September 2, 2014


NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- More than 1,500 Southern Baptist volunteers from 59 New Orleans area churches and many others from across the nation shared the Gospel at Crossover, the evangelistic emphasis preceding the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Their efforts stretched from the Lower Ninth Ward outward to Metairie and Kenner. Counting 38 block parties June 16 as well as special events and door-to-door community evangelism efforts throughout the week, at least 870 people made decisions for Christ during Crossover 2012.

Annual Crossover events are a partnership between local Southern Baptist churches, associations and the North American Mission Board. NAMB provides funding, strategy and coordination assistance.

"We put a lot of work and preparation into it, and the churches and church planters executed the plan superbly," said Jack Hunter, director of missions for the New Orleans Baptist Association. "God did a great work at this year's Crossover."

One of the 38 area churches hosting a block party was Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, pastored by Fred Luter, who is expected to be elected as the SBC's first African American president during the June 19-20 annual meeting at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center downtown.

"Our block party is a great event for the community, the city and the SBC," Luter said. "My prayer is that -- using the games and the music -- we'll be able to share Christ with folks who don't have a relationship with God so their lives can be changed.

"New Orleans is not the same place as in 2005. It's a whole new city," Luter said. "That's why I'm excited the SBC is here. Baptists came in and helped rebuild our city [after Hurricane Katrina]. It's great to see Baptists come back and see the fruits of their labor."

Whether it was large churches like Franklin Avenue Baptist or small congregations like Evangelistic Baptist Church on Elysian Fields Avenue, local churches offered neighborhood children bounce houses, water slides, hamburgers and hot dogs, snow cones, cotton candy and live entertainment by Christian rap artists, praise groups and strength teams on church campuses or in parks throughout metro New Orleans.

Evangelistic Baptist lost 65 percent of its members after Katrina, and now it's down to about 25 members. But those surviving members, along with youth and adults from Baptist churches in Peachtree City, Ga., and DeRidder, La., hosted a block party drawing about 200 people, founding pastor Anthony Pierce said.

"We didn't know whether we'd ever even have church here again after Katrina," Pierce said. Floodwaters destroyed the sanctuary of the old church, which had to be rebuilt on the inside.

Local churches benefited from the outpouring of volunteer labor from across the convention.

Thomas Strong, pastor of Metairie Baptist Church in Metairie, La., believes their block party represents another opportunity for the church to let the surrounding community learn more about the church. He said the Crossover volunteers played a critical role in the block party.

"We're all working together at this block party," Strong said. "It's reminding our church that it's not just us. It's not just the churches in our city. It's all of us as Southern Baptists coming together to accomplish God's purpose for us in reaching out."

Dustin Swanger, a member of First Baptist Church in Peachtree City, Ga., had the opportunity to lead a 17-year-old to faith in Jesus Christ at the block party hosted by Metairie Baptist. The boy told Swanger he hadn't really read the Bible and had never prayed to receive Christ. Swanger then led the young man to faith in Christ.

"That hits me deep within when I think about it, to know that someone who once wasn't saved is now saved and I was there to witness it," Swanger said.

For Emmanuel Spanish Baptist Church in Metairie, a weeklong Vacation Bible School culminated in a block party with close to 30 decisions for Christ. First Spanish Baptist Church in Atlanta came to help Emmanuel with VBS and the block party. Parents of children who attended VBS and others in the community were invited to the party to see the children perform some of what they learned during the week.

Jonathan Sharp, the cross-cultural evangelism strategist at the New Orleans Baptist Association, said Emmanuel had been apprehensive about holding a block party since it would be new for them. But volunteers from the Atlanta church helped teach them how to put the block party together.

"They've helped us do many things this week to help us better reach our community," Eric Gonzalez, Emmanuel's pastor, said. "It also helped to encourage and motivate our people to serve more." Read More

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