Students Head to Panama City Beach to Share Faith
Erik Kersting

Many students like to escape the cold of Wisconsin during spring break for a warmer place in the country to relax, tan and party. A group of students at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, went south this spring break for another reason: to participate in a Christian conference and share their faith with other students at Panama City Beach, Florida.

The conference was called Big Break and was sponsored by the Campus Crusade for Christ, an international Christian organization.

Aaron Messier, a senior at UWSP, went on Big Break. He explained that the purpose of the event was to teach young Christians how to spread their faith and to initiate spiritual conversations with others, then give them an opportunity to share with other people on the beach.

The event sees many students returning year after year. Rebecca Sutherland, an English major at UWSP, has been three times.

“I went my first time at the encouragement of my friend Whitney Carlson, and I had such a great time that I’ve gone back every year,” Sutherland said. “It’s a totally different sort of atmosphere than usual CRU or church. It’s both personal and unifying.”

Students are taught not to talk about their own beliefs but to listen to others.

“The real purpose was just to listen and understand the individual’s perspective on what spirituality, faith, and religion all meant to them. If they were interested, I’d share my perspective, but the real goal was to listen and understand where they were coming from and where they were at spiritually,” Sutherland said. “It’s amazing what you can learn about a person when you stop talking and really listen.”

While talking about a subject like religion can be difficult with others, Sutherland enjoyed this aspect of the event.

“My favorite part of Big Break was actually going out on the beach and talking with people. I love listening to others’ stories and sharing if the opportunity arises. Meeting new people and gaining new perspectives is a real passion of mine,” Sutherland said.

These students understand that their decision to go south not to party but to talk to strangers might sound odd to other students.

“Personally, I’m not really sure what non-CRU students would think of Big Break,” Messier said. “To be honest, I can see them as thinking it’s a little odd just for the fact that we are going to an area that is well known for partying and ‘fun,’ and we are refraining from drinking and instead are talking to people and not partying ourselves.”

Sutherland understands that talking about religion can bring awkwardness, but she thought it was enjoyable.

“Well, I suppose it might feel a little awkward for some students as religion and faith are some of the ‘taboo’ topics of our culture,” Sutherland said. “But hopefully Big Break would open up the opportunity for students to see that it is possible to talk about such issues without it being weird or tense.”

While some Campus Crusade for Christ students may not have attended a typical spring break, they still love to enjoy the sun and warmer climate of the south.

“It’s all done in sunny Florida on a sandy beach,” Sutherland said. “Sounds like a win to me.”