FLOMATON, Ala. (BP)–When Jeff Howard, pastor of Little Escambia Baptist Church, urged his congregation to “get fired up” for evangelism, he didn’t know one of the members was prepared to take him seriously.
“I pitched Intentional Evangelism [the Alabama Baptist State Convention’s outreach strategy for 2005-07] to the church, and our fire chief, Steve Stanton, had an idea for how to use it right away,” said Howard, pastor of the Flomaton, Ala., congregation.
Stanton, the town’s fire chief and a member of Little Escambia, had been preparing his men for a “house burning” — the torching of a house for the dual purposes of demolishing it and training new firefighters.
“He envisioned the partnering of the fire department and the church to do an outreach event to reach both firefighters and the community,” Howard said. The idea quickly caught on.
“We were wanting to find something for the youth to do,” Stanton said. “I knew I had a house to burn, and I thought why not give it a shot.” Stanton’s brainchild became “Ablaze,” an all-day outreach event at an abandoned house in downtown Flomaton in late February.
The event centered around saving people, drawing quite a crowd of onlookers.
“We had our youth sign up to compete for prizes at the burning, and to sign up, they had to bring a lost friend,” Howard said. “We had 17 or 18 compete.”
In the competition, the youth raced individually in full firefighter’s gear into the home, which was filled with nontoxic artificial smoke, to “rescue” a dummy stranded in the home. The one who recorded the fastest time won a cash prize of $100.
After finishing their training, more than 60 firefighters joined the youth back at Little Escambia for a barbecue lunch and a salvation message.
“It was a perfect opportunity to introduce the Gospel,” Howard said. “Firefighters are in the business of rescuing people.”
It was easy, the pastor said, to parallel saving the helpless from a fire with how all people are helpless to save themselves from a fiery eternity.
“It wasn’t that they [the people the dummies represented] didn’t want to be saved from a burning house, it was just that they weren’t able to do it for themselves,” Howard told the crowd. “That’s what Jesus did for us — He came to do what we couldn’t do ourselves.”
Though there were no voiced professions of faith that day, Howard said many of the firefighters were “really moved” and planned to follow up on what they had seen and heard.
“Youth made new commitments, and firemen decided to get more involved in their faith,” Howard said. “It was a big day for Flomaton, Ala.”
Grace Thornton is assistant editor of The Alabama Baptist, newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist State Convention, online at www.thealabamabaptist.org.