Crossover yields 1,200-plus decisions despite LDS influence in Salt Lake City
SALT LAKE CITY (BP) - The host city of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting might be the international headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but there is apparently no shortage of individuals open to placing their faith in the gospel of historic Christianity.
On doorsteps, sidewalks and public parks across northern Utah and Idaho Falls, Idaho, more than 1,200 individuals had professed faith in Christ as of noon, June 11, during Crossover Salt Lake City. The event -- encompassing block parties, sports clinics, door-to-door visits, street evangelism and other efforts -- began June 5 and continues through June 14 with a three-day crusade for the Hispanic community.
"Crossover really was above and beyond what we ever expected," said Dan Walker, director of missions for Salt Lake Baptist Association. "The reception of the community has been phenomenal. The interest that Crossover has piqued in the gospel, and the encouragement to our churches in the area of evangelism, all of that has just taken us above and beyond what we ever really dreamed."
"It's been tremendous," added Mitch Martin, director of missions for the Golden Spike Baptist Association in the Ogden area. "If we could do a Crossover every year, I would do it."
In addition to a large effort June 6 through block parties and door-to-door visits, Crossover continued throughout the following week with the efforts of 500 college students and another 250 high school students involved in a special "Frontliners" evangelism program. A total of about 1,500 out-of-state and 700 Utah and Idaho volunteers were estimated to have been involved in the Crossover initiative.
More than 600 of the professions of faith came through the North American Mission Board's16-member Inner-City Evangelism team and the 30 college students who joined them for training and witnessing June 8-l2.
Art Stacer, one of the group's key members, said the LDS influence was not that much of a factor in the lower-income neighborhoods they impacted.
"We found that in this city it's pretty well the same as any other city," Stacer said. "You have the lost people that are responding, whether they are Mormons or anyone else."
Stacer and two colleagues from San Antonio, Texas, have visited 33 major cities across the United States, sharing the gospel and distributing tracts, seeing thousands come to faith in Christ. The North American Mission Board learned of their ministry during the 1995 Crossover evangelistic effort in Atlanta, when Stacer reported an unusually large number of decisions and told them he felt God was calling Southern Baptists to become more involved in reaching the inner-cities for Christ.
Now their approach is part of NAMB's ministry that also includes specialized training in addiction rehabilitation and Continuing Witness Training personal evangelism. During a week-long Detroit conference in April, for instance, 736 professions of faith were recorded.
"This is the Lord that is doing this here," Stacer said. "It's not us. It was his invitation to the (Southern) Baptists."
The response of the college students they worked with each day has been especially exciting, he said. "They are just so inspired."
Stacer told of one street corner where 11 or 12 people accepted Christ within a period of about 45 minutes. "The little lady yesterday, it was the first souls she ever won to Christ. And they just stood in awe. They stand on the corner, and the Holy Spirit just brings the people to them."
Howard Ramsey, another member of the ICE team, met one 71-year-old woman who told him, "I was afraid you were not coming to my home. Come in!" Then she said, "I believe in God and the Ten Commandments. Is there anything else?"
Within 15 minutes she had prayed to receive Christ, Ramsey said. "Pointing to her heart, she said while weeping, 'All the emptiness is gone. I don't have to be empty anymore.'"
Juan Acosta, pastor of Emmnuael Baptist Church in Ogden, said the inner-city efforts have moved his ministry and the church forward by two years. "We will start a Bible study immediately with Hispanics near the center of Ogden, and we hope to start a new church," he said.
Street evangelism teams were one of the first to kick off Crossover activity during the first two NBA finals games, June 3 and 5. The Delta Center in downtown Salt Lake City was a hub of activity because of the NBA playoff game between the Utah Jazz and the Chicago Bulls.
"We couldn't let this opportunity pass without reaching out," said Tim Knopps, NAMB evangelism consultant.
The bulk of the early Crossover activity occurred on June 6 through block parties and door-to-door evangelism efforts. About 18 churches hosted block parties in neighborhood parks, offering free food and entertainment for children and adults. Volunteers from local churches and across the country also circulated among the visitors sharing the gospel and giving away New Testaments.
A party hosted by First Southern Baptist Church of Salt Lake City attracted hundreds, and 75 made professions of faith in Christ. A team of about 20 volunteers from Nassau Bay Baptist Church in Galveston, Texas, had spent the previous week with the church conducting backyard Bible clubs for area children and distributing about 7,000 flyers. About 30 decisions were registered during that week, not including one man who had come by the church partially in response to the Celebrate Jesus 2000 evangelistic advertising campaign that had begun only days earlier.
"He came in and he just said 'I'm LDS, I'm not happy with that anymore, and I would like to have a Bible,'" said Cherry Barfoot, one of the volunteers from Texas who led the man to faith in Christ.
Members of First Southern and others said one of the biggest benefits of Crossover is the boost it gives to local churches. "It's revival. It's pumping-up to the local Baptists as well to share the gospel within a culture that's just been overwhelming," said one member. "It's nice to see a lot of Christians (sharing their faith) instead of the opposite."
Volunteers at Holladay Baptist Church south of Salt Lake City were somewhat disappointed in the turnout at their block party, but were encouraged by several professions of faith.
Marilyn Patrick, coordinator of the Holladay outreach, said early inclement weather was not the primary reason for the poor turnout. "The local Mormon ward told their people not to attend and even scheduled a conflicting event at the same time as our party," she said. "But we know the Lord did what he wanted to do here, and we praise him for that.
"Aside from what the Lord did in the lives of our visitors, this church has been saved through this event. It has focused our church on the purpose of our church, which is reaching our community for Christ," she explained.
Hoffmantown Baptist Church in Albuquerque, N.M., sent a team of roller-bladers, skateboarders and break-dancers to the Day of Champions block party sponsored by Southeast Baptist Church in Salt Lake City. It was followed by a sports clinic, held at nearby Brighton High School, featuring skills training in basketball, soccer, football and baseball.
Prior to the clinic, Southeastern Baptist with the help of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, set up an area in the parking lot for a "free skate." Kids in grades seven through 12 were invited to 'board or 'blade on the ramps. The team from Hoffmantown church provided exhibition skating.
Dick Thomassian, who led a street evangelism group from Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., told of one lady who stayed several hours at a block party in a western suburb of Salt Lake City. Expecting a church-style meeting, she was dressed in her finest clothes. And although the unique teachings of Mormonism were not directly addressed in the testimonies, songs and gospel presentation, by the end of the day she was convinced of its errors.
"She said, 'I've been a member of the Mormon Church for 89 years, and it's a fake. What I heard today is the truth.'" Thomassian recounted. "I can only attribute that to the Holy Spirit. He revealed that to her and she discerned that."
While exact statistics on the number of LDS who made professions of faith in the biblical Christ have not yet been compiled, most reports indicated the bulk of decisions were non-Mormon. Mitchell estimated about 10 percent of those led to Christ through the ICE team were Mormons. Overall, he said, the inner-city areas apparently had a much greater percentage of non-Mormons than outlying areas.
Much of the Crossover interaction with Mormons came during door-to-door visits focused on a spiritual opinion survey. Most visits were generally reported as exceptionally friendly and well-received, but with little interest from residents in abandoning the LDS Church.
In Tremonton, north of Ogden, Bob and Patty Compere of Shelbina, Mo., also reported a friendly reception. But their responses also indicated they are counting on their good works in this life to get them into heaven.
Bob Compere spent five years in the 1960s as pastor of a church in nearby Ogden. "I met a lot of people just like him," Compere said after leaving the home of one Mormon. "The Holy Spirit is the only one who's going to change his mind."
At Mountain View Baptist Church in Layton, which also hosted a block party, 350 volunteers visited more than 5,000 homes, according to pastor Keith Markham. Only 15 to 20 people refused to talk, he reported. He said he heard that Mormons had been told to be polite but to not accept any literature. Before the volunteers went out, he told them to go ahead and leave gospel tracts - "LDS are just like Baptists; they never listen to what their pastor tells them anyway."
Gloria Thompson of Baton Rouge, La., found great contrast between her witnessing experiences in Salt Lake City and previously in New Orleans. "In the South, everyone thinks they're Christians if they were born in the United States." In Utah, she found residents in the neighborhood surrounding Holladay Baptist Church willingly admitting their lack of faith in Christ.
An 84-year old woman invited her and a partner into her home, telling them, "I've been waiting for the Baptists to come." In three separate homes where the women asked residents if they wanted to pray to receive Christ as Lord and Savior, each person independently stated that they prayed such a prayer every day.
The "Frontliners" high school students, who met for training each morning June 8-10 at Southeast Baptist Church and witnessed throughout the area in the afternoon, also reported great interest in their message. Even before the event began, students were in Temple Square sharing with LDS missionaries who served as tour guides.
"We thought the LDS people would be super-prepared since they've been expecting us to come for so long, but that wasn't the case," said Sam Whitley, a member of First Baptist Church, Euless, Texas. "She didn't have a lot of answers, and many of the answers she did have were little more than, 'I've always wondered that, too.'"
The 500 college students spent the week rotating through a variety of assignments, including sports clinics, witnessing on the city bus system, sharing with students at area colleges, inner-city evangelism and ministry in area churches.
They also were involved in initial follow-up efforts that will continue long after they and the other Southern Baptists have left town. A comprehensive follow-up plan with all new believers in Christ includes multiple visits aimed at helping them grow in their faith. Also, more than 7,000 responses were received in a media advertising campaign offering a free copy of the popular "Jesus" video. Plans called for those videos each to be delivered by hand, potentially opening doors for further contacts.
Walker said local churches already have committed to coming in to help with the load.
"We welcome anyone that would want to come on missions teams or Missions Service Corps volunteers," he said. "That's been one of our biggest concerns from the very beginning, is that we don't want to lead people into a personal relationship with Christ and then abandon them."
Also, follow-up coordinator Jack Johnson issued an appeal for former Mormons who would be interested in talking with new LDS believers by telephone. Volunteers may contact him at (770) 410-6319 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
NAMB leaders emphasized during a pre-Crossover news conference the purpose of the evangelistic event was not to target Mormons but to share Southern Baptists' message with "anybody and everybody," according to Bob Reccord, NAMB president. "We're not trying to make Baptists out of Mormons. We're not trying to talk anyone out of their church. We simply want to share the good news about how anyone can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ."
Also integral to the effort was a "Prayover" campaign June 5, in which volunteers spread throughout the city specifically to pray over Crossover venues.