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BeachReach: Spring Breakers Share Pancakes and Jesus

BeachReach is a ministry opportunity for college students and adult volunteers to meet, serve, and pray for college students who have come to Panama City Beach, Florida; on Spring Break.

* Not his real name.

"Matthew 4:16 says, 'The people who live in darkness have seen a great light.' How I pray it would be so for Beach Reach 2008. May our students and leaders shine so brightly for you, Jesus, that the enemy flees. I pray salvation over the city."

So reads the January 25, 2008, journal entry of Angel Ellis, Beach Reach coordinator. More than a month before heading to Panama City Beach, Florida, for what was essentially a three-week mission trip, Ellis made her petition known to her Lord.

Ask, and you shall receive.


As a unique outreach ministry to college students celebrating spring break, Beach Reach is a time of meeting needs and sharing Christ. Church and campus ministry groups from across the country come to this Florida resort town expressly for the weekly events.

"It's chaotic," BeachReach guest coordinator Jason Hale recalls, thinking back to his late night shifts at the ministry's headquarters in Panama City Beach. Hale served as a guest coordinator during the second week of the 2008 event. "From the time we turn on the phones, there is non-stop ringing."

Calls requesting free transportation come into the call center from collegiate partiers who've earlier received the local phone number from student volunteers. Volunteers mostly handle the call center and the bulk of the Beach Reach efforts to minister to the partiers. An adult coordinator is present in case a difficult call comes in or a complicated situation arises.

On the Thursday night before he planned to return home to Nashville, Tenn., Hate was the coordinator on duty when such a call came in.

"Tiffany, a BSU [Baptist Student Union] student from Mississippi State, said a guy named Juan had called," Hate said. "She wasn't sure how to handle it, so she asked me to call him." Within minutes, Hate was on the phone. 'Juan,' it turns out, was actually John*, and he had quite literally been abandoned.

"John and his two friends planned a cruise to the Bahamas for spring break, but when they got to the boat, one of the friends didn't have proper identification and they were denied boarding," Hale recalled

John explaining. In an effort to "salvage" spring break, the boys headed to

Panama City Beach for a couple of days.

The morning before he called BeachReach headquarters, John had ventured out in search of a fast-food breakfast. While he was away, his co-travelers took the car and left John behind.

Distraught, without money, hungry, and lacking any transportation, John remembered a small card he'd received with instructions to "Call this number if you need a ride." That card, given by a Beach Reach volunteer, was John's last hope.

"Can you give me a ride to the bus station tomorrow morning?" asked John. His father had purchased him a bus ticket back to Indiana.

"We can do that," Hale said. "By the way, are you hungry?" Hale knew that John needed more than a ride to the bus station, and felt impressed to see the situation through.

"God was working on my heart in that moment saying, 'You can stay here and maintain all99 things you've got going on, or you can go get the one lost sheep,"' Hale said. "I gotta go get this guy," he remembers thinking.

As he prepared to leave to pick up John for a Beach Reach midnight pancake breakfast,

June Scoggins, associate BSU director at Mississippi State, approached him.

"The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart," she told Hale as she handed him $40. "I don't care what you do with it, but there's someone out there tonight who needs this."

A bit surprised, but not really shocked

(God moves mysteriously sometimes),

Hale briefly recounted John's story for


, "Well, tell him that there's a mama down the street who loves him," Scoggins told Hale. "If he was my son, I'd want someone to take care of him."


Hale recruited Indiana University BCM

(Baptist Collegiate Ministry) director Toby

Havens to accompany him to pick up John.

When they arrived, Hale said they found

BEACHREACH is a ministry opportunity for college students and adult volunteers to meet, serve, and pray for collegians who have come to Panama City Beach, Florida; on spring break.


Students provide free rides to partiers and a pancake breakfast each morning. For more information, visit


SPRING BREAK CAPITOL OF THE WORL: Pananama City Beach is the unofficial spring break capitol of the world, or at least North America.

The L.A. Times reported that in 2008 an estimated 225,000 (that's a quarter of a million I) spring breakers traveled to PCB. a trendily-dress.ed young man who "you could just tell was at the end of his rope ."

The three men returned to Rock' It Lanes, the bowling alley that donates space as the "cafeteria" for Beach Reach pancake breakfasts.

John, who was more than 700 miles from home, then came face-to-face with Emily, a Beach Reach volunteer and former coworker from Indiana.

Looking back, Hale remains amazed.

"Out of 300 volunteers that week, she [Emily] 'just happened' to be working that shift and John 'just happened' to know her.

"It was such a neat moment to see the way God orchestrated the whole thing."

Over pancakes served in a bowling alley during hours after midnight, the group discussed God, faith, and life.

Before returning to headquarters to close up for the night, Hale remembered the $40 in his pocket.

"By the way," Hale told John, "I was told to give this to you." He handed John the money and explained about Scoggins. Emotionally, John asked Hale to hug Scoggins for him-a request Hale made certain to fulfill.


John caught his bus the next morning. Ellis and another volunteer took him themselves.

On the way, they had a chance opportunity to share with and encourage a random customer in line at a fast-food restaurant.

As accidental as it all sounds, Ellis isn't shocked. She's heard (or experienced) hundreds of similar Beach Reach stories.

The moments such as John's story, the moments when light conquers darkness, the enemy flees, and salvation occurs, keep volunteers returning to BeachReach each year.

Ell is maintains that God created humanity to share Him. She added that one can see in Scripture that Jesus went to where the sinner was, and He would be there to day as well.

John 's story is one of hundreds from BeachReach. Some are more tragic- the young woman found unconscious and badly injured at the side of the road ; or more nonspecific- the broken confessions that spill from collegiate hearts over pancakes and syrup; or more abstract-the hundreds of potential drunk-driving accidents avoided through a free -ride service.

They are all memorable in one way or another.

"Many groups had been praying for the students who would travel to spring break to party, and Chris Tomlin's song 'God of

This City' had played throughout many vans as [the volunteers] traveled to Panama City

Beach," Ellis said.

Though she was unfamiliar with the song before BeachReach, Ellis wasn't surprised to find that Tomlin's lyrics 'just happen' to echo her January journal entry.

"You're the light in this darkness. You're the hope to the hopeless. You're the peace to the restless. You are ... "

Brooklyn Noel is a media relations specialist at Lifeway Christian Resources. Now that her college days at Auburn University have passed, spring break generally means a couple of days off work to thoroughly clean her house.


For many, the concept of beach evangelism stirs up images of distributing tracts to nameless sunbathers and nightclubbers or building sand sculptures of the cross. Even though the intentions behind methods such as these are legitimate, when sharing the gospel, being relational is the number-one priority. You are sharing Christ with a person, not a statistic. Keep these practical things in mind:

• LISTEN UP! Everyone has a story, and that story is the connecting point for the redemption and glorification of God in a person's life.

When you're willing to listen, you prove not only a genuine care for the person as a person, but also show confidence in the fact that

God was working in a person's life long before you showed up.

• BE RELATIONAL You should be so overflowing with compassion for those who don't know Christ that you want to be sure they hear about Him. Share your personal experiences, especially common links between their story and yours. Being a real person with real imperfections says a lot about God and His grace.

• PRAY. Prayer can't be overemphasized and should blanket everything you do on a mission trip. In addition to praying in preparation, ask those who you talk with what specific things you can pray for them. People rarely turn down the opportunity for someone to pray.

Hearing their requests can reveal what they're dealing with.

• GOSPEL BASICS. The gospel at its core is a simple message of salvation from sin by God's grace alone and not by any work we could ever do (see "True Love" on page 17). Don't muddy the gospel with theological debates that aren't necessary for salvation-unless of course the person asks you.

• REMEMBER: A HUNGRY MAN HAS NO EARS. If a person has an immediate need and you can help them, they are more likely to talk with you and share their story. This is the idea behind Beach Reach's pancake breakfasts and free rides.


1 Peter 4:14

1 John 4:4

Hebrews 13:20-21

Acts 1:8

Luke 18:27




Sponsored by Lifeway Christian Resources, BeachReach was founded more than 20 years ago by Baptist Collegiate Ministries.

BeachReach is a ministry opportunity for college students and adult volunteers to meet, serve, and pray for collegians who have come to Panama City Beach, Florida; on spring break. Students provide free rides to partiers and a pancake breakfast each morning. For more information, visit /n/Product-Family/BeachReach?type=events.