MORGAN, Utah – Spring break is typically a time when college students relax and perhaps head to the beach. But a group of 10 from the Baptist Student Union at Crowder College in Neosho spent their time away from classes, March 12-19, partnering with a North American Mission Board church planter in the heart of Mormon/Latter Day Saints territory.
The trip was part of an ongoing partnership between Shoal Creek Baptist Association and Morgan Grace Church. That church was originally planted about 10 years ago, but brothers Gavan and Chase Roberts recently replanted the church with the aid of the North American Mission Board, funded by Southern Baptists and the Cooperative Program.
“The students had such great energy and insight,” Alan Brock, director of missions for Shoal Creek Baptist Association, said. “Whatever they needed to be done, they dove in and did it.”
Evangelical gospel ministry in Utah can be difficult. Almost all of the 12,000 who live in the Morgan area – 94 percent – are affiliated with the Mormon church. Morgan Grace Church uses hospitality and community involvement as their evangelism strategy. Gavin gives snow skiing lessons. Chase is a football coach for Morgan High School. Gavin’s wife Hailey coaches the softball team. They have three objectives: Love God; Love Others; and Plant Churches. The students from Crowder embraced that mission of building a good relationship between their host church and the community, as well as serving and encouraging the church planters. They stocked and organized products of a nearby grocery store, delivered gift baskets to other local businesses, and cleaned and worked around the church facilities.
“Words have power,” said Crowder student Hadley McBride, “but our actions had more power in the community. The smallest act of service had a big impact and opened up conversations.”
The students also engaged with multiple LDS missionaries in gospel conversations, during a morning in Salt Lake City at Temple Square.
“Chase and Gavin told us the best way to engage is to ask questions,” Brock said, “so that’s what we did. Our prayer is that our questions would cause them to be open to the spirit of God to follow the biblical Jesus.”
These conversations didn’t necessarily bear fruit at the time, but may open opportunities down the road.
“God opened our eyes,” said Aaron Werner, director of the Crowder BSU. “Even though the LDS community is here in southwest Missouri, a lot of times we just stick to our own. God opened the students’ eyes to what they believe, and how it is different from us. That created an urgency to share the gospel with Mormon friends they knew here.”
First-year Crowder student Jaden Steele said the week hammered home for her the difference between authentic gospel faith in Jesus and the doctrine preached by the Mormon faith.
“It baffled me how much the culture and LDS church has influenced the people,” she said. “It was great to see how God worked through us loving people and showing them the true love of Christ.”
Brock said the recent trip is just beginning on an ongoing partnership between Shoal Creek and the Utah church. He said they hope to send two teams a year, in March and in September. Not only are they hoping the church can be a gospel witness in an LDS stronghold, the area in general is growing, and so does the need for the gospel.
“People are moving into Utah from the East and West coast making Utah the third fastest growing state in America,” Brock said. “Morgan Grace Church has gone from 25 in worship to 60 in just a few months. The goal is not just to be supporting them financially, but to help them plant churches in an area with no other evangelical presence.”