ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–A friendly conversation, a story, a realization and a prayer: that’s the gist of what happens when one person shares and another accepts the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ. And while the methods and venues may have varied, the scene played out more than 1,400 times June 7-12 as Southern Baptists expressed their core message of hope through Crossover Orlando.
The effort, held just prior to the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 15-16 annual meeting at the Orange County Convention Center, involved more than 70 local churches and 1,200 outside volunteers. Venues included weeklong Hispanic Crossover and Intentional Community Evangelism (ICE) efforts, as well as a one-day blitz June 12 that included 15 neighborhood block parties, visits to homes, food distribution at five churches, free water bottles for tourists on International Drive and a huge family festival for the Hispanic community at the Central Florida Fairgrounds.
“The best thing summing up the week for me was for people to see Southern Baptists at their best — cooperating with one another at association, state and national levels,” said Mike Armstrong, executive pastor of First Baptist Church of Winter Park and coordinator of Crossover Orlando. “They saw the best of what Southern Baptists truly are, and that is a cooperative people.”
Crossover is coordinated nationally through the North American Mission Board.
Bill Faulkner, director of missions for the 168 churches in the Greater Orlando Baptist Association, said he believes the benefits will extend far beyond the spiritual decisions that were made.
“Encouraging churches in an event like this will help them see that they can do this all the time,” Faulkner said. “It doesn’t have to be a special event. It doesn’t have to be necessarily with volunteers from outside. They see it and they say, ‘Wow, we can do this.'”
Additionally, decisions recorded throughout Crossover are distributed to local churches for immediate follow-up with individuals.
The Hispanic Crossover initiative involved about 18 churches during the week before the convention in street evangelism, home visits, evangelistic services, a Vacation Bible School and an effort to have families invite individuals to their homes to share Christ. A total of 270 professions of faith were reported.
“One of the things that I noticed is the ease with which some people are just opening their doors and accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior,” said Eloy Rodriguez, pastor of Hay Vida En Jesus and one of the coordinators of the outreach. “I guess the times that we’re living in, most of the people that we share with are in need. So they’re very open to the Gospel.”
The effort, which continues this week with additional evangelistic meetings and follow-up, is the largest coordinated outreach ever among Hispanic churches in Orlando, Rodriguez said.
At a two-day soccer clinic at Comunidad Cristiana En Sus Pasos, high school soccer coach Andy Schatz of Marietta, Ga., taught soccer skills with the help of volunteer coaches from the church. The ongoing World Cup competition brought an additional level of interest, as participants were able to watch part of a Mexico vs. South Africa game.
Those attending the clinic also had an opportunity to hear and respond to presentations of the Gospel, and by the end of the second day, 80 had made professions of faith — including 15 parents who participated in a closing ceremony the evening of June 11.
“Getting them interested with soccer gets them connected especially with the leaders,” said Andrew Snow, part of a youth group helping out from New Providence Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga. “So that way, when we have ministry opportunities they’re more likely to listen.”
Marcel Torres, associate pastor of En Sus Pasos, said it was the first time the church had attempted a soccer camp — but maybe not the last
“It’s been amazing,” he said, noting that earlier worries of low advance registration were erased with the 110 kids who participated over the two days.
“I’ve always had a vision of doing like a soccer league out here on Saturdays. This is a great test to see if people are interested. Maybe this is the beginning of something awesome here in the community.”
Hispanic Crossover activities concluded with “Festival Para Toda la Familia” (Festival for the Whole Family) at the Orlando fairgrounds that drew more than 1,200 people. The festival included music, games for kids, food, door prizes and regular presentations of the Gospel every hour and 15 minutes. Counselors were stationed throughout the area ready to share Christ, and ultimately 103 people made professions of faith.
“I think it’s great that at least 15 to 20 churches united to do something of this magnitude,” said Davide Abreu, a young member of Iglesia Bautista El Camino in Orlando. “We’re usually doing only stuff for our own people, but now we’re going out to the world.”
SHARING HOPE ON THE STREETS
This year’s Intentional Community Evangelism (ICE) initiative had teams sharing Christ June 7-12 in parks, on sidewalks and in neighborhoods near 16 area churches. By the end of the week more than 750 professions of faith had been recorded.
With a focus on lower-income and crime-ridden communities, ICE volunteers routinely lead hundreds of individuals to Christ, often several at a time.
Loren Phippen, leader of one of the groups, said a barrier in one home was overcome when he realized that a Haitian man spoke French — a language Phippen had learned while living in France for several years before he became a Christian.
“He went from being a little defensive … to ready to listen,” Phippen said. “He and the four kids prayed with me to receive Christ and he asked me to get a Haitian pastor to come visit him. It was just a great encounter.”
Elsewhere, Daylin Rodriguez, a native of Cuba and currently a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told how she and evangelist Darrell Robinson saw a miraculous intervention of God to break up an impending gang fight.
The pair had led a number of people in the area to Christ and the police had broken up a fight while they were there. Shortly afterward the gangs gathered to fight again, Robinson walked right up to the crowd.
“He said, ‘In the name of the Lord come to Jesus,’ and held up the Bible like this” Rodriguez said of Robinson.
“They started just looking at each other and they got into their cars and they left,” she said, adding that it wasn’t as much that they were intimidated by Robinson but just that the gang members had been thrown into a spirit of confusion.
“We kept sharing the Gospel, and in less than two hours 18 people had accepted Jesus,” Rodriguez said.
On the other side of town, Andrew Pollard, pastor of Tangelo Baptist Church, said the ICE effort had yielded more than 50 decisions in his neighborhood alone.
“A lot of the people in the church itself haven’t really been a part of witnessing, but this brought them into it, and they are so excited,” Pollard said. “I thank God for it.”
FOOD, FUN & SLIME
More than 100 kids — African American, white and Hispanic — showed up at Winwood Park for First Baptist Church of Altamonte Springs’ block party June 12 — one of 15 held throughout the area. Pastor Todd Lamphere, with the deep voice of a DJ and a comedian’s personality, used green slime to garner kids’ attention.
Using the shade of a mossy water oak, Lamphere and his “Slooze” game show — “slooze is the game where slime and ooze collide” — helped lead 29 young souls to Christ. And when it’s 95 degrees, getting sprayed with cold, fake green slime is not as bad as it sounds.
Lamphere said the slime show has been responsible for 11,000 recorded professions of faith by youth over the last 15 years, including the seven years he’s been at Alamonte Springs.
While Lamphere’s block party was perhaps the most unique, none was bigger than at First Baptist Church-Apopka, where 1,000 braved oppressive heat to play, eat hot dogs and receive a box of free food.
Paul Gordon, FBC Apopka’s pastor, said the church worked on its block party for eight months, enlisting 141 volunteers at a church that only runs 200 each Sunday.
“We expected 1,000 because we distributed 1,000 food vouchers,” Gordon said. The 1,000 did not include community youth, who turned out for the block party itself — with its several inflatable and sports attractions, live music, magic shows and face-painting.
But the attendance magnet at Apopka was the food drop, in which hundreds came — some showing up two hours early for the 10 a.m. opening — for two free bags of staples and canned goods. By the time the food distribution began, there was a half-block-long line of people waiting. Some were African American, some white, some on canes, some in wheelchairs — all needing physical or spiritual food.
“Between the church and the ICE volunteers, we mapped out and walked our local neighborhoods last week, giving out the vouchers,” Gordon said.
Before receiving their box of food, those waiting in line were led under a yellow tent, where they had the opportunity to be counseled and hear the Gospel. The tent was a cacophony of languages — English, Hispanic, Creole. There was even a deaf ministry signing for the hearing-impaired.
Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt was one who came to check out the FBC-Apopka block party and food drop. “I love to make the rounds of the block parties but this year, I wanted to settle in at some of them and be involved.
“I love the block parties,” Hunt said. “It proves that it’s not that people won’t come to these things, but that we’re not meeting their personal needs. When the church begins to care about the human needs, they will earn a greater platform from which to share the Gospel,” Hunt said. “The people of this neighborhood are seeing that Baptists care.”
Hunt’s own First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., brought more than 100 volunteers to Orlando in eight 15-passenger vans to support the food distribution “packaging” operation at First Baptist Orlando.
First Baptist-Orlando was the “point” church for Crossover Orlando’s 2010 food drop at Apopka and several other locations, according to Bill Mitchell, global impact pastor for the church.
The church used some 800 volunteers to stuff two bags of food for each of 10,000 families in the central Florida area — enough food to feed a family of four for a week.
Under a partnership between the SBC and Convoy of Hope –a Springfield, Mo.–based food ministry — four tractor-trailer loads of donated food arrived in Orlando this week. Each truck contained 24 pallets equal to 20,000 bags of groceries, according to David Evans, a full-time staff member for Convoy of Hope.
SURVEYS SPARK CONVERSATION
A slightly different take on evangelism came with a door-to-door outreach in neighborhoods surrounding First Southern Baptist Church of Central Florida. About 250 volunteers hit the streets with packets of spiritual opinion surveys designed to lead into opportunities to share Christ when appropriate.
During training, a key piece of advice to the volunteers was to seek out “divine appointments” — the times when God has obviously set up the encounter — and not to move on from homes when that was obviously the case.
For Mike Tullos and his wife Pam of Fort Worth, Texas, it couldn’t have been more clear. In their first visit, the Tulloses — scheduled for appointment soon as international missionaries to Serbia — met a woman from Macedonia, a country bordering Serbia.
“We immediately connected,” Tullos said, adding that Pam wound up sharing the Gospel and leading the woman to Christ.
“We all know that God is in the business of saving people, but it’s so fun to see it actually unfolding in such a divine-appointment way,” Tullos said. “That’s just too many coincidences to not see the Holy Spirit working in the process. For me, it’s just a reminder that God is in control and He really is involved in evangelism.”
Other times the need of residents was simply for prayer over difficult circumstances they were facing, or to help people find their way back to Christ.
Rickey Lindsey, youth pastor of Hibernia Baptist Church near Jacksonville, said he was able to share with one girl who had fallen away from Christ over guilt from a past sin. He was able to pray with her and help her recommit her life to Christ.
HOT DAY, COOL WATER
As part of Crossover’s “Kindness Explosion,” Suzette Wood, a special ministries missionary based in Orlando for the North American Mission Board, headed up a team of 150 volunteers who handed out nearly 4,000 bottles of cool water to thirsty Orlando tourists along famous International Drive, Orlando’s tree-lined avenue of hotels, restaurants and other attractions.
“The coolest thing was that our 150 volunteers ranged in age from children as young as 6 to college students to senior adults,” Wood said.
James Dotson and Mickey Noah are writers with the North American Mission Board.