After hail clears out, students storm Missions Fair

The Students International tent was one of many that got a lot of traffic at the Missions Fair.

Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau

Not even rain and hail could prevent another big turnout for a Grand Canyon University event Tuesday afternoon.

This time it was the Missions Fair, which gave students an opportunity to explore trips to faraway places next spring and summer. After everyone ducked for cover for 15 minutes, an outpouring of students filled the Promenade and Student Union to talk to representatives from 25 ministries.

Clint Harper found inspiration in a two-year apprenticeship in Manchester, England, for Alliance for Transatlantic Theological Training.

One of those ministries is Alliance for Transatlantic Theological Training, aka AT3, where GCU alumnus Clint Harper was manning the tent to talk about his experiences and what to look forward to on a trip.

He was stunned by the mix of students asking questions.

“We’re not just talking to Theology students,” he said. “I’ve been talking to business majors, exercise science, elementary teachers, finance majors and people who are really passionate about preaching Jesus and the church.

“It’s been cool because this is like a ministry thing. Most of them are saying, ‘I know that even if I’m not in fulltime vocation ministry, I should be in ministry somewhere.’ But we’re also seeing people say, ‘What I really want to do is go somewhere I can get an experience that will help me reach the people who are right around me as well.’”

The crowd of students filled the Promenade and Student Union for the fair.

After graduating in 2016, the Payson, Arizona, native started with AT3 on a two-year apprenticeship to Manchester, England, where a new church was being planted.

But this was not just any church plant. According to this survey, only 28% of the people in the United Kingdom believe in God or a higher spiritual power, and church membership in the U.K. has declined from 30% in 1930 to 11.2% today.

On top of that, Manchester was considered a graveyard for church plants. When the work began, Harper’s church leaders were told, “Don’t go to Manchester because that’s where church plants go to die.”

Their response:

There was a hint of rain on the Promenade from the earlier storm after the clouds had worked their way east.

“Well, that’s where we should go then because it will only be a work of the Spirit of God and His power if anything’s going to happen.”

They started with 80 people, and by the end of Harper’s apprenticeship they had 300. The work inspired him to stay two more years.

“Every day that I walked the streets or met people in coffee shops or just had people walk into our church – they came through over and over again – there were people hungry to hear about Jesus who have never heard about Him,” he said. “They’re millennials. They’re Gen-Z. And they’ve never had any contact with a Christian before.”

Today, more churches are being planted in Manchester. Clearly, the Holy Spirit is working there.

Students could grab some goodies as well as information about missions.

And while Harper still works part-time for AT3 as Director of Mobilization, he spends the rest of his time in another graveyard for churches – Los Angeles. He’s working with AT3 founder Ken Lippold on a new church plant, Christ Church Los Angeles.

“It’s one of the most secular post-Christian cities in the U.S.,” he said. “There aren’t enough churches in L.A. to reach the people who are there. Hollywood is one of those places where it’s really hard to minister to people.”

The church was founded in January, when the pandemic still was in full force, but is up to 35 members. They started out meeting in the parking lot of a struggling church but soon were invited inside and now are looking to merge with another church in the area.

Dave Hansen, CEO of Students International, talks with a fair attendee.

And the skills he learned in Manchester have served him well.

“This is the cool thing about AT3: We think that we have so much to learn from the people in the U.K. who have been planting churches and reaching secular, post-Christian people,” he said.

“So, by sending people to train for ministry in the U.K., they’re gaining the necessary skills to be able the share the Gospel with people who have no reference for Jesus and plant churches in places where people think Jesus should be in the rearview mirror. That’s why L.A. – we really want to see a thriving church in the heart of a city that has more influence than many, not only in American culture but across the world.”

Tiffany Breig, a senior who helped coordinate the fair, was thrilled with the turnout.

One of the most influential regulars at the Missions Fair is Students International, which has been coming to it for 12 years. The 28-year-old organization, based in Visalia, California, has about 100 full-time staff members working in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

“We do occupational or vocational ministry to get the Gospel out and build relationships through medical clinics, special needs schools, agriculture, finance, social groups, physical therapy and sports,” said CEO Dave Hansen, who as a high school and football coach took students on mission trips before Students International officials asked him to come on board.

Mission trips from GCU mean working alongside the fulltime staff, and the organization also has the study abroad program, detailed in this GCU Today story from earlier this year.

Njenga Maina, Global Outreach Manager for the Office of Spiritual Life, said the turnout was so great, organizers kept running out of pledge sheets.

The Missions Fair is largely managed by GCU students, and one of them is Tiffany Breig, a senior majoring in Christian studies with emphasis in global ministry. Her role is to help train students for mission trips and then send them out, and she can share her experiences – she has been to Haiti five times.

“It’s devastating, but it makes you want to keep coming back to serve the people. Haiti is one of the places where they have so little, but they have so much joy. They have so much to teach you as you go and serve them,” she said.

Like Harper, she was seeing a wide variety of students Tuesday inquiring about what they could do. “We’re seeing students that we wouldn’t normally see,” she said.

Just like that sudden storm.

Jeff Dyer of HeartFire Missions, who spoke at Chapel on Monday, talks with a student.

“We definitely didn’t plan on the rain,” she said, laughing. “But it’s been cool to see how it’s all worked out still.”

It worked out so well, said Njenga Maina, Global Outreach Manager for the Office of Spiritual Life, that organizers had to keep replenishing the supply of sign-up sheets. Clearly, students had been electrified by the Chapel talk Monday of Jeff Dyer of HeartFire Missions, who also was at the fair.

"Our students love him," Maina said. "I heard that 48 students signed the pledge to join."

Not long after the storm subsided, the water that had flooded the Promenade soon was gone, the sun was out and the fair was filled with hundreds of students instead.

That made it like so many other GCU events this fall: Nothing could douse the enthusiasm.

Not even a hailstorm. 

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Today: Dyer urges students to hit 'go' on mission work

GCU Today: Honors students make memories on mission trip


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