As he watched his three-year-old daughter, Rachel Beth, go from door to door in a small neighborhood in Laredo, Ryan Jespersen saw the love of Christ overflowing from her enjoyment of preaching to people that stopped to listen as she told them that Jesus loved them.
Jespersen, director of urban missions, and his family were members of a mission group that ventured down to Laredo over Christmas break to do mission work through a partnership with Go Now Missions, Texas Baptist River Ministry, and Hope 1:8 Missionary Initiative.
He and his wife, Joanna, along with their daughters, three-year-old Rachel Beth and one-year-old Mary Kate, were able to experience what it means to be a Christian doing God's commanded work, even at the youngest of ages.
"One of the things we did want to emphasize with the trip was the family mission trip aspect," said Jespersen.
The team was comprised of 16 Go Now Missions students representing 12 universities and 16 churches. Go Now Missions coordinates collegiate student mission trips across Texas and around the world. The students who traveled to this area hoped to bring the gospel to the people that needed to hear it the most.
For years, the Texas Baptists River Ministry has been affected by a roller coaster of changes, events, and emotions that take place at the border between Texas and Mexico each and every day.
"Our goal for these mission trips is to try to get as many students as possible from different schools to come to the river and have a good missions experience," said Daniel Rangel, director of River Ministry. "We wanted them to go back to their schools and churches after the trip and challenge others to take the journey and do mission work on the border."
Since then, two Baptist Student Ministry groups have contacted Rangel to plan future trips to the border, including Caitlyn Barbee and her UTA BSM group going Spring Break 2014.
While the students were there, they participated in door-to-door evangelism, but because of the language barrier, many of them were apprehensive in their approach to sharing the gospel.
"I was hesitant at first to sharing the gospel, but I quickly learned that being a prayer warrior is crucial in reaching out and spreading the word of Christ," said Betsy O'Neil, a student at Stephen F. Austin State University. "I have been able to come home and bring back what I have learned and apply it to my relationships here at school. That, in itself, has made the Laredo mission trip priceless."
While walking the neighborhoods with some students to invite kids to the youth rally they were hosting that night, Caitlyn Barbee, campus missionary intern at University of Texas at Arlington Baptist Student Ministry and the adult coordinator for the Go Now team, witnessed students speaking with the local kids.
She paused for moment and watched as the students continued to carry on a conversation with the kids and their parents. As she walked up to the group that was gathered, she noticed that the students were not just talking to the kids, they were translating the Bible into Spanish so they could understand and were telling them about Jesus.
"For a lot of the students, this was their first time to go on a mission trip, so we had to go through evangelism training before we left, but it was humbling to see that every student, while on this trip, was able to step out of their comfort zone," said Barbee. "Each student was able to do something they had never done before."
On Wednesday evening, Laura Yates, a student at the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor, joined the rest of the group, along with the families they invited from the neighborhood that day, to the night worship service they were putting on at one of the local home churches.
Over 90% of Laredo is Catholic, around the same percentage have a Catholic background. In the Catholic Church they are taught that it is not appropriate to visit another denomination. For this reason, many of the residents feel uncomfortable going to a non-Catholic church building, but they feel comfortable visiting a home. In response to this cultural situation, one of the ministries that River Ministry has had success with in Laredo is the planting of organic/house churches.
"One of the main ministries the students went to support on their trip was the house/organic church ministry," said Rangel. "In the past five years they have been able to plant and sustain 19 house churches."
While working with the house church that Wednesday night, Yates was able to personally lead a young boy to Christ. "It was amazing," she said.
After accepting Jesus Christ during her third semester of college, Kalee Smith, a student at Tarleton State University, knew that she wanted to go on a mission trip. While her parents were hesitant, she knew that God was leading her to go, so she packed her bags and headed off to Laredo.
"The trip was everything I expected it to be," said Smith, "I met some amazing students from all over Texas who each had their own incredible stories to share, and I was able to sing and share my testimony with two churches!"
While in Laredo, there were many events that occurred that truly showed God's working power, but during her time there, Smith was most affected by a man named Carlos when her team went to serve food to the homeless in the plaza.
"Shortly after meeting Carlos, he gave me his Chicago ballcap and told me that God told him to give it to me," said Smith. She spoke with him for over an hour and learned that he was very sick. "He seemed sad, lost, and lonely. I had to keep myself from crying in front of him," said Smith.
After talking to Carlos, they gave a local pastor his number to help him and stay connected. "I still have the cap with me, hanging on my bedpost," said Smith. The cap is a reminder to continually pray for him and his faith.
"God is working in the border city of Laredo, and what happens in Laredo does have an effect on the nation of Mexico which has and continues to go through turmoil," Jespersen said. "A trip to Laredo can not only change lives on this side of the border, but it can also have an effect to change a nation that desperately needs the love of Christ to show up in a powerful way."
For more information on Go Now Missions, visit www.gonowmissions.com. For information on coordinating a mission trip to the border through River Ministry, visit http://texasbaptists.org/evangelism-missions/missions-mobilization/river-ministry/.