COLLEYVILLE, Texas (BP)–The seventh annual Mission Colleyville resulted in 285 decisions for Christ and 40 baptisms on the spot as 3,722 people from more than 900 families registered for free toys and heard a presentation of the Gospel.
“It was a more effective meeting this year than in years past, in my opinion,” Freddie Gage, cofounder of the event and staff evangelist at First Baptist Church in Colleyville, Texas, said. “The Holy Spirit of God came down and touched many people through the preaching of Homer Martinez,” a Hispanic evangelist based in Dallas.
Gage’s vision for Mission Colleyville dates back seven years ago when he was witnessing door-to-door in a low-income community near the church. He worked with Ron Cogburn, who was chairman of the deacons at the time, to start a Christmastime ministry to the church’s neighbors who are primarily Hispanic.
“What we did is we had a big Christmas dinner — turkey, dressing, the whole nine yards,” Cogburn said of the first event in 2001. “We had over 700 volunteers from our church. We had a toy store that we set up that was subsequent to that event. We also gave out sacks of groceries and turkeys.
“Over the years, it has evolved now to something that probably to me is a little more effective just by the sheer numbers we have coming,” Cogburn said. “We bused them in the first few years, and now we don’t bus them in; because it’s a known event we have three or four thousand people show up.”
Craig Etheredge, pastor of First Baptist Colleyville, said this year’s event also was different because it was simplified and integrated into a larger evangelism strategy. In the past, Etheredge said, the church reached out to people as far as 40 miles away, but the new idea was to focus on people in their own backyard.
“We were really concerned to blitz the trailer parks that are in some cases three miles away from our church, which is in a pretty affluent area,” he said. “Some of them, I didn’t even know that they were there.”
Cogburn said the church has learned from the Bible that God rarely does the same thing twice.
“It’s always a little different and a little better,” he said. “Sometimes we try to repeat what happened last year, thinking it’s going to be better. So we’ve been kind of flexible. As the needs change, as the church has changed, we’ve tried to make it an event where more people could participate and [we’ve] have had a greater effect.”
One of those changes enacted last year was to bring in Martinez as the keynote speaker to serve as a Hispanic voice before a largely Hispanic audience.
“Homer has been one of the icons or legends in Hispanic evangelism for the last 50 years in Texas,” Cogburn said. “We just are so fortunate to live so close and be so close to his proximity, which is over in Dallas. Freddie Gage, of course, knew Homer, has been with Homer, and persuaded him to come last year and this year.
“Homer’s message is very simple, that God loves you and that being a good person is not the way to heaven,” he added. “You have to trust Jesus. To the Hispanic community especially it’s very powerful.”
Before the event, hundreds of volunteers canvassed the local trailer parks and poor neighborhoods, Etheredge said. Then, between 400 and 450 volunteers ran the event, doing everything from registering families and parking cars to overseeing the carnival and bounce houses to manning the makeshift baptistery.
“The church has made this a real priority over the years,” Etheredge said. “… We have been blessed to be able to spend between $40,000-100,000 per year on toys for these children. It’s just a result of sacrificial giving on the part of our people who see the value in this ministry.”
Families registered Oct. 25 to participate in the toy distribution Nov. 14-15. One reason for asking the families to show up again to receive the free Christmas toys is that it gives the church a second opportunity to develop relationships with the people they’ve met.
“The toy store event is separate because it is a whole different look and feel. A family will show up at the venue on the campus and it’s like walking into a toy store,” Cogburn said. “They’ll have three or four children, and we’ll have a personal shopper go with them and they can select among any of maybe 150 different types of toys. Then we wrap those toys for those children, for the parents, and then somebody’s sharing with them the Gospel message while we’re doing all this.”
Etheredge said there’s no question the toys are the big draw to Mission Colleyville, but the church offers them more than that by presenting the salvation story in Spanish and English. And people respond, he said, adding that he wants to see them find a church home that will help them grow as disciples.
“This year we really focused on those closer in to be able to partner more effectively with local Hispanic churches,” Etheredge said. “We look at this as an opportunity to build the Kingdom of God. The churches that partner with us in this event are almost guaranteed some prospects, which is exactly what we want to see happen. Given the demographic changes going on around us, we want to encourage these churches to remain viable aggressively.”
First Baptist Colleyville recently started a Hispanic mission on their campus, Cogburn said, noting that before Mission Colleyville the church didn’t really have any outreach to Hispanics.
“It is absolutely essential for the Baptist faith to survive and thrive that we learn how to minister cross-culturally, which is what we’re trying to do better all the time,” Cogburn said.
Etheredge said the success of Mission Colleyville has been a testament to Gage’s original vision and the compassion the people at First Baptist Colleyville have for those who don’t know Christ.
“Dr. Gage has a real heart for those who are struggling, which has been the driving force behind this from the beginning,” Etheredge said. “We also use this ministry as a launching pad for other opportunities to reach out into the community with the Good News.”
Cogburn, meanwhile, expressed gratitude for Etheredge’s leadership as a pastor with a goal of reaching all types of people within the local community as well as for a core group of people at First Baptist Colleyville who are passionate about sharing Jesus.
“I think ultimately it’s a ministry that is relevant to our area in this time period,” Cogburn said. “I think it will continue to grow and be effective. It reaches folks in our Jerusalem. When you see the cross-section of people who come, they’re mostly Hispanic, but we have all races that come. One day this event may be much larger, but it continues to steadily grow, and we see God’s hand in it.”
Samuel Smith is a writer based in Fort Worth, Texas. With reporting by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.