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Hundreds find Christ, 65 trained in inner?city evangelism seminar

PORTLAND, Ore. (BP)??On a basketball court in the middle of an inner?city park Sept. 17, three young men heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and prayed to accept him as Savior and Lord. They, like many others that day, had come for a free dinner at a block party and received so much more.
A few hours later, one young man passing out tracts on the streets of downtown Portland, Ore., led a homeless man and a young couple to Christ in less than an hour. At about the same time, a group of five teenagers hanging out on a popular street corner nearby heard the gospel as a group; at least one asked Jesus to be Lord of her life.
Some 313 people made the same decision the week of Sept. 15?19 in Portland as 65 participants in a North American Mission Board?sponsored Inner?City Evangelism Seminar learned how to reach some of the most hurting and desperate people in America with the gospel. Then they promptly put their skills to work in reaping the harvest the Lord had prepared.
The conference demonstrated many inner?city residents are hungry for the message of hope found in Christ’s work on the cross.
“If you knew for certain that if you went out to talk to someone, and they were actually crying out for God … . would you go? It’s waiting for you. That’s why we’re here,” said Travis Johnson, one of three street evangelists from San Antonio, Texas, who led the central portion of the seminar.
“God has touched these people. They are waiting for somebody who can set them free from the bondage of sin. … It’s like catching fruit in a basket, falling off of the tree.”
Other training provided through the Inner?City Evangelism Seminar included a Continuing Witness Training course and training based on the model of SAFE (Setting Addicts Free Eternally), an alcohol? and drug?abuse rehabilitation ministry in Portland directed by Troy and Jamae Smith, who are North American Mission Board missionaries.
Smith also serves as co?pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, the inner?city congregation that hosted the conference. The church also hosted the midweek block party, which resulted in 79 people praying to receive Christ as witnesses shared the gospel over plates of barbecued chicken and baked beans.
The Inner?City Evangelism Seminar is new among Southern Baptists, offered for the first time this spring in Philadelphia. Participants there saw more than 650 people receive Christ in housing projects and at a block party.
The North American Mission Board soul?winning evangelism unit developed the seminar largely around the work of Johnson and his two colleagues in ministry, Art Stacer and Joe Cowan. In more than 30 cities, in addition to their home base of San Antonio, they make a point of touching the most dangerous and poverty?stricken areas with the gospel.
“There is another culture in this nation that white middle?class Americans don’t know anything about,” Stacer said. “There’s suffering and there’s heartache, and there’s a handful of people to take care of an army of (spiritually) sick and wounded people.”
One of their main methods is the mass distribution of tracts, an amazingly effective tool they say too many Christians have abandoned. Stacer said he and the other two men have personally distributed several million tracts, including nearly 300,000 during the Olympics and Paralympics alone.
Cowan said if tracts are presented in a caring and non?threatening manner, only about 1 or 2 percent of them are discarded immediately. “You might think people just throw them down, but they don’t,” he said.
As they go out, they make eye contact, ask them if they would like to accept a gospel tract and then follow the presentation with a heartfelt “God Bless You” or “Jesus Loves You.” They tracts they use also present a message of hope, not fear.
Tracts are important, Cowan said, because you can place the life?changing Word of God into the hands of a huge number of individuals in a relatively short period of time. Yet most people, if they distribute tracts at all, distribute only a handful or so at a time.
“I don’t know of any more personal way to reach large masses of people than giving out a gospel tract,” Cowan said, later adding it takes persistence and consistency. “You have to be convinced that God’s Word is going to do what it said it was going to do. The Bible says if you sow in abundance, you reap in abundance.”
When witnessing to people directly on the street, the three men said the simplest approaches are often best, but they usually vary their approach depending on the leading of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes they will ask outright if the person is a Christian; other times they will just ask them if they have heard about what Jesus did for them. Stacer, Cowan and Johnson quickly get a feel for the individual’s background, which lets them present the gospel in a way that they understand.
Those who respond are led in a “sinner’s prayer” and are instructed on the importance of continued prayer, Bible study and fellowship with a local church. During the conference they also received a marked New Testament. All individuals making decisions are registered when the person has an address, and the names are given to a local church for follow?up.
Wherever witnessing efforts are held, Stacer stressed the importance of time spent in prayer on behalf of the people they will be meeting, as well as time spent personally in prayer and studying Scripture seeking God’s guidance. In the intense situations they often face, they stressed the importance of an intimate relationship with God and sensitivity to the immediate leading of the Holy Spirit.
Many of those participating in the conference were clients in the SAFE program, including Paul Brown, who is seeking God’s direction on a ministry as an evangelist. Prior to the conference he had led two people to faith in Christ, but he had been praying for someone to teach him how to share his faith more effectively. By the end of the week, he had prayed with nearly 20 new Christians.
“I just thank the Lord for these guys showing us how to do it,” Brown said in a van coming back from downtown, where he had led three to Christ. “Now I’ve got such a fever I can’t stop.”
Keith Walker, a NAMB soul?winning evangelism associate who coordinated the conferences, wants to help others get that same fever. He hopes to organize five additional Inner?City Evangelism Conferences in different metro areas next year. Each would include the trio from San Antonio, as well as other offerings in personal evangelism and reaching different inner?city groups.
“I think basically it is an evident work of God, it can’t be denied, and we have to move forward with it,” Walker said. He noted the training should fit in well with the board’s strategic emphasis of reaching America’s cities.
Smith, the SAFE director and co?pastor of Mt. Zion, is no stranger to seeing people rescued from the streets by the power of God. But the small church now has its work cut out for it.
“We not only have a problem of following up all this, but now we’ve got to figure out what to do with all these people,” he said. “These are the kinds of problems I dream about.”

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  • James Dotson