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As bus tour encounters Wyo. snow, Welch stays on message

BUFFALO, Wyo. (BP)–Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch’s tour bus rolled into Buffalo, Wyo., Oct. 1 at 5 a.m. The morning broke cold, windy and gray. Sprinkling rain turned into spitting snow before the 10 a.m. rally began at Big Horn Baptist Church.

Wyoming Southern Baptist Convention Executive Director Randy Sprinkle addressed the crowd of about two dozen before introducing Welch. Sprinkle related some of the Cowboy state’s unfortunate statistics, one of which is that 90 percent of the state’s population does not know Christ.

“This is one of the most exciting places to live in all the earth,” Welch said. “With 90 percent of people needing to hear about the Lord — with so many lost people, you’ve got to try mighty hard to mess up here. You can just run in any direction and find someone who needs to hear about the Lord.”

Welch’s remarks reflect his premiere motivation for this nationwide tour dubbed the “Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism.” Welch hopes the tour will awaken Southern Baptists to a four-year downturn in baptisms for the SBC and also will encourage Southern Baptists to “Witness, Win, and Baptize … ONE MILLION” people to Christ and their local churches.

“Southern Baptists have never baptized even half-a-million,” Welch says at each Everyone Can rally. “And when we do reach the million baptism milestone, we’ll never look back. We’ll never again baptize less than a million.”

Before leaving Buffalo, Welch enjoys a sit-down meal in a local restaurant –- one of a few that his demanding schedule has allowed. Preparing to leave the eatery, Welch notes a tall, slender man. His long, stringy hair is gathered in a pony-tail and topped with a cap that says, “Vietnam Veteran.”

The two former soldiers share a handshake. Welch shares the Gospel and prays with the veteran, Vick.

Welch is at somewhat of a disadvantage to baptize people on his Everyone Can tour, but his witnessing in every state does lead to people being won to faith in Christ. After concluding the Friday night rally held at Trinity Baptist Church in Billings, Mont., Welch is sharing his faith again in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

When Welch’s bright bus pulled into the dark lot, a man and a woman named Zane and Nicole turned away from their horse trailer and began to gawk at the bus. Welch piles out with a smile and a tract.

“What an attractive and articulate couple,” Welch told Baptist Press. “Not one of them knew the answer when I asked how it is a person makes it to heaven,” Welch said.

“Nicole had a vague idea,” said Welch. “But Zane said, ‘I don’t have a clue.’”

That’s not true of either of them now. Both prayed a prayer of repentance and placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, Welch said.

Epitomizing a relentless witness, Welch knows no fear. “We’ve stopped at some places on this tour where we were warned about our witnessing. Some would say, ‘Oh, you’ve got to be careful here.’ And some have said, ‘The people are different here,’ Or, ‘You need to tone it down in this community,’” Welch said.

“If I’ve discovered one thing, it is this: people are the same everywhere. No place on this tour has there been a shortage of folks who’re lonely, guilt-ridden, and who’re hungry for the Lord.”

“No one, not one person, has slammed the door in our face,” Welch added, “or called the cops on us, or thrown a pitch fork at us. And we have no dog bites.”

The bus rocked westward, headed to the heart of Mormon country for Saturday, Oct. 2 — Burley, Idaho and Welch Valley, Utah, just outside Salt Lake City.

The dawning sun spilled orange warmth on the tour bus in the parking lot of First Baptist Church in Burley, where Dennis Stoneman is pastor.

Stoneman boards the bus as a steady stream of cars flow into the lot for the morning’s rally. About 160 will attend.

“We’ll baptize about 60 people this year,” Stoneman tells Welch of the church’s evangelistic efforts.

Welch smiles big. So does Stoneman after the rally, as he leads about 24 teams into the community to witness. Walking toward his car, Stoneman looks back over his shoulder and calls to Welch, “See you in the harvest fields.”

Stoneman and Welch didn’t see each other while sharing the Gospel that day, but Welch did witness to a professing Mormon before heading southward to the Salt Lake City-area church.

“Have you ever wanted to tell the Southern Baptist Convention something?” Welch asked the crowd of about 100. “If so, then tell me, and I’ll deliver the message.”

Welch later revealed a few lines of a message he intends to deliver to Southern Baptists gathered in Nashville for their annual convention next June: “This convention must not slouch past its God-given calling and lose its life in wilderness wandering only to be left behind in the graveyard of lifeless denominationalism. The people’s voice is the voice of Joshua and Caleb. They are declaring with all that they have, ‘STOP! This is the time. This is the place. We are the people. Turn here. We can conquer this land for Christ.’

“Is that what you want me to tell the Convention?” Welch asks the crowd. Many of those attending the rallies applaud and yell “Amen” in approval.

Leaving the rally, Welch and his “bus boys,” as he calls them, find a restaurant. On the way in, Welch finds someone to tell about Jesus. The young man bows his head and prays to receive Christ.

Another overnight ride finds Welch’s tour bus in Kingman, Ariz. About a mile from the trailer park where Timothy McVeigh reportedly planned the Oklahoma City bombing, Welch rallies the troops of First Southern Baptist Church in the next Everyone Can rally on Sunday, Oct. 3.

The crowd of about 150 applauds at the first mention of Welch’s name, and applaud repeatedly through his address.

At rally’s end, Pastor Paul Daniel asks Welch to kneel at the church’s communion table and also asks Steve Bass and a few other men to come forward and pray for Welch.

After loading a box of food the church had made for the “bus boys” lunch, the Everyone Can bus heads west on I-40 toward the Immanuel Baptist Church of Highland, Calif., where Rob Zinn is pastor. Zinn is also chairman of the SBC Executive Committee.

A long, hard weekend comes to a close. But Welch isn’t through. Before leaving Highland, the bus stops in a shopping center. Welch doesn’t intend to buy anything. He does intend to tell someone what the blood of Jesus bought. He finds two people — young mothers, each with tots aboard their shopping carts.

In 10 minutes or so, the two women pray prayers of confession, repentance and salvation.

“I asked those moms to contact Rob over at Immanuel. I told them that he’d hug their necks and let them know that the church loves them,” Welch recounted.

It’s off to Reno, Nev., for the next rally, Oct. 4, and after that, to Klamath Falls, Ore.

    About the Author

  • Norm Miller