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Baptists witness in Idaho Falls before Salt Lake City convention

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (BP)–“God loves you and so do we.”
With those words, more than 800 Southern Baptists mostly from Oklahoma stormed Idaho Falls, Idaho, the weekend before the June 9-11 Southern Baptist Convention with the good news that Jesus saves. The group also included Baptists from Idaho, Indiana, Florida, Tennessee and Alaska.
The 50,000-plus citizens of the eastern Idaho city had been prepared for the Baptist invasion by television, radio and print ads, front-page newspaper articles, billboards and flyers.
More than 50 percent of the population is estimated to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to David Wheeler, director of evangelism for the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana. .
“The Mormons have prepared their people well,” Wheeler said. “They have told them to be cordial, take our material and send us on our way.”
And that’s what most of the residents of Mormon households did, according to those who went door to door. Some, however, declined the politeness suggestion, telling the Baptists in no uncertain terms they were not welcome in their homes to talk about their religion.
On the other hand, a few members of the LDS Church were waiting for the Baptists.
“Oh, you’re the Baptists. Come in, we’ve been waiting for you,” was the greeting received at one house by Steve Hayes and Don Henrickson, members of Calvary Baptist Church, Idaho Falls.
“They had all their LDS material lined out on the table,” Hayes said. “Neither of us convinced the other we were right.”
After a full Saturday of door-to-door witnessing, block parties and a concert at a local high school by the Oklahoma Singing Churchmen, Singing ChurchWomen and Oklahoma Baptist Symphony, the witnessing effort had produced 51 professions of faith.
Shane Spannagel, evangelism associate for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said Southern Baptists had “surveyed 2,185 homes, had 4,759 contacts, presented the gospel 536 times, gave out 3,667 packets of materials, discovered 410 evangelistic prospects, 229 church prospects and enrolled 27 in Sunday school.”
Witnessing efforts began even before teams met Saturday morning at Calvary church to pray before canvassing the adjoining neighborhoods.
Wheeler and Robert Smith, Sarasota, Fla., witnessed to the clerk at a convenience store where they had stopped to get something to drink.
“She asked to receive Jesus,” Wheeler said. “And the neat thing was that the whole time we were witnessing to her, not one customer came into the store.”
During the door-to-door effort, Jack Robbins, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church, Duncan, Okla., and Steve Rolen, Sunday school director at the church, led a 95-year-old LDS member to accept Christ as his personal Savior.
John Burruss, minister of music at South Lindsay Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, led a young woman to become a Christian who said she had been searching for years.
“She grew up as a Mormon, was a Jehovah’s Witness for eight years and was married in a Baptist church but hadn’t been back since she was married,” Burruss said.
Greg Ehmen and Bryan Weston, members of Sheridan Road Baptist Church, Tulsa, said they led a 23-year-old Mormon to the Lord whose in-laws had disowned her and her husband because they weren’t active in the church.
Betty Mathews, a member of First Baptist Church, Edmond, Okla., said she and her teammate, Laura Logue, a Calvary church member, met three Baptists who weren’t sure of their salvation.
“It made me want to rush back to my church and ask all the members if they have assurance of eternal life,” Mathews said.
The BGCO’s Spannagel said he encountered at one door a man in a Harley Davidson T-shirt who yelled to his wife that the Baptists were there.
“He came over and hugged me,” Spannagel said, acknowledging surprise. “I discovered he is a leader of the Christian Motorcyclists Association.”
The Saturday afternoon block parties netted 13 professions of faith, Spannagel said.
On Sunday morning, June 7, most of the 12 busloads of Singing Churchmen and Singing ChurchWomen dispersed to sing at 15 churches in the Salt Lake City area. The symphony and one group of singers remained in Idaho Falls to participate in Sunday worship services at the Civic Auditorium where Jerry Pipes, family evangelism manager for the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, preached to about 500.
On Sunday afternoon Paul Bettis, BGCO coordinator for criminal justice ministries, obtained permission to preach in the Idaho Falls county jail. Out of 12 inmates who showed up for the service, eight made professions of faith.
In the final event of the weekend, a youth rally at the Civic Center, 13 professions of faith were recorded.
At the Friday night orientation session before witnessing began, BGCO Executive Director Anthony Jordan told the group the idea for the Idaho Falls blitz came about when he was riding to the airport in Nashville, Tenn., with Jim Harding, executive director of the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention.
“We’ve come to go alongside you to tell Idaho Falls about Jesus, to sow down Idaho Falls with the true gospel of Jesus Christ and to be an encouragement to you,” Jordan said. “We are a majority in Oklahoma. You are a small minority here. We hope people will come to know that Baptists aren’t a small sectarian group but part of a large family of believers.”

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  • Dana Williamson