NEW ORLEANS (BP)–The rain might have been torrential, but thanks to covered porches at the Fisher public housing complex in Gretna, La., teams of lay evangelists still were able to lead more than 300 residents to faith in Jesus Christ June 8 as part of the Crossover New Orleans evangelistic emphasis.
“It’s amazing what God has been doing,” said Travis Johnson of San Antonio, Texas. “We just walked door-to-door because a lot of people were out. We just walked around and talked.”
The remnants of Tropical Storm Allison required Crossover participants to be creative and flexible in their efforts.
Block parties were moved indoors and French Quarter ministry efforts were somewhat limited by the rain and accompanying sparse crowds. But ultimately more than 1,200 individuals had prayed to receive Jesus Christ as of June 13, and nearly 40 churches made significant progress in impacting their communities. And that was with several block parties postponed because of the weather.
“The weather really hurt our efforts a lot, but we still had a lot of people saved,” said Fred Dyess, director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. “All of the training that went on prior to Crossover really helped our churches, and I feel like it’s going to make a great impact on the number of people we reach for the Lord this year and for the years to come.”
Crossover is an annual effort by Southern Baptists — sponsored by the North American Mission Board in cooperation with local churches and associations — to touch the host cities of their annual meeting with the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. Volunteers traveling to the convention team up with local churches for a wide range of evangelistic efforts that also included door-to-door contacts, prayerwalks and even a ministry to exotic dancers working in Bourbon Street clubs.
One of the newest approaches was a “Kindness Explosion,” in which volunteers distributed cold bottled water and specially prepared gift bags to merchants and vendors throughout the French Quarter. The plan of salvation was printed on the label of the bottled water, and a tract and New Testament were among the items in the bags.
The mostly student volunteers said many merchants were somewhat perplexed that someone would give them something without asking anything in return. But the object was simply to let people know that Southern Baptists cared about them. And the New Testament and gospel tract included in each bag provided a lasting witness of the gospel for the person to consider later.
“You could tell they were kind of uneasy about some strange guy trying to give them a free gift. People are just really suspicious,” said Stephen McQuitty, a member of Woods Chapel Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.
Another student, Jordan Hix of Columbia, S.C., said the gift gave him an opportunity to have an extended conversation with one woman about her own faith in God.
“She said she would really like to get her life back in order, and I said this is the way to do it,” he said, referring to the evangelistic materials.
Both young men were members of Challengers, a mission education group for high school boys, and were selected to serve as pages during the SBC annual meeting
Also in the French Quarter, several musical groups provided entertainment for those willing to brave the rain, while others passed out evangelistic tracts and shared Christ directly. One witnessing tool introduced this year was a free seven-minute long distance telephone card that also included the plan of salvation. Calls made with the card also include a message about a toll-free number where individuals could talk with someone further about a relationship with Christ.
One hot dog vendor was reluctant to accept a gospel tract, but he brightened at the prospect of calling his four children, recounted Tim Knopps, a vocational evangelist in Oklahoma City who developed the calling card concept. They were then able to talk with him further about God’s desire for his life.
“Here was a witnessing card that he didn’t want to take, and yet because it had something that actually met him where he was at, he was able to use it and we were able to share with him that God loves him,” Knopps said.
A launch point for much of the French Quarter ministry was Vieux Carre Baptist Church, located just one block north of Bourbon Street. Volunteers joined church members in their regular Friday night coffee house and street evangelism ministry.
The next day one of the out-of-town volunteers counseled and prayed for a young man who had come to the center expressing profound loneliness, caught up in a lifestyle of homosexual prostitution.
Members of the North American Mission Board’s Inner City Evangelism Team had similar encounters with individuals in spiritual desperation. The group of about 15 trained evangelists who routinely account for at least half of the recorded professions of faith in Crossover led 477 individuals to faith in Christ over three days in New Orleans. They came to the city immediately after leading a training conference in nearby Baton Rouge where more than 700 decisions for Christ were recorded.
It was Johnson and other members of the ICE Team who found such a strong response to the gospel in the Fisher housing development in Gretna and other low-income neighborhoods throughout the city.
In another area, Betty Ray, of Chattanooga, led four children on a city street corner in a prayer of repentance as they asked Christ to become Lord of their lives.
“He was sincere, I mean he was sincere,” she said of the oldest boy and his excitement about what Christ had done in his life. “They’ve done something they’re proud of, and they’re going to tell others about it.”
A few minutes later, fellow team member Hiram Acree of Atlanta quizzed several of the children on the decision they had made, offering a few minutes of basic discipleship as immediate follow-up to their decision to follow Christ.
Ray said that earlier that afternoon they had seen tremendous acceptance among several older girls, waiting in line to talk with Ray about Christ. “They come up to me and they say, ‘Lady I want what you are giving.’ It was just unreal.”
Acree said the week in Baton Rouge and New Orleans had been the rainiest the team had ever encountered, often requiring several clothes changes a day. “There was not a day when every one of us didn’t get soaking wet,” he said. But while they were soaked, the people they were sharing with were also willing to stay in the rain to hear the gospel.
“From Monday until Friday night, we would go from one apartment complex to another,” he said. “And yet the Lord would stop us in the rain and have us witness to someone, and that person would pray to receive Christ.”
For churches throughout New Orleans, block parties retained their role as one of the most popular and effective tools for reaching their community. The festivities were often moved indoors and the “moon walks” deflated because of the rain, but church members and guests still found plenty of time for fun, food and fellowship.
At the multiethnic Lake Forest Baptist Church, more than 300 people participated inside the church building where there was face painting, balloon sculpting, puppet shows and a Christian rap concert. Adults took part in a blood donation drive and a health screening. Kathy Williams, a member of Lake Forest Baptist and counselor at the event, said she believes the block party drew more people than the previous two years, despite the rain, because church members prayerwalked the neighborhood two weeks earlier.
“I do believe that was the key,” Williams said. “If you’re praying for the neighborhood, they will come.” Williams said the seven people who made professions of faith in Christ made all the hard work a joy.
About 100 people braved the rain to gather under a few tents at a block party sponsored by Free Mission Baptist Church. Pastor Johnny Jones met a 31-year-old man named Glenn who arrived at the event holding a can of beer.
“The whole while we were talking he had a drink in his hand but he never took a sip of that drink,” Jones said.
An hour into their conversation, Glenn prayed to accept Christ as his Savior and Lord as tears streamed down his face.
Jones said Glenn had contemplated suicide because he was struggling to provide for his wife and children. “We made him feel welcome and part of us,” Jones said.
At New Covenant Baptist Mission in the New Orleans suburb of Harvey, pastor Thomas Glover said the block party was effective in letting people know they existed. The African American congregation is sponsored by and has been meeting in the facilities of the predominantly white Woodmere Baptist Church.
“We think that it was a tremendous opportunity to get more exposure in the community,” he said.
At Belle Chasse Baptist Church, the rain kept numbers significantly lower than expected, but pastor Freddie Williford said it had become a great event for church members and members of sister churches to get to know each other better and expose unchurched friends to Christian fellowship.
Across the river at Shiloh Community Church in New Orleans, most of the crowd was either from the church or a visiting volunteer — but alternating high-energy gospel and praise and worship music kept everyone focused on Christ. And 23 first-time professions of faith were registered.
During the door-to-door ministry sponsored by several churches, teams took a spiritual opinion survey at individual homes — both to learn more about the communities around churches and to share the gospel as openings arose.
In a neighborhood near Gentilly Baptist Church, Frances Stokes’ outlook on life was as gray as the clouds that blanketed the sky over her daughter’s residence where she lived.
Doctors in Washington, D.C., North Carolina and New York had given Stokes, 50, little hope of surviving her bout with cancer. Her 30-year-old daughter had also been diagnosed with cancer.
But Stokes’ outlook on the future changed quickly June 9 when two raincoat-clad men — one from Texas and another from Indiana — paid her a visit on her front porch.
Gordon Ivey, an evangelist from Carrolton, Texas, asked Stokes if she knew for sure that she would spend eternity with God. Stokes could not answer confidently but said she would like to know how to be sure of her future.
After reading several Scripture passages in Romans as well as John 3:16, Stokes prayed with Ivey and Daniel Moore, a pastor from New Whiteland, Ind., asking Jesus Christ to forgive her of her sins and become Lord of her life.
“Your last breath here is your first breath in heaven,” Ivey encouraged Stokes.
As a peaceful expression came over Stokes’ face, she pulled some money out of her sock and gave the men $5 to donate toward Gentilly’s ministry.
“You’re out here working for God,” Stokes told them while insisting they accept the donation for the church.
“It’s exciting,” Ivey said of the experience, “because you don’t know what’s behind that door.”
Lee Weeks contributed to this report. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: BAPTISTS FIRE UP GRILLS FOR MINISTRY EFFORT and PUT ON A HAPPY FACE.