Amid Spring-Break Carousing, a Little Evangelism

Article excerpt

The conversation at breakfast begins casually, with small talk. After all, it's been a long week of beaching by day and clubbing by night.

"Which school are you from?" asks Lee Brinkley, adjusting her camouflage miniskirt as she sits down at the table. "What are you studying?" "Do you go to church?"

Whoa, where did that come from? This is spring break, after all. A time to cut loose, forget about real life, relax.

After a cool response from these Texas A&M University males, Ms. Brinkley screws up her courage and continues, "Church is important. You have to make time for it."

It may seem out of place, but for college students like Brinkley who've made their way to South Padre Island this week, the climate couldn't be better. They are participating in Beach Reach, a Southern Baptist Convention program that sends hundreds of Christian college students to spring-break hot spots to provide help - both material and spiritual. It's part of a burgeoning movement in Evangelical Christianity, called servant evangelism, which was pioneered by a Cincinnati pastor in the mid-1980s. The idea is to use kind deeds to show the love of God in action.

In the case of Beach Reach, that means providing free rides, free pancake breakfasts, and free sunscreen and water to overextended spring-breakers. And, yes, you may get a little free ministering in the process.

For the most part, college students say they appreciate the efforts of Beach Reach - even if it comes with a small side of Jesus.

South Padre Island has long been considered one of the most popular spring-break destinations in the country, and every year it is overrun with college students out for a good time. This year, 100,000 students are expected to party here during the month of March. Most return home safely, but there are alcohol-related deaths nearly every year. One has already been reported this spring break.

Brothers, breakfast, and beliefs

Roupen Mouradian, a senior at the University of Southern California, says his group hasn't gotten too out of control, "the parts that I can remember anyway."

He and his fraternity brothers are taking advantage of free food - the mantra of every college kid - at the morning pancake breakfast. They learned about the daily breakfasts - one in the morning and one at midnight - by Beach Reach members who were handing out cards earlier in the week.

Mr. Mouradian says the idea that they may have to talk religion doesn't keep them away. He says the group got into a long discussion about their beliefs at a breakfast the day before.

"There was some conflict, but it wasn't like they were trying to force anything on us," says Mouradian, wiping the remaining syrup from his lips. "We just agreed to disagree on a few things."

The frat boys finish their pancakes and head to the beach to bury a keg in the sand. There, artist Randy Hofman has just competed a new sand sculpture, entitled "Jesus Is Alive. …