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At Riverfest, the Gospel flows

WICHITA, Kan. (BP)–When people started heading downtown for the Wichita River Festival, Baptists already had mobilized.

The result: 100 decisions for Christ.

With the Arkansas River bisecting Wichita and its metro area of 450,000 people, locals of all ages — 75,000 on Saturday alone — swarmed to the river banks to enjoy the 10-day festival’s food and attractions.

Many heard the Gospel during the fifth annual Riverfest in May, thanks to the efforts of Southern Baptists from Kansas and across the United States.

“God blessed us with a great evangelistic event at Riverfest this year,” said Loren Phippen, director of evangelism and church and community ministries for the Heart of Kansas Baptist Association. “Not only did we have 100 decisions for Christ, we were able to reach a local young [subculture] group like we’ve never done before. God used this event to train many of our church members to be active soul-winners, and many lives were changed.”

Twelve volunteers from the North American Mission Board’s ICE (Intentional Community Evangelism) team — from California to Pennsylvania — came to Wichita to witness during the last three days of the festival. They also provided evangelistic training to 64 Wichita-area Baptist volunteers.

“Riverfest is an opportunity for the Heart of Kansas Association to assist our churches in furthering discipleship, especially in evangelism training,” director of missions Glen Davis noted.

In all, some 20 of the association’s 50 churches supported the Wichita River Festival outreach — supplying workers, food, music, entertainment or other attractions.

This year, one big draw was the “Walking with Power” team, based in Denver, which puts on “strong man” exhibitions of bending steel bars, smashing bricks and concrete blocks and breaking baseball bats over their thighs.

Wichita’s Metropolitan Baptist Church -– which faces the Arkansas River in the heart of the festival’s pedestrian traffic -– serves as the anchor point for the evangelistic effort.

Bruce Cargile, senior pastor of 775-member congregation, said the downtown church seeks to make the most of the Riverfest influx.

“Our church is right in the middle of everything going on during the festival,” Cargile said. “The river goes in front of the church and all the food booths and activities are all around us. When Riverfest is going on, our church practically has to shut down. There’s no way for our members to get in or out…. So since there are tens of thousands parading around our property, what a perfect opportunity to host some sort of evangelistic outreach.

“So many of the people need to be reached, especially the younger adults who have such serious issues in their lives — a lot of addictions and brokenness,” said Cargile, now in his fifth year at Metropolitan Baptist.

Phippen said Baptist volunteers hand out thousands of tracts during Riverfest.

“For the rest of this year, like last year, we’ll get phone calls from people who received a tract during Riverfest and who later call for help or to find a local church.

“Everything we do for the festival is aimed at attracting people so we can share the Gospel with them,” Phippen said. “[The festival] generates a lot of prospects for our local churches, and each one is followed up on by a local church.”

In addition to Metropolitan Baptist, other local churches playing key roles in the outreach were Country Acres Baptist, Faith Baptist of Andover, Midway Baptist, River View Baptist and Tyler Road Southern Baptist Church.

Advance prayer-walking support also came from several Arkansas churches, including Valley Ridge Baptist, Jonesboro; Eastern Heights Baptist, Van Buren; Lamar Baptist Church, Lamar; Cherry Street Baptist, Clarksville; and Second Baptist Church, Van Buren. Another partner was a campus group from the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Ark.

“Riverfest is an opportunity for the Heart of Kansas Association to assist our churches in furthering discipleship, especially in evangelism training,” director of missions Glen Davis noted.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.

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