WASHINGTON (BP)–With Luis Palau’s Oct. 8-9 “Great Music and Good News” DC Festival and the upcoming June 2006 Metro Maryland Franklin Graham Festival, Southern Baptists all along the I-95 corridor between Washington and Baltimore are joining efforts to reach their neighbors for Christ.
An estimated 50,000 people attended the DC Festival on the National Mall, sponsored by the Luis Palau Association and supported by 899 churches and 3,500-plus youth and adults who were trained in friendship evangelism during the buildup to the weekend.
The Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware was intricately involved with the DC Festival from its inception, said Thom Thornton, BCMD consultant/specialist for evangelism and collegiate ministry.
“From early meetings … up to and through the event, we have partnered with the Luis Palau organization to equip people for evangelism, engage churches to the opportunities of the festival, and reach our area for the cause of Christ.”
Several BCMD churches took advantage of the evangelism and counseling training events to participate as volunteers during the festival, which highlighted the best elements of today’s most popular music festivals (everything from contemporary music acts and exotic food stands to a full-blown, stand-alone extreme sports skate park).
Included on the festival’s main stage were contemporary Christian recording artists Third Day, Steven Curtis Chapman, Cece Winans, TobyMac and Kirk Franklin and former Mexican soap opera actress and performer Yuri, among others.
In the festival’s “Sports Zone,” professional sports personalities, including Carlos Baerga and Nick Johnson of the Washington Nationals baseball team, Mark Simpson of the DC United soccer team, PGA golfer Bernhard Langer and former NFL player Steve Fitzhugh of the Denver Broncos, shared testimonies of their faith.
Ventriloquist Mark Thompson joined VeggieTales’ “Bob and Larry” in the children’s area, full of games and Gospel-minded activities for the children.
And some of the nation’s best skateboard and BMX athletes joined actor/filmmaker Stephen Baldwin in a Livin’ It Action sports stage, where pastor and pro-skater Jay Alabama spoke to standing-room-only crowds.
Each evening, despite torrential rains on the first day, Christian communicator and author Luis Palau shared messages of hope punctuated by personal testimonies of people he has met all over the world.
The Argentine-born evangelist, who has taken God’s message of love to an estimated 21 million people in 70 nations, reminded the overwhelmingly young festival crowd, “The truth will set you free. And if you are free, you are free indeed!”
Pointing to God’s ability to help people be free from immoral temptations, loneliness and desperation, he shared his longing for the participants to say, “I found God on the National Mall.”
Festival organizers say there were 1,560 documented decisions to receive Christ or rededicate to Christ, bringing the total to 2,300-plus for the festival week, which included Operation Compassion, a ministry which mobilized area Christians to do community service in the public schools or to participate in a food drive, a family health fair and hurricane relief initiative.
Pastor Mark Johnson of Beltsville Baptist Church off the I-495 Beltway surrounding Washington served as a pastoral adviser for the event. He and six other members from his church participated in counseling training provided by the Palau organization.
“I thought the festival was a very innovative attempt at mass evangelism,” said Johnson, who marveled at Luis Palau’s effort to reach a new culture. “Palau knows that, except for a few select evangelists, the old model of stadium crusades doesn’t work very well.”
Johnson met with other pastors on Monday following the event to organize follow-up for those who responded to invitations to make a decision for Christ.
Peter Benson of First Baptist Church of Glen Arden in Landover, Md., volunteered as a counselor. Normally serving in the A/V media ministry at his church, Benson recently felt that he needed to be involved more in evangelism. He particularly enjoyed the training events held before the festival. Of teacher Alan Hotchkiss, he shared, “That short man did a tall job of making sharing the Gospel un-intimidating.”
Pastor Wayne Matthews of Marbury (Md.) Baptist Church volunteered in the children’s area, where he presented the Good News of Jesus Christ using color-coded salvation bracelets. After each presentation, Matthews invited the children to pray.
“You could tell that these children were sincerely praying innocent prayers,” he said tearfully. “The Lord showed me through these prayers that God is at work, even through the little people, preparing the next generation of those who will be doing the evangelizing in the future.”
BCMD Executive Director David Lee noted, “We may be on the brink of seeing one of the greatest movements of God in human history. The world has its eyes focused on the Baltimore-Washington corridor. A genuine awakening in this region of our world could spread quickly throughout this nation and to the uttermost parts of the world. That is why it is so critical to pray for God to move in power. We are already seeing God’s hand at work in Baltimore. Doors are opening.”
Bob Simpson, BCMD director of communications, also noted the importance of ministry in the region. “The Baltimore/Washington metropolitan region is not unlike Rome in [the Apostle] Paul’s day. All roads led to and from Rome. Washington, and the surrounding area, including Baltimore, is similar in that the heart and soul of the nation is represented here,” Simpson said.
“My desire is that the DC Festival awakens our area to the need and opportunities of evangelism,” Thornton agreed. “As John Avant, vice president for evangelism at the North American Mission Board, says, ‘It’s time we make evangelism good news again.’
“I hope this fuels the interest in our churches, and we see over 200 BCMD churches participating in the Franklin Graham Metro-Maryland Festival in July 2006 at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
“How exciting would it be to see the next awakening of God’s power and grace emerge in our region from these dynamic festival events?”