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700 show up for block party in inner-city neighborhood

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Students, faculty and staff of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary joined forces with inner-city Elysian Fields Avenue Baptist Church to offer an evangelistic block party in the heart of one of New Orleans’ highest crime neighborhoods, the corner of North Rocheblave and St. Roch. Although this section of New Orleans is infamous for being a rough area with a high crime rate and poverty-level conditions, the event drew a large crowd without incident.
More than 40 new professions of faith, as well as nine other spiritual decisions, were recorded by the end of the three-hour event. Nearly 700 residents showed up to see what was going on in the middle of the street on the hot Wednesday afternoon April 28.
“It was just like an old-fashioned picnic in the park, with a real sense of peace and a non-threatening environment,” said Ken Taylor, NOBTS assistant professor of urban missions and pastor of the Elysian Fields Avenue church.
The entourage from NOBTS — many of whom are also members of Taylor’s church — were able to conduct the block party due to a grant received from the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board. Taylor coordinated the event to coincide with the seminary’s annual home missions emphasis week, April 26-30, with the theme “On Mission New Orleans.”
“It was exciting to see how quickly God moved to bring this whole thing together,” Taylor said. “The results of the inner-city block party are due in great part to relationships forged and nurtured in the North Rocheblave neighborhood over the past 15 months.”
Taylor, an alumnus of NOBTS and seminary staff member since 1991, said he had felt inclined to minister in that neighborhood for several years, but he was apprehensive due to the high crime rate. He started going there himself two years ago on Saturday mornings just to talk and get to know the people and the area. Now he regularly takes his students there every Tuesday for Backyard Bible Club-type activities and porch-to-porch evangelism, as well as reaching out through the ministry efforts of his 220-member congregation.
Even city officials have noticed a reduction in crime in the area since that time, Taylor said, commenting on recent statistics listed in the city’s newspaper, the Times-Picayune.
“Our goal has been to minister to the needs of the community while making sure that the gospel is proclaimed,” he said. “Church members and seminary students have continued to reach out to establish a foothold.”
Scott Boyles, a second-year seminary student from Jacksonville, Fla., oversaw the coordination of volunteers for the block party. “We had just evaluated the area for a class, to see what type of evangelism activity would best reach the people. A block party was at the top of the list,” he said.
Ten days after the class project, Chuck Register, director of NOBTS’ Leavell Center for Church Growth and Evangelism, contacted Taylor concerning the grant money from NAMB and proposed hosting a block party for one of the federally subsidized low-income housing developments in the city.
“Since we had already evaluated Rocheblave at St. Roch and knew the potential, we suggested it as an alternate sight,” Taylor said. “We had already been in the neighborhood, visiting and ministering to the folks, and anticipated a greater turnout with less potential problems because of our previously established relationships.”
While 361 adults and children actually registered at the block party, Tim Knopps, a consultant from NAMB who attended the event, estimated the turnout to be about 700. The function included a spacewalk tent and carnival games for children, with food for all who attended. Local businesses assisted through donations of food and prizes.
“An hour into the party, I was running around, worried about everything,” Boyles said. “Just then, a volunteer came and told me that 14 people had already made professions. I stopped in my tracks and realized that’s what it was all about. Everything else was secondary.”
“The evening was a great success,” Taylor said. “Around 100 volunteers from the church, seminary and community, including a police officer from Concerned Christian Cops, shared their testimonies and gave marked New Testaments to as many people as they could.”
The spiritual success of the block party was due to the fact that it was not a one-time-only event, Taylor said. “The neighborhood was open because of many visits conducted over a prolonged period of time. They can count on the fact that we’re going to be there to share times of prayer and to talk to their friends and family about Christ,” he said.
Taylor said he hopes ultimately a church will be started in the neighborhood. “A seven-day-a-week work will have a much greater impact there, offering Christian fellowship and a full-time ministry presence. An immediate goal is to start Bible studies in homes that will follow up on the new decisions and offer support to those who have recommitted their lives.”
Although Taylor remembers a day several years ago when he once prayed, “Lord, I’ll go anywhere you want me to go. Just not in the city, please, Lord,” now 15 years later he cannot imagine himself anywhere else.
In his various roles at NOBTS, teaching urban evangelism and directing students in the supervised ministry program, Taylor said he seeks to help prepare students for “the open door that presently exists in the cities of America,” and he sees NOBTS as “the perfect laboratory for urban ministry.”
Besides that, Taylor said he is confident “God is wanting those neighborhoods to know him.”

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  • Joe David Smith