Sungani Banda is a Zambian international student attending East Texas Baptist University. She began attending Mobberly’s college ministry in the fall of 2015. Sungani invited one of her friends to an Easter gathering on the Longview campus where he rededicated his life to Christ.
“I met Jay when I was visiting another church in Tyler called Korean Church that one of my friends introduced me to because of our shared interest in Korea,” Sungani said. “While there, I got to meet and interact with many Korean international students, mainly from LeTourneau. I got to know Jay more, as he was on my team for the ice-breakers we played. We often met as a group outside of church to hang out, and I remember him saying that Tyler was too far for him every Sunday. When Pastor Glynn urged us to pray for our friends, he came to mind.”
As international students, Sungani and Mpanga (another Zambian international student) lacked transportation to get to church and relied on friends. When their college friends left to go home for Easter, they had no way to get to church.
“That’s the really cool part,” Sungani said. “I finally got my driver’s license that Thursday before Good Friday, and as we were celebrating Good Friday at a friend’s house, Alan Huesing, who attends Mobberly Marshall, let us use his van. So, not only did we have a ride to church, but we could easily pick Jay up from LeTourneau, where he is a student. I extended the invitaiton, which he gladly accepted, and we all came to church.”
Although it was out of her comfort zone to ask Jay to come to church with her, Sungani said she is glad she overcame her fear because he was so thankful for the invitation.
“Jay was baptized in high school, got distant during college and like the rest of us, is still finding out more about the faith,” Sungani said. “But on Easter, Jay rededicated his life to Christ. He has expressed an interest to continue coming to church with us and even serving in the children’s ministry.”
It’s a phrase often heard and repeated. The African proverb tells us it takes a village to raise a child. In this story, however, it was the youth who led the village.
As Mobberly Baptist Church senior pastor Dr. Glynn Stone laid out his God-given desire to see 100 people begin a relationship with Jesus Christ through Mobberly during the week of Easter last year, Mobberly’s membership did what it does best.
It went into prayer mode.
The prayers came from venues across Mobberly’s Longview and Marshall campuses. In large worship gatherings and in Connect Groups, church members prayed. Families and friends prayed together. Adults and children asked God to save the souls of people they loved and others they’ve never met.
And the teenagers. Oh, the teenagers. How do we even begin to tell their story?
Let’s start where they started. With prayer.
The Cross Experience isn’t your typical worship gathering. Pastor Glynn shares the gospel of Jesus Christ, explaining God’s plan to deliver man from sin and into a relationship with Him, which sounds familiar to most churchgoers. Things begin to stray from the typical service when livestock and shepherds and a high priest help illustrate the message.
But, the ultimate illustration in the Cross Experience is one that happens throughout the message. While telling of God’s love for every person in that room, the pastor does so while building a 15-foot-high cross on the platform, his breath growing heavy as he chops away at the wood with axe in hand.
When it was announced that Pastor Glynn would deliver that message to teenagers at Elevation, Mobberly’s youth ministry building, the students immediately knew what to do.
“In the months leading up to the event, we spent a lot of time as a group praying and asking God to do something special,” said Will Hagle, Mobberly’s junior high minister. “We spent time praying and thinking about who we could invite. We really challenged our students to go after their friends, specifically those that might be far from God or hurting in some way – people who need to hear the message of hope that comes from Christ.”
Will said on most Wednesday evenings, about 250 students attend Elevation. The night of the Cross Experience, three times that number were in attendance.
“So, on average, every student brought two guests,” Will said. “How many others were invited but did not attend? I would dare say that most of our students invited at least 10 people. And these weren’t all just short invitations in passing. Most of our students really reached out to people in deeper ways. And, of course, some invited everyone they came in contact with.”
One of those students was 14-year old Elliott Norwood, who now attends Hallsville High School. Elliott has an All-American boy quality, a clean-cut kid with an easy smile. His conversations are peppered with respectful “Yes, sirs” and “No, sirs,” and he’s every bit as comfortable in a prayer room as he is on the ballfield or a skateboard. But don’t confuse his aw-shucks demeanor with nonchalance.
Elliott is a competitor. When you’re the youngest of three boys, you learn to fight for what’s important. That passion guides his desire for others to know God’s love.
“When you play hard and study hard and pray hard, you enjoy life more than you would if you lived passively,” said Elliott’s mom, Molly. “He does those things, and he is all about having fun.
“He has friends that don’t know Jesus, so he wants them to know. He loves that Jesus is a part of his everyday life, and he wants others to have that amazing God-given, wonderful life that he has. I think it’s just a God-given drive that he has.”
Elliott and all of Elevation’s youth prayed hard leading up to the Cross Experience. When the time came, the students went to work, inviting their friends to hear the message of hope Will Hagle mentioned.
“They really answered the call,” Will said. “Elliott was just one of our students who invited everyone he came in contact with. He definitely went all out in going after others, and I think his passion probably motivated other students.”
“I just felt like it was my duty as a Christian to invite others,” Elliott said.
He said he invited about 200 people to the Cross Experience. About 20 were friends that he spends a lot of time with, and most were people that he said he had “some kind of relationship with.”
“Most of them go to my school,” he said. “I went down to the park to ride my skateboard, and I saw some kids there and invited them. A couple of them came. It was pretty cool.”
Of the approximately 200 students Elliott invited, about 75 attended.
Will said he and his fellow junior high and high school ministry staff members began praying for the Cross Experience about a year before it happened. Later, the students joined them in prayer.
“And not just tagging it onto what we were doing,” Will said. “We devoted entire worship times to praying for the Cross Experience and for specific friends they wanted to invite. The day of the event, there were people prayer-walking in the parking lot and up and down every row of chairs inside. Not for an hour; I’m talking all day long.”
Elliott’s dad, Noel, was among the prayer warriors that day.
“I didn’t know they were going to do that until about three or four days before (the Cross Experience),” Elliott said. “He told me they were going to walk around and pray for every spot, and pray that it wouldn’t rain and that it would be quiet during the service.”
The prayers were answered. The 750 students enjoyed a beautiful evening outside, playing games, listening to music and hanging out by the food truck that brought dinner. Then, it was time to head inside for Pastor Glynn’s message.
“When we first came in there, it was wild,” said Michael Curl, Mobberly’s high school minister. “There was lots of excitement, and I was thinking, ‘I don’t know if these kids are even going to pay attention.’ But during the message, you could have heard a pin drop. The kids were engaged and they were keyed into everything that was going on.”
Michael Curl admitted to getting emotional when the teenagers responded to the pastor’s invitation to follow Jesus.
“When Pastor Glynn gave the invitation, teenagers started moving,” he said. “The altar was full. The first kid that moved was standing right in front of the cross, and he had tears in his eyes. God was working.”
Students flooded the aisle, spilling across an open area the width of the platform where Pastor Glynn stood next to the freshly-built cross. Forty-nine of them were making a decision to begin a relationship with Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior for the first time. Another 69 recommitted their lives to Jesus.
The night served as a springboard to bigger things, with the news of 49 new brothers and sisters entering into the adventure of following Christ energizing Mobberly’s congregation. Following the example set by the church’s teenagers, people invited friends, coworkers and family members to join them at Mobberly on Easter.
When the final worship gathering ended, at least 102 people had begun a relationship with Jesus through Mobberly that week, proving that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
“God was clearly at work,” Will said. “There’s no denying the power of prayer.”