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Making Missionaries on Campus

Students relate to Georgia Youth Alive leader Jessica Riner.

Jessica L. Riner didn’t think she would become a U.S. missionary with Georgia Youth Alive, but when the opportunity arose, she recognized it as God’s will. Riner, 40, engages in the ministry to students while her husband, Hershel Ken Riner, 44, oversees the Georgia Assemblies of God campgrounds.

Riner previously served with Youth Alive, a partnership between U.S. Missions and the National Youth Department, as a youth pastor. When John D. Dougherty, Georgia’s District youth director, approached Riner about the role, she eagerly agreed. Riner’s position covers the entirety of the Peach State. She strives to devote herself to significant face time with the students she mentors.

“Almost every week I’m in a different youth group, training and equipping students to see their school as a mission field,” Riner says. “I connect with students on a regular basis, emailing them throughout the week and giving ideas for how they can reach their schools.”

Riner helps youth pastors try to get on high school campuses, and she is currently working to launch a Seven Project in the district.

“My heart is to see students step up and lead their friends to Jesus,” says Riner, a graduate of Southeastern University.

Riner encourages students to connect with their classmates and to take advantage of God-given ministry opportunities when they arise. Whether it’s in the band hall, at the lunch table, riding the bus, or after school, she directs students to always be alert to ways they can share Jesus.

Students have made the mission their own. Josiah Arreola, 18, led two of his atheist classmates from drama class to salvation in the Lord. Cason Alesi, 14, prayed with a friend in band. MaryLana Nix, 16, adopted Youth Alive’s “five friend focus” model and led five friends to Jesus by sharing her own testimony of once being suicidal, but then being set free by Christ. Sisters Kelsey and Rebekah Springer, 15, have handed out over 650 Bibles to students at the school they attend. Christian Bullard, 18, persisted with conversations about Christ with his friend, Sam. Eventually, Sam accepted Jesus as Lord, participated in Fine Arts Festival, and now senses his own call into ministry.

“I am glad to be a small part of that journey with students to help train, equip, and resource them to reach their schools,” Riner says.

Dougherty, 49, works closely with Riner and sees the value of her leadership.

“I’m the dad of three daughters, so I can see the impact Jessica is making even in my own home,” he says. “Female leaders can lead on a very personal level and serve as an incredible role model for young ladies who want to have vital, vibrant ministries. Jessica has done an incredible job recruiting campus missionaries in Georgia.”

Ana Pierce Elliott

Ana Pierce Elliott is a freelance writer based in Springfield, Missouri.