ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Some heard the gospel of Jesus Christ through a massive International Festival at the Central Florida Fairgrounds, while others heard it over hot dogs and chips at neighborhood block parties. Many heard it on doorsteps and in living rooms, while still others responded during late-night encounters on city streets.
Southern Baptists engaged in a variety of ways of meeting their overarching mission during Crossover Orlando 2000, an evangelistic emphasis held before and during the June 13-14 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.
Much of the effort was focused toward “planting seeds” of awareness and conviction among individuals, building relationships that would lead to later evangelistic opportunities. Nonetheless, as of the afternoon of June 11, more than 600 individual commitments to a life-changing faith in Jesus Christ had been recorded by organizers, with many of the participating churches not yet reporting.
“Overall, I would rate the entire effort somewhere between outstanding and phenomenal,” said James Fortinberry, executive director of the Greater Orlando Baptist Association. “I would say the cooperation we had with our local churches — and especially with the language churches — and the people that came to help us was unusually good.”
Crossover has been a fixture of Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings since 1989. Robert E. “Bob” Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board, the agency that coordinates Crossover on a national basis, said most conventions are times when organizations deal with “strategies, organization and focus.” The SBC takes it a step further.
Crossover is the part of each convention that says, “How can we give ourselves away to the city to which we’ve come,” Reccord said.
Much of the giving came on June 10 — the central day of the weeklong Crossover emphasis — during the citywide International Festival that attracted a crowd of 3,500-4,000.
Held under the livestock pavilion at the Central Florida Fairgrounds, the festival included representatives of Haitian, Brazilian, Hispanic, Korean and Vietnamese groups. With registration, participants could sample food from each of the groups and allow their children to take part in a number of games and activities, including five “moon walk” attractions.
Crossover volunteers also were on hand to share the gospel with guests, and more than 200 committed their lives to Christ. The long-term benefit, however, came through the relationships that were formed and the names that have been forwarded to the respective language groups for follow-up by local churches.
Jason Kim, a NAMB staff member and one of the festival coordinators, said it is often difficult for pastors to locate members of a particular ethnic group who could be reached by their congregation.
“It is really hard to find them in mixed populations,” Kim said. “But by doing this, color-coded registration cards will be used to separate them by language groups.”
The Greater Orlando Baptist Association hopes to start a total of 18 churches through the overall Crossover effort. Eleven are already in some stage of development.
The block parties sponsored by local churches followed a theme similar to the International Festival, offering entertainment, food and drink to guests as a way of building relationships and sharing Christ.
Cecil Seagle, director of the Florida Baptist Convention’s missions division, described the philosophy of churches while he was attending a block party adjacent to Downtown Baptist Church in Orlando. The immediate goal, he said, is that individuals would respond to the gospel. But the positive long-term contacts also are important.
“We do not want to bruise the fruit,” he said. “If they are not ready, we need to leave them in such wonderful condition that when someone comes along and shares Christ with them later … they would respond and say yes somewhere along the way. It’s a principle of Jesus: some cultivate, some plant, some water and some get in on the harvest.”
At Riverside Baptist Church, several guests said they attended other churches but applauded the block party approach as a means of strengthening communities as well as sharing Christ with others.
“It’s been fantastic. It’s what people seem to have forgotten. They’ve forgotten the love and forgotten to bring people together as a family,” said neighborhood resident Ida Gainey, who learned of the event through a flyer at a local nursing home.
At Plymouth Baptist Church, the block party represented an effort “to let people know we’re in the community for them, that we love them and care about them,” said church member Lilian Cleghorn.
Elsewhere, volunteers worked with about 12 area churches conducting door-to-door visits, usually utilizing spiritual opinion surveys. It was the culmination of a four-week effort for many of the churches and part of a long-term statewide initiative known as “Through Every Door.”
In one instance, more than 60 volunteers had contacted 710 homes in the Four Corners area in preparation for a new church. They identified 43 prospects while recording 13 professions of faith and conducting 135 surveys.
Seven of those professions of faith came from a single visit. Darrell Robinson, who retired earlier this year from his post with the evangelism department at the North American Mission Board, and his wife, Kathy, led a Hispanic family through a gospel tract as they stood in their crowded house for about 20 minutes.
“It was so refreshing just to see the simple trust of those sweet people,” Robinson said. “God just really blessed and it was a divine appointment for sure.”
Another group of specially trained volunteers worked with King’s Way Baptist Church in sharing the gospel with individuals in several low-income neighborhoods in inner-city Orlando.
The Inner-City Evangelism team typically conducts training conferences and leads hundreds of individuals to Christ in cities across the country, directly asking people they meet on the streets or on doorsteps about their spiritual condition. The group had reported nearly 400 professions of faith in their first two days. Their efforts typically result in a large percentage of immediate Crossover decisions.
Michael West, a member of Central Baptist Church in Hixson, Tenn., told of one instance in which 10 people were ultimately led to faith in Christ in one spot as they told of friends who needed to hear the message they had heard.
“As they came out to receive Christ, they would say, ‘You need to see this one’ or ‘You have to see that one,'” West said as he walked through the Washington Shores Village public housing development.
Another man had been antagonistic toward a fellow volunteer evangelist, saying he “didn’t want to hear a thing about God.” Later, the defenses broke down and the man prayed to receive Christ. “He just changed right in front of us,” West said.
A few minutes after he told these stories, West shared his faith with another man who, after about 10 minutes of discussion, prayed to make Christ Lord of his life.
“We’re letting the lost down as a church because we’re not doing this as often as we should,” he said of his excitement over the response to the gospel in the inner city. “You’ll see 50 people saved out here in two hours.”
Elsewhere, a variety of other efforts were also part of Crossover:
— One group of women operating under the local association’s ongoing “Ladies of the Night” ministry shared Christ with and befriended prostitutes on Orlando’s Orange Blossom Trail.
— Street performers and creative arts teams entertained crowds and used the connections they made through their performances to share the gospel.
— Other teams fanned out from churches conducting “prayer journeys” through neighborhoods, praying for individuals and churches, including many of the venues for other evangelistic efforts.
— Volunteers traveling tourist shuttles on the city’s International Drive handed out free bottles of water. Each bottle was printed with the message, “Is your soul thirsty? Jesus is the Living Water. He’s God’s free gift to you.”
Participating in all of the venues were a group of about 140 students and their leaders. The students were spending about a week in Orlando rotating through different activities, including immediate follow-up with those who had accepted Christ and conducting sports clinics sponsored by several local churches.
Additionally, two large groups of high school teenagers will share their faith door-to-door during the week as part of Frontliners crusades sponsored by local churches. In the crusades, students receive training in discipleship and evangelism in the mornings, followed by personal visits in the afternoons.
Shari Schubert & Lee Weeks contributed to this article.