nation."
The road trip began Aug. 19, 2014, on the first day of the University of Mobile's academic year, and was completed April 19, 2015 in Maryland, several weeks before the academic year ended, according to Ballesteros.
STUDENTS SHOWN RESPECT
The responses from those they met varied.
"In New England, people were extremely nice to us, but were not extremely responsive to the Gospel," said Ballesteros.
In contrast, people in the Midwest were willing to listen to the message from the students.
"Overall, numerous people had the willingness to sit down and talk with us as long as we were respectful and showed sincerity," said Ballesteros.
While many UMobile students were already involved in ministry teams in the local area through a variety of university-sponsored service projects and ministries, Ballesteros said he yearned for even more.
"We wanted to give them the opportunity to not only share the Gospel on a local level, but on a national one," he said.
The School of Christian Ministries started, spearheaded and participated in the project in which other departments at the school planned mission trips, service projects and Christian concerts across the nation.
Other university departments involved in the Great American Road Trip were students, faculty and staff from Campus Ministries, Campus Life and the school's Center for Performing Arts – which sent four music ensembles on tour.
The U.S. was split into regions and traveling groups of 11 students and three faculty members from was assigned to cover an area of the United States.
Also, individual students reported their own trips across the nation to the School of Christian Ministries, noting the states where they had intentionally shared the Gospel with someone.
"To the best of our knowledge, and according to our research, we are the first university or seminary that has taken the Gospel to all 50 states in one academic school year," Savage said.
Students and faculty spread God's message across the nation at various venues in each state, from local churches to Indian reservations, social and civic organizations, coffee shops, college campuses and wherever they stopped along the way.
CHURCH PLANTING IN SEVEN STATES IN SIX DAYS
The New England Region team traveled to seven states in six days. They focused on meeting and working with church planters across the Northeast. The Northwest Region team drove 21 hours over the course of three days and spent time in the Dakotas serving Native Americans, said Ballesteros.
"Although those teams already had contacts in their specific region, our other four trips had the sole objective of sharing the Gospel with whomever the Lord put on their hearts," said Ballesteros. Each team trip covered from three to seven states.
Students traveled during academic breaks and extended weekends.
Music ensembles toured across the Southeast, while Campus Life groups took ministry trips to New York, Chicago, Seattle, Cleveland, Atlantic City and Salt Lake City.
THE LAST SEVEN STATES
As the end of the academic year neared, Savage said they knew there were seven states that didn't get covered. They were determined to accomplish the goal.
So Savage and Ballesteros packed their bags, split the seven states, and in six days they reached the goal – the University of Mobile had spread the word of God to every state in the United States of America.
"I believe our students learned to rely on the Lord to provide everything," said Ballesteros. "Each team went out to different cities not knowing where they were going to lay their head at night, yet all of them were safe and had a nice bed to sleep in. We wanted them to know and live out the understanding that if God has called you to do something, He will provide for every single need."
Ballesteros said the students weren't the only ones who learned something from the 50-state Road Trip.
"I hope the people outside of the school can learn that there are strangers in this world who actually care about them," Ballesteros said. "The mission of this project was to not only share the Gospel, but also bring light to a country that seems to becoming 'oh so dark' at such a rapid rate."
UMobile student John Baker, a junior, said the Great American Road Trip was an adventure with life-changing impact.
Baker and junior Thomas Padgett took the Gospel to Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Kansas.
RODEO CHAMPIONS TURN THINGS AROUND
"We had many interesting encounters throughout the trip, but the one that stuck out most happened in the small town of Guymon, Oklahoma," Baker said.
The students were on their way to Dodge City, Kansas, for the night when they came upon Guymon.
"It seemed like an interesting town, and Thomas is a sucker for boots," said Baker.
So they stopped at the small town's boot store.
"We had no idea that our stop in a boot store in the middle of nowhere would have a lasting impact on our lives," recalled Baker. "We ended up running into two rodeo champions who owned the store and are amazing men of God."
The two UMobile students were about to share the Gospel with the rodeo champs when things turned around.
"They ended up sharing with us," said Baker.
The two students spent nearly an hour talking about what God has done in their lives. "And they poured back into us," Baker said of the rodeo champions.
As the students were about the leave, Baker said something "amazing" happened.
"These two rodeo champions walked up, grabbed our hands and began praying over us," said Baker. "It was one of the most beautiful times that I will cherish for the rest of my life."
For information about the University of Mobile, visit www.umobile.edu or call Enrollment Services at 1.800.WIN.RAMS or 251-442-2222.