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Christianity and conversations on the beach

I debated back and forth for a couple of weeks about my spring break plans, but I eventually decided that being beachside was more favorable than snowed in. So, I traveled to Panama City Beach for a week of sunshine.

But I am neither a drinker nor a heavy partier. When I heard that Cru was taking a group of students to PCB for a conference, I knew that this trip down south with 23 other Miami Christians would provide some G-rated fun. Rather than laying on the beach all week, we devoted our entire break to spreading our beliefs to other spring breakers.

Big Break is a conference put on by Cru, and Miami's branch takes a group every year. Hundreds of college students from across the nation travel to PCB for a week to share their beliefs about God, Christianity and the Bible with spring breakers on the beach.

I had no idea what to expect out of this experience and knew only a few people who were going. So, when I traveled to Panama City Beach with a car full of mostly strangers, I was more than a little nervous.

But, my anxiety sprang from more than reservations of the unknown. I knew I was going to step out of my comfort zone every day during this trip.

Each day, we trekked to a different location to spread our beliefs. We approached random strangers walking on the beach, families eating ice cream at the mall and high school and college students spending their week lounging in the sun.

I am not typically a person who would march up to a stranger and strike up a conversation. Even worse, starting a spiritual conversation is a bit trickier than complimenting someone's swimsuit or commenting on the weather.

On the second day of mission work, I was with two of my friends, approaching people at the mall and beginning to talk to them about their faith. We decided to chat with an elderly couple. The husband was wearing an Air Force hat and sitting in a wheelchair while his wife sat across from him on a bench.

Initially, we asked the couple how they viewed their lives now. With some thought, they both decided that they were happy, but tired. Next, we asked what they thought would make the world a better place.

The man, barely above a whisper, said, "More religion. And more people like you girls."

We all learned a lot about different types of people and their views on spirituality, religion and God. While a few people were closed off, the majority appreciated our efforts to make conversation and were open to hearing our ideas.

No, this was not a typical spring break. We gave up an entire week of relaxation to reconnect with God. No booze, no drugs and no sex. One might ask, how could that be fun? It was fun -- good, clean fun; Cru-style, with daily ice cream runs, worship on the beach and late-night testimonials.

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Good travel is identified by its company. My entourage was the coolest group of people ever . I traveled with an aspiring photographer, "the man of many rejections" and a girl with an unmatchable sweet tooth. But one thing remained the same among us all -- we genuinely love our God.

I have never experienced a sense of community as strong as I did on this trip. We shared our most personal thoughts and experiences with each other and bonded over our spiritual journeys. Our personal relationships in Christ grew through prayer, worship and outreach, but we also grew in our relationships with each other.

The last two nights of the convention, a man named Roger Hershey spoke to everyone in the ballroom about continuing mission work within our college campuses and throughout the world. His personal connection to Miami made his message even stronger to the Redhawks in the crowd. He worked for Miami Cru for 17 years, ministering and leading college students in their spiritual journeys. He explained that Miami University has been one of the best universities in the country for sending students into ministry.

Our work is not done. We have big shoes to fill and more places to go. I feel called to reach more people, travel to new destinations and utilize the ministering skills I developed throughout this trip. Mission work is crucial to any belief system, and I believe we have just dipped our feet in the water -- now we are ready to dive in.