New Orleans can be an intimidating place to share the Gospel even for a seasoned evangelist. This summer nearly 1,500 Christian teens and their leaders put their fears aside and found receptive hearts during MissionLab New Orleans.
"Miracles abound at MissionLab," said Darrell Lindsey, director of the missions initiative at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. "I think it is because the need is great in New Orleans and God just chooses to bless us here."
A total of 1,477 youth and sponsors experienced urban missions firsthand at 49 different mission sites in the New Orleans metro area. Through their witness and service, 254 people made professions of faith during the seven-week summer program sponsored by the seminary.
"At our core we provide customized missions experiences for groups," Lindsey said. "We want to change the city."
In addition to the summer program for youth groups, MissionLab offers spring break mission trips for collegiate ministry groups and outreach by senior adults at other times.
The staff tailors each mission trip to match the interest and maturity level of each specific group. Participants may choose from a wide range of projects, including ministry in homeless shelters, street witnessing, leading Backyard Bible Clubs, construction and repair, prayerwalking and ministry in the French Quarter.
Each of the different age groups bring their own strengths, Lindsey said, noting that the youth have enthusiasm and eagerness to serve, while the college students have a maturity level that leads to wonderful ministry opportunities.
However, Lindsey said he believes the senior adults have the most to offer, noting that they have life experiences and skills that are invaluable for ministry. The most surprising thing for Lindsey has been the response seniors receive from street kids in the French Quarter. The teens are very cold to youth and collegiate groups but they open up to the senior adults.
"The seminary has given us the mandate to equip healthy churches," Lindsey said. "We reach that goal by training groups and giving them mission opportunities. Most of all, our desire is to see them go back home and be missionaries in their own area."
Participants also receive information about the Cooperative Program and mission offerings of the Southern Baptist Convention, the cornerstone for financing SBC outreach worldwide. The MissionLab staff hopes that through training and experience the participants will become lifelong mission contributors and lifelong "on-mission" Christians.
The plan seems to be working. Each summer, students take an offering for a local Southern Baptist ministry and a number of students surrender their lives to fulltime Christian service. This summer the youth gave a $3,498 mission offering for the Brantley Baptist Center, a North American Mission Board-affiliated homeless shelter on the edge of the French Quarter. Twenty-four participants, meanwhile, experienced a call to ministry during the summer.
The program is working in other ways as well.
"We are starting to see long-lasting fruit coming from those who have been through Mission Lab," Lindsey said. Out-of-state groups are establishing ongoing relationships with mission sites, opening the door to even more ministry.
A church from Mississippi, for example, purchased a van for one of the local ministries after seeing the needs, while a group of senior adults bought new ceiling tiles for another North American Mission Board-affiliated site, Baptist Friendship House, an overnight shelter for women and children.
Lindsey realizes that MissionLab is a unique undertaking for an institution focused on training fulltime pastors, ministers and missionaries, but he believes the program is not only reaching the city with the Gospel, but is helping to build healthier churches by equipping and empowering the laity of the churches.
For more information on opportunities to become involved in mission work in New Orleans, contact MissionLab New Orleans at 1-800-NOBTS-01, ext. 3260, or visit online at www.missionlab.com.