God kept ‘showing up and being faithful’ on student mission trip to Nicaragua

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LEON, NICARAGUA––It was an experience of “firsts.” It was the first time that Ben Braly took a team of students from Jacksonville-area colleges and universities on an international mission trip. It was the first time that student Caleb Goltz preached a sermon. It was the first time that student Lark Davis shared her Christian testimony in Spanish.

But it definitely wasn’t an experience of “lasts.” There will be more international mission trips with students. There will be more sermons preached. There will be more testimonies shared in the heart language of the people being reached.

God just kept showing up and being faithful.

Ben Braly director, Jax Baptist Campus Ministries

Braly leads Jax Baptist Campus Ministries for five colleges and universities in the Jacksonville area: Jacksonville University, Florida State College at Jacksonville, St. Johns River State College, Edward Waters University and University of North Florida. In March he took a team of nine students to León, Nicaragua, where they prayed for church members and community residents, went door-to-door witnessing, shared the gospel in schools, held a beach worship service, and taught in a local church and at a youth rally.

When Braly first began leading Jax Baptist Campus Ministries about five years ago, it was a time of rebuilding for the campus ministry. This year’s inaugural mission trip was a vital next step in the rebuilding process–an opportunity “to put missions in my students’ hearts and to see that God is working all around us, and it’s not just in the U.S., and to give them a bigger mindset. God is the God of the nations,” he said

The students, Braly said, saw “God’s hand all throughout the trip.” Even when the mission team felt weak or vulnerable, he recalled, “We kept saying, ‘We’ll bring our weakness, and God will bring us strength.’ And that’s what happened. ‘We’re just going to be faithful; we’re going to show up.’ And then God just kept showing up and being faithful.”

During the trip, the Jax Baptist Campus Ministries group discovered how Christians are truly united in Christ, even amid language differences and when living in different countries. Braly commented, “One of the things that was really impactful for me and the students I think was that we really saw the body of Christ doesn’t matter where you are located or who you are; it’s that these are your brothers and sisters in Christ. These are my brothers and sisters who live in Nicaragua, and I live in America, and that’s the only difference.”

The student mission team partnered with a mission team from Faithbridge Church in Jacksonville. Connecting students with local churches is a priority for Baptist Campus Ministries, Braly said. The Faithbridge mission team focused its ministry at its church campus in León, while the students focused their ministry at Iglesia Fuente de Vida, a nearby church plant, where they “used all their gifts to encourage, equip and support” members there. Both mission teams joined for morning devotionals before daily activities.

While in Nicaragua, the student group had to rely on interpreters most of the time to share the gospel. After Braly preached a sermon, one of his students shared a story with him about his interpreter. The man who had interpreted the sermon had served previously as an interpreter in the tourist industry. As the young interpreter was learning English and sometimes struggling with a new language, he sensed God impressing on him that he would “one day” interpret for a preacher. This was the interpreter’s first opportunity to do so. Braly said it was a humbling experience to be a part of that “one day.”

The students had stories of their own as well.

Student Caleb Goltz preached his first sermon in Nicaragua, an experience he described as “surreal.” Sensing a call to ministry and “trying to take steps toward walking in that calling,” Goltz was enthusiastic about the opportunity. While preparing to preach, Goltz said, “I had a moment where I just felt so much pressure to create this amazing sermon and just felt like the Holy Spirit laid a question on my heart, ‘Why are you trying to make this grander than what it is? The gospel already has the power to change lives; you do not need to add anything to it; just preach it. Use the power that is in it and show it to these people.’”

Another student, Lark Davis, had studied Spanish throughout elementary, middle and high school. “Last year,” she said, “I decided I wanted to build on that foundation and achieve fluency … since I had decided to go to Nicaragua. I knew that we would have interpreters, but I thought it would be more engaging if I was able to share my testimony in their language.” Nervous before sharing her testimony, she said, “Many people in my group prayed for me and encouraged me. Feeling God’s peace, I shared, and several of the members afterward told me how it was encouraging for them.”

Now back home, students are continuing their relationship with the Nicaraguans, communicating through technology and continuing to celebrate God’s faithfulness. They are also building on their own student-to-student bonds that were strengthened during the mission trip.

Braly is planning two international mission trips for students in 2025–one will return to Nicaragua to continue the work there, and the other trip is slated for Ecuador.

“God is faithful,” Braly said.

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