Entire family among hundreds finding Christ through Crossover
ST. LOUIS (BP)--Amid the swirling mix of food, games and excitement at the New Life Baptist Church block party June 8, Lucille Lee found a receptive audience for the gospel in one 9-year-old boy. Then his brother became interested, then his other two siblings -- and finally both parents.
By the end of the day they were among more than 50 individuals who had made professions of faith at the East St. Louis event.
"I have never seen that happen before, where I would be sharing with one person and they would get their friends and ask them to come over -- and I would share with them too," said Lee, a member of Sandtown Baptist Church in Atlanta whose husband, Richard, serves as a national missionary for African and African American church planting. "God was just really working there. It was just wonderful."
The event was one of approximately 45 evangelistic block parties held the weekend of June 7-9 as part of Crossover St. Louis, an evangelistic blitz held in conjunction with the June 11-12 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting. Hundreds of out-of-town volunteers joined local churches for the annual event, which also included community surveys, inner-city evangelism, street evangelism, encounters on college campuses, giveaways of free water in Christ's name, prayer journeys and a number of similar efforts.
Decisions resulting from the events had not been reported to a centralized follow-up center as of late June 9, but the Inner City Evangelism team alone -- composed of 23 street evangelists -- had reported about 1,200 professions of faith since they began their ministry on June 4 (see related story).
The block party at New Life Baptist Church was one of the largest, offering not only food and fun but an opportunity to learn more about the church, its members and the God who has transformed their lives. About two years old, the congregation of about 200 already has ramped up a broad range of ministries designed to meet both physical and spiritual needs in its economically depressed community.
"We want them to see that our lives have been changed by Jesus, but we still can have fun," said Kendall Granger, the church's pastor.
In St. Charles, Mo., a group of 21 youth and adults from Oakdale Baptist Church in Cowpens, S.C., traveled 13 hours in their church's 1975 model tour bus to help pastor Mike Adams host a block party at The Church of St. Charles. Despite a breakdown only 30 miles from home, they were undeterred.
"We came to the conclusion that we didn't care where we went with it, if the bus stops that's where we're going to stop and minister," said Oakdale youth minister Phil Gallman. "We've got people in our church who are just dying to do mission work."
Adams, who is also a doctor with a family medical practice, said the event was a big boost to the church, a multicultural congregation with a strong community ministry base. "This is to show that Christianity can be fun," he said. "We try to be all things to all men if we can."
For Geyer Road Baptist Church in Kirkwood, Mo., hosting the church's first block party involved nearly half of the church's 150 regular attendees.
The Kirkwood church's preparation for the June 8 event began weeks ago, as members prayerwalked every street in their city of 30,000 residents. The previous Saturday, the church's youth group visited nearly 400 houses within a four-block radius of the church, passing out free light bulbs and information about the church as well as an invitation to the block party.
During the four-hour event, about a dozen church members walked through the crowd, inviting guests to read the Roman Road gospel presentation highlighted in giveaway copies of the New Testament.
"I think this is one step to bring the harvest in," said Mark Mays, a Kirkwood church member who sat in a dunking booth as participants tried to sink him in a pool of water beneath his perch.
"If you can get them here then you can talk to them," Mays said. "Now we have names and phone numbers."
During the door-to-door surveys, residents were asked their opinions about their biggest concerns, the needs people think churches should be meeting, as well as their own spiritual beliefs. If the respondents seemed receptive, they were asked if they would be interested in hearing about how they could be sure of their eternal life.
Many accepted Christ immediately, but the value of the ministry went far beyond immediate decisions. For one team in Maryville, Ill., it was their invitation for prayer concerns and to pray with residents that became the most rewarding -- often leading to visits of 20-25 minutes.
"We did more than just share the gospel message," said Bryan Lynch, a member of First Baptist of Maryville, which also hosted three block parties in the area. "We were able to minister to people who had problems in their lives," Lynch said.
On the opposite side the river in western St. Louis, members of Parkway Baptist Church also found tremendous receptivity to their offers to pray, with several teams reporting shared tears as needs were raised to God on doorsteps.
"We will put those who asked us to pray for them specifically in our prayer ministry," said Jeff Wells, the church's minister of students and evangelism. "That will open the door for us to contact them again and say that we are continuing to pray for them. I see that as a strong follow-up."
Paul Nachtigall, pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Pampa, Texas, said volunteers from his church left their experience with Parkway with a desire to do similar surveys in their own community.
"We just didn't realize the impact that it was going to have on us until we got to St. Louis," he said. "Almost every one of them has said to me that this has just had a great impact on their life."
A new aspect of Crossover this year was a more focused effort to share Christ on college campuses. A group of about 70 college students from around the country began conducting spiritual opinion surveys on 10 different campuses June 5.
The student-to-student conversations provided not only openings to share their faith, but also contacts for later follow-up by existing campus ministries in the area.
"The people we approached were very gracious," said Jimmy Standlea, a student at Longview Community College in Kansas City, Mo. "They were very open about whether they had spiritual beliefs and everything we said."
One student on Washington University's campus said he had attended some Christian events and liked hanging around Christian students. His own faith was Buhddism, but he was not devout. He expressed interest in attending a regular luncheon provided by area churches for college students.
A few minutes later, another team met a young woman from China who knew nothing about Christ but was interested. Billy Grady, a collegiate evangelism missionary and one of the coordinators of the effort, was able to share with her about his love for her country -- and how he had just recently been through her hometown on a mission trip.
"It really opened a door to be able to continue to talk with her," Grady said.
Shoppers at the Soulard Farmer's Market just south of downtown St. Louis were greeted with friendly smiles and free bottles of water during a "Kindness Explosion" event, one of five held June 8 at parks and other public venues.
"Would you like some water?" one volunteer asked.
"Oh, thank you," the woman replied. "Have a blessed day!"
Most exchanges were just that brief, but imprinted on the bottles was Christ's promise of water that would remove thirst forever, from John 4:13-14. There was also a toll-free number for those who wanted to learn more.
At the base of St. Louis' famed Gateway Arch, evangelist Carl Carrigan of Shreveport, La., captivated small groups with illusions designed to illustrate the gospel. A few would leave when the intent of his performances became clear, but others stayed -- and gratefully accepted the evangelistic tracts he offered.
Other vocational evangelists at the same location made balloon animals for children, shared the gospel using artwork, or just simply started sharing the gospel one-on-one using the tracts.
Later on June 8 that same group began working with a block party at Lemay First Baptist Church in St. Louis, where the day's events reached a fitting culmination. About 2,500 helium balloons -- each containing a gospel tract -- were released at 5 p.m. The "Jesus Loves You" tracts included the 1-800-JESUS-2000 phone number directing callers to the North American Mission Board's Evangelism Response Center.
Ray Jenkins, an evangelist from Fayetteville, Ga., who organized the effort, said similar releases have resulted in phone inquiries from people living 300 miles to 600 miles from launch cities.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: HIS BANNER OVER ST. LOUIS, LOUISIANA WITNESS IN MISSOURI, BAPTISTS TAKE WITNESS TO ST. LOUIS and CLOWNING FOR CHRIST.