The summer of 2022 was filled with a host of ministry opportunities for four college students from Alabama and Mississippi — Sarah Brannan, Valerie Hill, Adeline Morton* and Nicole Sallis — who participated in the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey’s inaugural Accelerated Internship Program.
The Accelerated Internship Program is designed to give college students hands-on ministry experience in their desired area of ministry — such as children’s ministry, youth ministry, worship, evangelism or pastoral ministry — by pairing them with one or more churches in Pennsylvania or South Jersey.
After hearing about the program from former Thomasville Baptist Church youth minister Buff McNickle, who currently serves as BRN’s development and compassion ministries director, the four students decided to venture north and experience three weeks of ministry in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Valerie Hill, a student at Mississippi State University, attended Thomasville Baptist Church in Alabama before she was even born. Her family started attending the church long before her birth and has stayed ever since.
“I have been used to a lot of traditional ministry and the traditional church,” she said. But “something Buff wanted to tell us before we got there [was] that you’re going to see a lot of different ways of ministry.
“I was like, ‘OK, God, I don’t know what this is gonna be like, but I know you’re working,’” Hill shared.
During her time in New Jersey, Hill experienced several different types of ministries and churches, including church plants.
“There are a lot of church plants … and something beautiful is every church planter that we met, their mission is to make disciples to send out. … They are not building a church, they are building the Church and that was just something so powerful.
“We don’t want to just grow in numbers just to be comfortable Christians,” Hill added. “We need to grow so that we can go out and share the gospel with those people.”
Sarah Brannan, another student from Mississippi State, was also challenged by the different types of ministries New Jersey had to offer.
“During the third week of our internship, we were able to work alongside [the outreach ministry of Stagecoach Road Christian Fellowship in Sicklerville, New Jersey],” Brannan said. “We partnered with them to put on a day camp for the Boys and Girls Club in Glassboro, New Jersey. The reality of ministry in New Jersey is that sometimes you have to take a step back before you can take a few steps forward,” she added.
“But we’re trusting in a God that can do immeasurably more than we can imagine, and, in God’s perfect time, we trust that the seeds that were planted will begin to grow.”
‘I need to be there again’
Shaken by the influence of drugs in Kensington, Pennsylvania, and the reality of food insecurity in Camden, New Jersey, recent Mississippi State graduate Nicole Sallis said of her serving experience, “I’m going to be very frank, it’s very raw and it’s hard to hear and it’s hard to see for sure.”
Camden is referred to as the “food desert of New Jersey” due to the community’s vast lack of access to grocery stores and other sustainable resources.
“They only have gas stations and convenience stores, and I mean very simple stuff that doesn’t give them the most nutritious food,” Sallis said. Describing the condition of Kensington, she added, “It’s rough. … It’s ground zero for the opioid epidemic.”
During their time in Camden and Kensington, Sallis and the other interns worked with Table Ministry, a local organization that provides food and other resources for those in need.
“One day we spent doing blessing bags, [which] included hygiene products and stuff like that and the other day was purely just food,” she explained.
They then spent time distributing blessing bags to those in the community, asking with each bag if they could pray with the individual.
“Sometimes they say no and they take the bag and go, and other times they [say] yes,” Sallis noted. “The times they said yes [were] really powerful.
“It is something I think everyone needs to experience because it puts so much into perspective. It’s a place that you go and you’re like, ‘I need to be there again. I need to be helping these people.’”
Part of the students’ time in South Jersey was spent rising early on Sundays to attend Keystone Fellowship Church in Sewell.
Typically, the students would worship during the church’s first service and then stay for the second service to help with children’s ministry. This allowed the church plant’s faithful volunteers an opportunity to rest and be in worship with their families.
From Keystone, the interns made their way to Fellowship CrossPoint Church in Chesterfield, New Jersey, where they also served in children’s ministry. They had the opportunity to help with the church’s first VBS too.
“This church is actually the result of a [merger] between two church plants,” Morton explained. “In the middle of the pandemic, these churches merged together. They’re two very different churches, but [both] desired to grow the Kingdom and not let one of these churches die. …
“We got to see how beautiful it was to just see the unity of their church. … We loved knowing that the unity of CrossPoint is going to build an incredible foundation for children’s ministry in an area that doesn’t have [many] areas for parents to teach their kids about God or learn in a safe environment about Jesus.”
Along with evangelizing through classic VBS songs, fun dances and cool crafts, the team of interns also worked with multiple missions teams that came to Pennsylvania/South Jersey to complete service projects.
The teams fixed water leaks, painted and even made some home improvements to a ministry house. They also built a shed for a local organization. The shed “would not have gotten built if we weren’t willing to build it,” said Thomasville Baptist missions team member Taylor Robinson.
“Those water leaks that we fixed for that missionary home wouldn’t have gotten fixed if we weren’t willing to fix it, and the Kingdom of God will not grow if we’re not willing to share the gospel.”
Seeing God move
Reflecting on the group’s work, Robinson added, “We made very core spiritual markers in our life that we can go back and look upon.
“God moved in many miraculous ways on this trip, from seeing lives changed to a new outlook on how hard work should be done. … What I learned is there’s nothing more exciting than telling somebody about Jesus.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Macala Mays and originally published by Baptist Resource Network Pennsylvania/South Jersey.
*Name changed for security reasons.