THOMASVILLE, Ala., (BRN) – The summer of 2022 was filled with a host of ministry opportunities for four college students from Mississippi and Alabama – Valerie Hill, Nicole Sallis, Sarah Brannan and Adeline Morton*  – who participated in the Baptist Resource Network’s (BRN) 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 BRN church(es) in Pennsylvania or South Jersey. 

After hearing about the program from former Thomasville Baptist Church youth minister Buff McNickle, who currently serves as the 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. 

‘Different ways of ministry’ 

When school is in session, Valerie Hill, a student at Mississippi State University, attends Adaton Baptist Church in Starkville, Mississippi – pastored by 2022 Accelerate Conference breakout speaker Rev. Hal Selby – but  has deep roots at Thomasville Baptist Church in Alabama, where she first heard about the Accelerated Internship opportunity.

Hill’s family started attending Thomasville Baptist Church long before she was born and has been home to them, and Hill, ever since.

“I have been used to a lot of traditional ministry, and the traditional church…[but] something Buff wanted to tell us, like before we got there (Pennsylvania/South Jersey), [was] that you’re going to see a lot of different ways of ministry,” said Hill.

The 2022 Accelerate Internship Program included four students (left to right): Nicole Sallis, Sarah Brannan, Adeline Morton and Valerie Hill. (Photo: Valerie Hill)

“I was like, ‘Okay, God, I don’t know what this is gonna be like, but I know you’re working.'”

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,” said Hill.

“We don’t want to just grow in numbers just to be comfortable Christians, we need to grow so that we can go out and share the gospel with those people,” continued Hill.  

Like Hill, Sarah Brannan, another student at Mississippi State, was challenged by the different types of ministries Jersey had to offer.  

“During the third week of our internship, we were able to work alongside Stagecoach Church’s outreach ministry. We partnered with them to put on a day camp for the Boys and Girls Club in Glassboro, New Jersey. We [were] prepared to do it kind of like a Vacation Bible School (VBS), so the kids would participate in Bible story, crafts and games,” explained Brannan.

“[But] when we got there Monday morning, we found out that we were going to have to tell a Bible story without mentioning the name of Jesus.” 

Admittedly, Brannan said that this task left the team feeling ‘pretty defeated.’ 

“Thankfully, we were surrounded by people that were so willing to pass on wisdom and encouragement, so that we could find the best way to show Jesus without sharing Jesus,” said Brannan. 

“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. 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 here again’  

Shook by the influence of drugs in Kensington, Pennsylvania, and the reality of food insecurity in Camden, New Jersey, recent Mississippi State graduate, Nicole Sallis, described her serving experience as “walking into a third world country in America.” 

In Camden and Kensington, the interns worked with Table Ministry, a local organization that provides food and other resources for those in need. (Photo: Valerie Hill)

“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,” warned Sallis about her time in Camden and Kensington. 

Camden, New Jersey, 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,” said Sallis. 

She continued, describing the conditions of Kensington next, “I mean it’s rough… it’s ground zero for the opioid epidemic…[and] we had no warning besides five minutes where we walked in [and] Buff said, ‘Hey, by the way…you’re about to see people standing up, you’re about to see people just on the side of the road and you can’t tell if they’re dead or alive. You’re about to see women trying to service themselves.’”

“He was not lying; we saw not two or three people, [but] hundreds [of people.]” 

During their time in Camden and Kensington, Sallis and the other interns worked with Table Ministry, a local organization that strives to provide 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,” explained Sallis. 

They then spent time passing out 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 said yes and the times they said yes [were] really powerful. It is something I think everyone needs to experience, because it puts so much into perspective,” expressed Sallis. 

She continued: “It’s not a place that you go [and] when you come out you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m so blessed. I’m so glad I’m not there.’ It’s a place that you go and you’re like, ‘I need to be there again. I need to be helping these people.’”  

 ‘Nothing more exciting’ 

Part of the students’ time in South Jersey, was spent rising early on Sundays to attend Keystone Fellowship Church in Sewell, New Jersey. Typically, the students would worship during the church’s first service and then stay for the second service in order to help with children’s ministry. 

This allowed the church plant’s faithful volunteers 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 kid’s ministry and, yet again, witnessed a noticeable endurance for growing the Kingdom. 

“This church is actually the result of a merge between two church plants,” explained intern Adeline Morton. 

“In the middle of the pandemic, these churches merged together – they’re two very different churches, but [both] desire to grow the Kingdom and not let one of these churches die or be kicked out of their church building.” 

Morton also shared that during their time at CrossPoint, they had the opportunity to help with the church’s first ever VBS. 

“Some of us were leading dances on stage and being crazy for Jesus, some of us were welcoming kids and getting to know their names and other times we were just serving alongside their church family,” said Morton.

“We got to see how beautiful it was to just see the unity of their church…[and] 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.” 

The Accelerated interns partnered with several mission teams to complete projects in PA/SJ. (Photo Valerie Hill)

Along with evangelizing through classic VBS songs, fun dances and cool crafts, the team of interns also worked with multiple mission 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 completed building a shed for a local organization. 

“It (the shed) would not have gotten built if we ourselves weren’t willing to build it. 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,” remarked  mission team member Taylor Robinson. 

Robinson continued to reflect upon the group’s work, by saying, “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…[and] what I learned is there’s nothing more exciting than telling somebody about Jesus.” 

Want to tell somebody about Jesus? Interested in learning more about the field of ministry? If you’re a current college student or recent graduate visit the BRN’s Internship Page to learn more or apply for the Accelerated Internship Program.

*Name changed for security