As a softball player at The University of Texas at Austin, Stephanie Ceo spent a lot of time with her teammates on and off the field. One teammate, Rachel, was always kind and encouraging and also professed to be a Christian. Stephanie had been to church before and knew about God, but did not believe He existed. She had great difficulty understanding how God could allow bad things to happen.
In their conversations over four years as teammates, Stephanie noticed differences in the way Rachel treated her and was more open to having conversations about faith. One day in their senior year, Rachel invited Stephanie to Free Lunch on Wednesdays (FLOW) at the BSM on campus. Stephanie really enjoyed the time with BSM students and soon found herself attending the statewide Abide prayer retreat.
While at Abide, she met a girl named Kendall that weekend and spent several hours talking with her about life struggles and questions she had about the Bible. Kendall shared scripture and prayed with Stephanie.
“I ended up going and loving it,” Stephanie said. “I loved the environment - sitting down and reading the Word. It was so beautiful to me at the time. I was sitting there with people who did not know me at all but feeling so connected to them through one thing - God. I jumped in to going to Abide and then I realized I believed 100 percent that God was with me and I believed in Him. If it wasn’t for those key people in my process, I don’t know how it would have gone.”
Returning back to campus life, Kendall began meeting with Stephanie to study the Bible. Each time the friends met together, they would read a passage and discuss what it said about God and how it applied to their lives.
“Kendall took me under her wing and we read the Bible together,” Stephanie said. “I fell in love with everything the Bible had to say. I fell in love with this new relationship with God and with fellow believers.”
Stephanie began to share her new-found faith with her family. One night, Stephanie was talking to her dad who was suffering from depression and contemplating suicide.
“I prayed over the phone with him and told him I loved him and that God loved him,” Stephanie said. “I told him we would get through all of this together. God would see us through. I said, ‘I pray that He helps you right now, that you hear Him, that you open your heart and mind to hear God. And to feel the love He has for you.’”
Stephanie’s dad pushed through the struggle of that night. Just a few days later, she flew home to California and her dad shared that her faith and prayers had given him the strength to get through such a difficult time. They spent six hours that day sitting by the river talking about faith. Two months later, Stephanie’s parents joined 60 others in Austin bearing witness to Stephanie's baptism.
The transformation in Stephanie’s life is evident to all around, and she is continually grateful to two friends at UT who were willing to share the Gospel with her.
“A lot of people think you have to have wisdom to share the Gospel, but the reality is anyone can touch your life at that level. Kendall and Rachel used the Holy Spirit within them to help me find Him,” Stephanie said.
What Stephanie did not know was that more than six months before, Kendall and Rachel had been praying for ways to share their faith with female athletes on campus. Rachel had a natural connection through playing on the softball team and after Stephanie showed interest in Abide, a Bible study began with her teammates. The students had formed a missional community in an area where they had influence and the Lord provided the opportunity to share the Gospel with Stephanie.
The idea of creating missional communities became a tangible method for ministry through the Longhorn BSM about two years ago. Baptist Student Ministry Director Cody Shouse describes missional communities as, “a group of Christian students who adopt a people group on campus - a sub-group of campus they are already connected with, where they live, study or play.”
BSM staff began training students on how to have Gospel-centered relationships and intentionally integrating their faith into conversations and interactions. Students were encouraged to identify an area of their life they saw as a mission field. BSM students joined together to form missional communities and began to pray for God to open opportunities to share the Gospel. Through these communities, student leaders teach Bible studies, disciple, pray and share their faith with fellow students.
Rather than seeing missional communities as a project, BSM students view it as an opportunity to genuinely build relationships with people in their day-to-day life.
The largest missional community formed is in the largest dorm on campus with several sophomores involved in leading the community group. Last year, 50 missional community students had over 250 Gospel relationships on campus.
“Students were praying with other students by name, having dinner with them,” Shouse said. “Friendships were built where the Gospel was being shared. The model is really transferrable, but it also changes people in so many ways.”
Over half of the BSM students are now involved in missional communities, with 12 groups meeting this fall on the UT campus.
To learn more about the impact of BSMs on campuses around the state, visit texasbaptists.org/collegiate.