Bikinis, beach volleyball, boogie boarding, and booze – this is what a usual spring break consists of for millions of college students across the nation celebrating a much needed break from midterms and hours of mind-numbing studies.
While thousands are getting their tan on, a reserve of students are choosing to take their beach break a little bit differently, with another kind of mission in mind.
Some 3,000 students from across the United States are flocking to sunny Panama City, Fla., Spring Break capital of the world this year, to participate in Campus Crusade for Christ's annual "Big Break" outreach.
Helping them grow spiritually while also having fun at the beach, students receive training on how to share their faith with hundreds of spring breakers and are encouraged themselves to go out and "get salty," the theme for this year's event.
"Spring break has traditionally been a time for college students to blow off steam, go get crazy and really take a break from reality," said Glen Nielsen, Big Break program director in an interview with The Christian Post.
"When you have an audience like that, there is a need. Students are hurting, looking for real meaningful relationships, for a reason for life. If they're avoiding reality, there's a reason for that."
Nielsen continued to share, "Our primary goal is to share the love of Jesus with these students. To go out to them and help them understand the truth of the gospel."
The widely held misconception that attendees first had was that people were not open to speaking about Christ, Nielsen explained. Though they might not agree with the message of the gospel, CCC students found that most people were genuinely open to talking about spiritual things.
Just last year alone, 18,500 students had meaningful spiritual conversations with people on the beach. Out of those, 10,815 people, when asked, wanted and heard a clear presentation of the gospel. Well over a thousand of those students actually came to trust in Christ.
"The students here are wide open. They're all wanting to know what is the meaning of life and why they're here," Nielsen shared with CP.
"Spring break students here don't even realize they're living in darkness. So the truth of the gospel is so powerful and clear that when it's presented to them, it makes sense. When you shine light in darkness it's going to appear."
By having the CCC students focus on the relationships, the event helps students develop the skill of listening, asking good questions, and really loving each stranger they encounter.
"We're not here to point fingers," Nielsen said. "We're saying we're willing to love you where you're at, and bring the hope of Jesus to where you're in. We're bringing the love of God to them and the truth and allowing God to do the rest… allowing his power to change people's lives."
Experiencing firsthand the desperate need for God, students walk away from "Big Break" with renewed confidence and a desire to go back to their own campuses and have a greater impact on their schools by engaging in meaningful conversations.
"This world needs lovers of God and Jesus who are going to live within the world and not be ashamed, telling others the truth of the gospel. We're in a lifetime of ministry," stated the director.
Challenged to be the salt of the world this spring break, thousands of CCC students are heading towards the beach every afternoon longing to bring hope to the lost.
"God wants us to be flavored like him," Nielsen described. "In essence, we want them to be tasting God when they leave a conversation with us."
So far, 1,200 people have "tasted" God just this past Monday alone – the start of this week's event –depicting the overwhelming hunger for truth even amidst a sea of "partiers."
This decades-old yearly event is changing the lives of students and families everywhere, which was the case with one student named Clay Fuqua.
"My dad was 18 and having a wild time at the beach when he experienced the impact of Big Break," stated Fuqua.
"He told me that he was following a few girls in bikinis while on his way to a liquor store, when a student with Big Break struck up a conversation with him about Christ. Two days later, my dad accepted Christ."
Fuqua himself attended the event a few years ago and is now on the staff with CCC.
"Big Break is such a great opportunity for students to see how God works in people's lives. Something like this can and does change generations. Our family is proof of that."
With four week-long events between Feb. 26 and March 26, "Big Break" has already begun the celebration. For students at Panama City Beach, it looks like the party is just getting started.