ASHLAND (BRN) – From March 11-17, college students a part of NewLife Campus Ministry at Lock Haven University (LHU) in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, traded the mountains of central Pennsylvania for the Appalachians of northern Kentucky to spend their spring break on mission with Send Relief, the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) compassion ministry arm. 

After arriving at Send Relief’s ministry center in Ashland, Kentucky, the LHU students partnered with college students from Ohio and Texas to care for parts of Kentucky that were devastated by severe flooding in August 2022. The NextGen students also engaged in various compassion ministry opportunities, including homeless outreach and park evangelism.  

“We try to give a variety of different ways to serve, so that it’s applicable…for students to find their niche and to see where it’s applicable in their area [and] that they don’t have to go away to serve,” said Send Relief Missions Coordinator Melanie Dearing. 

Dearing, her husband, Mark Dearing, who is the senior pastor at Burnaugh Baptist Church in Catlettsburg, Kentucky, Send Relief Missions Coordinator Jamie Elkins and Appalachia Ministry Center Director Rob Allen led the students during their week on mission. 

On Mission

For the first part of their week, the students spent their time in Whitesburg, Kentucky, cleaning up debris from the flooding, hanging drywall, and repairing a community stage that was destroyed by the water.  

“It was incredibly humbling to see what other people are experiencing in their lives,” said LHU Graduate Student and first-time mission trip goer Katryn Gatchell.  

She continued: “To be able to serve them in that way was really cool, [and] just to know that through our work they were able to see Jesus’ love and that they’re cared for because Christ loved us first.” 

Despite a couple of roadblocks – including snow, cold temperatures and one of the team’s vans breaking down – the students completed many of the projects assigned to them in Whitesburg. 

“You know, lost people can serve in the same capacity, but they do it to make themselves feel good, and sometimes that’s true for us. But I’ll tell you, after Monday and Tuesday, when people are out there and you can’t feel the end of your fingertips, it’s no longer about feeling good about yourself. It really is, ‘Lord, I’m doing this for you,’” said Dearing. 

NextGen students helped rebuild a community stage while serving in Whitesburg, Kentucky.

The team continued their manual labor into Wednesday (March 15) as they left Whitesburg and headed to Milton, West Virginia, to aid New Heights Church in renovating their new church building.  

Handed sledgehammers and safety glasses, the students went to work doing demolition on the church’s new building, removing drywall and insulation. 

Through this task and some of the other laborious jobs, LHU Senior Joshua Keefer noticed God stretching and using his peers in unfamiliar situations.  

“Just seeing across the whole group, even people from the Ohio group or from the Texas group, seeing God continue to use them in areas where they might not normally step into those areas, but He gave them boldness to be able to walk into those; knowing that God was going to use them in a way even though they didn’t feel equipped or comfortable,” said Keefer. 

On Thursday (March 16), the NextGen crew had a change of pace, switching from manual to relational labor. Through the course of the day, the teams volunteered at three different local agencies in Ashland, Kentucky. These included the Neighborhood, Shelter of Hope, and Hillcrest-Bruce Mission. 

Each one of these local organizations provides a variety of resources – such as food, housing, groceries, clothing, and employment opportunities – for those in poverty or those who are homeless.  

In between serving at the local agencies, the students also took some time to evangelize at a nearby park by passing out Bibles and striking up gospel conversations. 

“The Lord used it to help me learn how to better share the gospel and show me that it’s not actually as scary as it sounds,” said Miami University Student and Providence Bible Fellowship Member Faith Knight. 

Knight went on to share that this was her first mission trip experience and that by participating on the trip she was hoping to learn more about evangelism. 

“That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to go on a mission trip…to see how we can minister the gospel to people and how I can share it. So, the Lord used that mission trip to help me with that and it was just a wonderful time of fellowship and ministry that I haven’t really gotten to do on that scale or level,” said Knight. 

The students concluded their week on mission with a tour of the Send Relief warehouse and dinner together at the Ashland ministry center.  

After the Mission 

After spending a week with these students, Dearing described the team as having a noticeable eagerness for sharing the gospel as well as an understood bond in Christ – so much so that she often couldn’t tell who was with what team. 

“One of the main things was I, from the beginning, couldn’t decipher who was with what team. How they love one another and how they’re willing to give up something or see me doing something and be like, ‘Let me help you with that’ and just jump in.” 

She continued: “The second is, [in] Whitesburg it was so cold outside that nobody was really out, but the itching for them (the students) to sit with people and have faith-based conversations and share the gospel…there’s a difference. You can see Jesus in people and a lot through their attitude.” 

From a missionary perspective, Dearing also alluded to the blessing the students were to her and the whole Ashland Send Relief team. 

“It leaves an impression when the team leaves. You start building an impression on us, as believers, when you get here and when you leave that impression is still being made.” 

Dearing also shared that following the students evangelizing at the park on Thursday, Send Relief received an email from one of the individuals the students talked to and had given a Bible to at the park. They emailed just to say how appreciative they were of the college students interacting with them and sharing the gospel. 

Students help clean up a playground littered by debris from the flooding.

For the students, an equally powerful impression was being made.  

“It made me feel like I had a second family,” said Gatchell. “We all went down with the same goal and so we were united in that, and I think that’s kind of what made it feel like a family to me, knowing that the care we were making an effort to share with everybody in Kentucky is something that we also have for each other.” 

Keefer added to Gatchell’s statement, saying, “As someone who doesn’t feel called to do missions globally, just seeing how even within a community there’s so much opportunity for missions. It’s definitely something that I personally want to be more proactive in seeking in my own community.” 

NextGen spring break mission trip opportunities with Send Relief are already posted and ready for 2024, including the trip to Ashland, Kentucky.  

“I would say don’t hesitate to do it. It’s a blessing, not only for you, but for others,” said Knight. 

“The Lord uses it for eternal effects in people’s lives. I mean, people can be saved [and] people can hear the gospel and you can meet other Christians and realize that you’re not alone on an island somewhere, especially if you go to a secular school.” 

LHU Student Joel Robinson agreed with Knight, reminding college-aged Christians that living on mission is a part of their purpose.  

“It is definitely a really neat opportunity. Missions is where my heart is, and so anytime I get a chance to serve in a capacity like this it’s always very meaningful to me.” 

“To some people it might be giving up, but to me it’s not giving up anything because this is what I believe my purpose is, this is what I was built for.” 

To register or view mission opportunities through Send Relief, visit