Jesus told us to make disciples of all nations. But when I began an internship with Cru in Orlando, Fla., I never would have thought to look for the nations in my own backyard.
I am participating in Cru’s YearOne internship program along with nine others working at Cru’s headquarters.
Once a week, we leave the office environment and do ministry at a major Florida theme park. The ministry piloted in 2006 with a summer mission project organized by Kevin Dennis.
Kevin was familiar with opportunities at the theme park because he had previously worked there, but he was unprepared for the results.
“We were blown away by the opportunities to engage with students there,” he said. “We saw a hunger in all the students and an unbelievable hunger specifically in the international students.”
The more they engaged with the theme-park interns, the more opportunities began presenting themselves and the more they began to see lives change through spiritual conversation and decisions to seek Christ.
The need for a full-time team was more than apparent.
“It was like walking into a gold mine and just taking the gold nuggets off the wall,” Kevin said, describing the spiritual hunger he saw in many of the students.
In August 2009, Kevin moved to Orlando and began working toward a full-time theme-park ministry as a part of Cru’s U.S. Campus Ministry. Kevin desired the team to be a resource to theme-park interns. Within a year, six people joined alongside him.
Now, every Friday, I work alongside full-time staff members of the theme-park team to develop intentional friendships with theme-park interns.
As we walk around the park, we pray for wisdom to know who to talk to. We have conversations with theme-park interns, invite those who are interested to a weekly pizza night and are sometimes able to share how we each came to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Our greatest desire is to be a blessing and encouragement in the few minutes or seconds we are able to talk with someone.
Our team is committed to being honest and upfront with every intern and employee we encounter. There is no secrecy about who we are, what we believe or that we work for Cru.
We long to be a spiritual resource for those who desire to explore spirituality, no matter where they are at.
One of my favorite aspects of this partnership is that the focus is on the individual. There is no formula. Each relationship is different; each conversation is valued.
The first time my team of interns was introduced to the theme-park ministry, we watched clips from Riding Giants, a documentary that highlights big-wave surfing off the coast of Northern California.
In the 1950s and 1960s, big-wave surfers didn’t believe Hawaii-sized waves existed in California. But in 1961, three surfers discovered the 20-foot waves at what is now known as Maverick’s.
For years the three and their friends surfed the waves alone. It wasn’t until the 1990s that it became a popular location for big-wave surfing.
The team explained how going to the theme park and trusting God for relationships was just like big-wave surfing. We were diving into something daunting, but we had to trust that God would provide the right waves.
Aaron Laib, a fellow YearOne intern, was challenged and encouraged by the analogy. The theme park “is an ocean full of different people from around the world, from all beliefs, from all backgrounds,” he says.
Every week we have the opportunity to meet new people from new places. Each interaction takes faith, trusting that God will guide our steps and our words.
It’s incredible to see friendships grow out of the most unsuspecting conversations.
One theme-park intern named Jin* befriended Julie*, a student working with the ministry. Although Jin had never thought much about God, she was interested in building a relationship with Julie.
Over the months, Jin became more involved with the theme-park ministry. It was through many relationships and after hearing the gospel presented clearly a few times that she accepted Christ as Savior and Lord.
Being a part of the ministry has taught me the importance of having intentional friendships starting from the first conversation. During my four years at the University of Florida, I had quite a few friends who were exploring spiritually, but I was too afraid of offending them to actually share my faith.
I’m learning how to be bold, to share my story and to trust God with the results.
Not every conversation is encouraging, but every week when we join together, we all have stories of how God is moving in the lives of our friends we’ve met at the theme park.
Each time we go out, it’s exciting and terrifying at the same time. Sometimes you catch a wave and sometimes you don’t.
For information on how you can be a part of the Orlando theme-park ministry, contact Kevin Dennis at firstname.lastname@example.org.