EDITOR'S NOTE: The experience of new birth -- and the witness of baptism -- undergird the intent of three Massachusetts collegians to reach their peers for Christ. Baptism Sunday will be Sept. 8 in the Southern Baptist Convention. For resources, go to namb.net/baptism-sunday-resources/.
BRIDGEWATER, MA (BP) – College sophomore Victoria Williams saw God change her life a year ago just before entering Bridgewater State University, the second-largest state school in Massachusetts.
Victoria's best friend, Bayleigh Westerlund, had invited her to summer camp. Though Victoria spent countless hours in a Catholic pew growing up, it was first time she ever felt a significant connection with God.
"I loved how everything was modern and fun," Victoria said. "The sermons were inspirational. They moved me." On the last night of camp, she asked Jesus into her life.
"I remember thinking, 'I never want to lose this.'" A few months later she was baptized.
Last fall at Bridgewater State, though the school's enrollment was nearly 12,000 students, there was hardly any Christian presence on campus or in the town for Bayleigh and Victoria to connect with other believers. Meanwhile, Grace Church -- a Southern Baptist-affiliated multi-location church -- had just planted a new location in Bridgewater to reach college students for Christ.
The two women soon connected with Grace Church and started serving in the kids ministry and student ministry together.
Though Bayleigh had grown up in a Christian family and been walking with Christ for several years, it was the first time she'd ever had a close friend to share her faith journey with each day. "I was so excited when I saw Victoria start to follow Christ," Bayleigh said. "She was already my best friend, and to see her turn from her sin and follow Jesus -- it caused me to cry all the time!"
Both students were passionate about helping their peers at Bridgewater State discover the saving grace that they had encountered in their own lives. Victoria, who played for the basketball team, regularly shared her faith with her team in hopes that God would use her to impact her friends the same way that Bayleigh's friendship impacted her.
And that's what happened.
Kailyn Aguiar, a senior on the basketball team, had been actively looking for a church in the area for several months. It had been years since she'd been a part of a faith community. As a freshman in high school, her church told her parents that she could no longer participate because of her sporadic attendance. Crushed and disheartened, Kailyn left the church.
That is, until she saw Victoria's Facebook post inviting her to Grace Church's Easter service.
Kailyn eagerly said yes to attending with Victoria and Bayleigh. Though it was unfamiliar to her, she was comforted in knowing she had two friends to sit with when she arrived.
"The church felt like a family," Kailyn said. "I loved how much they talked about the Bible." Just a few weeks later, Kailyn asked Jesus into her life. On Sunday, Aug. 18, she was baptized -- with Victoria and Bayleigh cheering her on in the front row.
This is how revival begins: God stirred in Bayleigh's heart to invite Victoria to church. God rescued Victoria from her sin. Then God used Victoria to reach Kailyn a few months later. Now, these three friends are eager to see what God will do in and through their lives as they start a faith-based student organization at Bridgewater State this fall.
Stories like these are happening on campuses across New England in college ministries and collegiate church plants that draw support from the Baptist Convention of New England and its Baptist Foundation of New England, online at bcne.net/bfne.
Terry Dorsett, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England, noted, "Though campus ministry should be important anywhere, it is even more significant in New England than in other places because of the incredible volume of political, cultural and business leaders educated in the colleges and universities here. Most of our U.S. presidents and Supreme Court justices as well as a majority of our Fortune 500 CEOs were educated in New England.
"If we want to change America, we must meet these future leaders when they are college freshmen and help them discover Christ," Dorsett said. "Then we can disciple them for four to six years before sending them out across the nation as leaders with a Christian worldview.
"To this end, the Baptist Foundation of New England has partnered with the Baptist Convention of New England in a bold attempt to raise $3,000,000 to bolster the efforts of our 30 New England collegiate ministers.
"Such an effort might sound unrealistic to many," Dorsett said, "but to New England Baptists, it sounds like a worthwhile investment in reaching our nation for Christ."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephen Sargent is development director for the Baptist Foundation of New England.