DETROIT (BP)–“I don’t have any hope, Mister. None. You see, I got AIDS,” the woman said. “You mean you gonna’ tell me there is some hope? Go on!”
On a sunny afternoon in downtown Detroit, an Inner-City Evangelism (ICE) team member prayed with the woman. After about 15 minutes, with tears in her eyes, she prayed for salvation. “Now I got hope,” she said. “Now I got hope.”
Another witness, John Shelton of Dallas, told how three men had seen him enter a dangerous, deserted building, looking for two men who had entered earlier. “We saw you go in there, man. Can’t believe it. Say you’re going to tell us who gave you courage to do that. Start telling.” He did, and three more names soon were added to the Book of Life.
Such scenes became commonplace May 10-15 during an Inner-City Evangelism Conference, sponsored by the North American Mission Board. All told, 736 men, woman and young people were led to faith in Christ during the Southern Baptist conference by the approximately 45 participants and 15 trained “ICE team” leaders.
Jimmy Jones, evangelism director for the Michigan Baptist Convention, called it “the greatest outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the greatest miracle I’ve seen in the 15 years I’ve been director.”
“I’ve swept across this state many times, with all kinds of efforts,” he said. “Nothing approaches God’s mighty outpouring during these days. No great choirs with hundreds of voices. No world-renowned preacher. No big block parties. Just Book-of-Acts witnesses going house-to-house and street-to-street. Praise God.”
The Detroit conference was the third of its kind, pulling together three tracks of front-lines evangelism instruction in an inner-city setting.
Participants were trained in:
— SAFE (Setting Addicts Free Eternally), an alcohol and drug abuse rehabilitation ministry in Portland directed by Troy and Jamae Smith, NAMB missionaries. The SAFE program, founded by Smith, has become a model for similar programs across the country. — Continuing Witness Training, a comprehensive approach for personal witness and presentation of the gospel developed by the Home Mission Board (now part of the North American Mission Board) in 1979.
— Personal witnessing in the inner-city, led by Art Stacer, Joe Cowan and Travis Johnson from San Antonio. The three over the years personally have led thousands to Christ in San Antonio and other cities around the country.
— The 15-member ICE team, composed of conference instructors and several other individuals, also has participated for several years in weeklong witnessing projects during SBC annual meetings in addition to the training conferences. Bo Mitchell, a Missions Service Corps volunteer for NAMB for nearly 20 years, is leader and national coordinator of the Inner-City Evangelism ministry. ICE is under the overall direction of Michael Cooley, a soul-winning evangelism associate for NAMB.
The training sessions in Detroit were held each morning, with witnessing encounters in the afternoon. The conference was held in cooperation with the predominantly black Second Chapel Hill and Temple of Faith Baptist Churches in Detroit, as well as at the Greater Detroit Baptist Association.
For Second Chapel Hill pastor Bob Coverson, it was a statement of how passion for evangelism knows no racial boundaries.
“These men and woman, … mostly white, have left the security of their homes to come here to the unknown, color-blind, seeing souls not the texture of skin,” said Coverson, whose church has led the Michigan Baptist Convention in baptisms for several years. “These are the ingredients of honesty: Not just talking about evangelism. Going to do evangelism.”
Rochelle Davis, pastor of Temple of Faith Baptist Church in Detroit, told how several years ago on a trip to Kenya he saw how God saved thousands and started scores of churches. He began praying for a similar move of the Holy Spirit in Detroit, and he believes God revealed to him it would happen.
“This is it,” he said during the conference. “This is the manifestation of that promise of God.”
Coverson and Davis led church members in prayer for months prior to the ICE conference. In miles of prayerwalks, Davis said, members had claimed, “this is God’s territory, Lord. With you’re help we’re going to take it back from the devil.”
As he walked and witnessed during the conference, Davis told of one well-known leader who had declared the city lost to Satan after one round of destructive rioting.
“This is the start,” Davis said, wiping the sweat from his brow as his voice rose with excitement. “With God’s help we’re taking it back from the devil. Some may have given up on Detroit, but God hasn’t. And we haven’t.”
“It only takes a spark to get a fire going,” he told Mitchell as they walked, quoting the popular hymn. “God is using you witnesses, these churches, our people. This is the spark. God is at work in Detroit, and we’re joining him.”
Jones, the Michigan evangelism director, also noted the ethnic and racial diversity of participants united for a common purpose. “One of our black pastors remarked, ‘How wonderful to see an African American, an Anglo and a Hispanic working together, house-to-house, in the inner city sharing Christ. This walk and talk together speaks worlds to people everywhere.”
Wendell “Joe” Ryckman, director of missions for the Greater Detroit Baptist Association, also was overwhelmed by the response.
“I wish every pastor could have been here,” he said. “Times like this make Christians realize what Christ has really called us to do. You talk about crime prevention: Tell me a better way!”
“Truly this is one of the times when we must say, ‘Man cannot explain this,’” said Mitchell, the ICE team leader. “‘We must place this at the feet of Jesus. Only he could do this. Man cannot.’”
The ICE team’s next project will be June 5-12 in Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah, as part of Crossover Salt Lake City, where they will witness in lower-income areas for six days. Thirty different college students from across the country will join them in that project each day. Additional Detroit-style ICE conferences are planned this year in Tampa, San Diego and New Orleans.
Compiled by Bo Mitchell and James Dotson.