Volunteers take Gospel to 'The Crossroads of America'
INDIANAPOLIS (BP)--Blaring rap music, yellow crime scene tape, open-hooded vehicles on ramps and young children playfully running through the streets is an all-too-common scene throughout much of inner city America.
A similar scenario played itself out June 12 at the Cloverleaf Terrace apartments in Indianapolis during the community's annual luau festivities. This year, however, Southern Baptist volunteers from across the Southeast joined the Cloverleaf celebration.
They hosted children's games and crafts and provided free car washes, oil changes and other maintenance. The rap music was of the Christian variety, and the yellow tape sectioned off part of the parking lot where groups of Baptist men serviced the vehicles while sharing the Gospel.
The Cloverleaf outreach was just one of nearly 40 evangelistic block parties held June 11-12 throughout metropolitan Indianapolis as part of Crossover Indiana. Crossover is an annual Southern Baptist evangelistic effort held the weekend prior to the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in the host city.
Statewide, 100-plus churches were part of 75 Crossover events scheduled June 7-19, including block parties, street evangelism, neighborhood prayerwalking, door-to-door spiritual opinion surveys and more than 40 revival crusades.
More than 1,500 professions of faith in Christ had been recorded as a result of the Crossover efforts through June 12, according to reports submitted to the Metropolitan Baptist Association office in Indianapolis.
Nearly 1,000 volunteers -- about half of whom are from out of state -- participated in the outreach, reported Doug Simpson, director of missions for the Metropolitan Baptist Association and block party coordinator for Crossover Indiana.
And more than 900 phone calls had been received nationwide through the North American Mission Board's Evangelism Response Center requesting copies of the "The Hope" evangelistic video in response to a Southern Baptist television ad campaign underway throughout Indiana. More than 25 professions of faith also have been recorded through the media campaign.
Block parties featuring free food, children's games and prizes were held June 12 throughout Indianapolis in apartment complexes, city parks, shopping center parking lots, on street corners and in rural open fields.
Many of the events began around 11 a.m. as heavy rains and wind posed flood-watch conditions over some regions. But by early afternoon the dark ominous clouds gave way to sunshine and comfortable spring-like temperatures.
John Yarbrough, NAMB's vice president of evangelization, described Crossover as an evangelistic laboratory unifying Southern Baptists across the country in a convention-wide Kingdom-building effort.
"Crossover helps us focus as Southern Baptists on what we're all about," Yarbrough said. "It encourages the churches locally and leaves a residue of equipped witnesses to further impact the area for eternity."
Back at the inner-city Cloverleaf Terrace apartments near the Indianapolis airport, men helped children make miniature racecars out of wooden blocks, youth groups washed residents' cars while others feasted on brisket sandwiches and a bubble machine filled the air with glistening ornaments that evaporated on contact.
Andy Boles, pastor of Pine Grove Baptist Church in Magee, Miss., focused on sharing the Gospel with 31-year-old woman named Christina while she waited for a free oil change.
When Boles explained to Christina that Jesus offered forgiveness for her sins, her eyes brightened and she replied, "How can I be saved?" A few minutes later, she prayed to receive Christ as her Lord and Savior. Christina was one of four people who accepted Christ as Lord and Savior while waiting for their oil changes.
Baptist men's groups from churches in Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina and Georgia participated in NAMB's "BMEN on Mission Pit Stop" by providing minor vehicle maintenance on about 30 vehicles in the apartment complex. Some men shared the Gospel while the others serviced the vehicles.
Ministry evangelism projects like the Pit Stop are part of a new adult mission education emphasis by the NAMB's Baptist Men on Mission organization "Men @ Work."
"We plan to take this back home and repeat it in our community because there's the same need there," said Rick Gastineau of Hyattsville Baptist Church, in Lancaster, Ky.
At Fellowship Baptist Church east of downtown on New York Street, pastor Gary Pitcock credited the success of the church's block party and door-to-door witnessing efforts to prayer. The block party drew about 200 people from the neighborhood and members of NAMB's Inner City Evangelism (ICE) teams recorded more than 50 professions of faith of teens and adults who live near the church.
Weeks before the block party, Pitcock and about 15 others in the congregation walked about a dozen blocks near the church praying for the homes that might be impacted by the evangelistic outreach.
ICE team member Mark Jackson said he had the opportunity to help lead a man to place his faith in Christ as well as the man's fiancé and her mother and brother and another friend who all lived near Fellowship Baptist.
"It's always a miracle when they come to Christ," said Jackson, who's also a NAMB Mission Service Corps (MSC) missionary in Wichita, Kan. "We find as we knock on doors that there's people that God's already prepared."
Jackson said he helped lead a 35-year-old woman to Christ while standing on her porch earlier in the week as sirens throughout the neighborhood sounded a tornado watch.
"These folks out here are just waiting for someone to tell them about Jesus," Jackson said.
Pitcock, a bivocational pastor, said Crossover has "given us an opportunity to reach out to this community that by ourselves we wouldn't be able to do."
Victor Benavides, a NAMB personal evangelism associate and coordinator of the ICE teams, said 20 ICE team members recorded a total of 884 professions of faith June 7-12 while sharing the Gospel door-to-door and with passersby on sidewalks and street corners throughout inner-city neighborhoods in Indianapolis.
John Dimmick, pastor of Sunnyside Road Baptist Church, said the efforts by nearly 30 of his church members and volunteers from Michigan and Virginia to canvass 1,000 homes made an eternal difference in their community as well. More than 250 spiritual opinion surveys were conducted, leading to 115 Gospel presentations. Thirteen professions of faith were recorded and 55 new prospects identified.
"We had a great day and greater days are ahead," Dimmick said.
Mark Zdawczyk, a member of Cedar Street Church in Holt, Mich., was excited about the opportunity to help lead two high school boys and a college-aged woman to make professions of faith while canvassing neighborhoods near Sunnyside Road Baptist Church.
"It was a day of joy and awe because you're allowing God to work through you," Zdawczyk said. "All glory goes to God."
Near downtown Garfield Park, about 700 people attended the day-long "Jesus Family Picnic," an annual evangelistic extravaganza coordinated by Dusty Selig, pastor of an inner-city mission called The Spirit of The Lord Church. The event included live music, free food, a 40-foot inflatable slide for children and prize drawings for bicycles, T-shirts, and barbeque grills. Evangelist Keith Fordham from Alabama preached.
More than 20 people, including 15 adults, were baptized at the event in a portable four-foot-high rectangular baptismal pool. Selig said the 300-plus registration cards he collected for the prize drawings will keep him busy for the rest of the year doing follow-up visits.
One of the most enduring memories of the entire event, Selig said, will be the opportunity he had to baptize a 74-year-old man who confessed, "I know this is what I need," upon becoming a Christian.
Back at Cloverleaf Terrace, John Barker, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who serves as pastor of Cloverleaf Baptist Church, said the block party will help the church, which meets in the complex, build life-changing relationships with residents of the 424-unit apartment complex which includes more than 600 children.
"They can see they can have fun in a Christian environment," he said.
As for Jan Heinzgosser, property manager of the apartment complex, one thing she knows for sure is "that Christians make better residents."