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Mormons friendly, but others more responsive to Crossover

SALT LAKE CITY (BP)–Encounters between Southern Baptists and Mormons on the home turf of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were described as friendly and cordial during the opening days of Crossover ’98.
But as anticipated, according to early reports, the primary evangelistic harvest was not among the Mormon faithful.
On doorsteps, sidewalks and in public parks, hundreds of non-LDS persons professed faith for the first time in the biblical Jesus Christ. More than 300 decision cards had been turned in by 4 p.m. June 7, according to coordinators. Actual numbers were expected to be much higher because many churches had not yet submitted their results and other decisions had not yet been recorded.
Jack Smith, follow-up coordinator for Crossover, said one of the most exciting elements of this year’s effort has been the response of local pastors. Most of the churches are small in the LDS-dominated area, making each changed life an especially joyous event.
“We found an equal excitement among the pastors when they brought in four cards and 20 cards,” Smith said, noting that the unusual circumstances faced by the minority Christian community in Salt Lake City make comparisons with previous efforts misleading.
One of the strongest initial areas of Crossover, Smith said, was an Inner City Evangelism (ICE) team of 16 volunteers. The group focused on lower-income communities in Salt Lake City, a population with a much lower percentage of active Mormons than the area as a whole. Fifty-four individuals were led to faith in Christ on Friday, June 5, the first official day of Crossover.
Bo Mitchell, leader of the ICE group, said he found people receptive, even in cases with Hispanics where language would normally be a problem.
“I don’t think the issue is Mormonism. The issue is the massive number of lost people that have no connection with Mormonism,” he said. “If they’re a convicted Mormon and in their church, we’ll know that. But all those other people are wide open.”
Street evangelism teams took advantage of the NBA finals as an opportunity to share the gospel on June 5. The Delta Center in downtown Salt Lake City was a hub of activity because of the playoff game between the Utah Jazz and the Chicago Bulls.
“We couldn’t let this opportunity pass without reaching out,” Tim Knopps, evangelism consultant for the North American Mission Board, said.
Knopps and his teams handed out evangelistic tracts and Path to Victory New Testaments to a crowd of thousands. The tracts bear Pete Maravich’s picture and contain his life story including his relationship with Jesus Christ. Maravich played for the Jazz in the 1970s and is a favorite of Utah residents.
“I found that the people weren’t open to an ‘in-your-face’ approach,” Brian Tatum, a student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, said. “But, when I moved a little off the street to stack up my boxes of New Testaments, the people came to me. They wanted to know what I had.”
And, when they found out about the tracts and Bibles, they were more than willing to take them, including “one for a friend,” he said.
Knopps created another new tract just for Salt Lake City that has the plan of salvation as a road map on one side and the Salt Lake City bus schedule on the other.
The bulk of the early Crossover activities occurred on June 6 through block parties and door-to-door evangelism efforts.
About 16 churches hosted block parties in neighborhood parks, offering free food and entertainment for children and adults. Volunteers from local churches and across the country also circulated among the visitors, sharing the gospel and giving away New Testaments.
A party hosted by First Southern Baptist Church of Salt Lake City attracted hundreds, and 75 made professions of faith in Christ. A team of about 20 volunteers from Nassau Bay Baptist Church in Galveston Texas, had spent the previous week with the church, conducting backyard Bible clubs for area children and distributing about 7,000 flyers.
Approximately 30 decisions were registered during the week, not including one man who had come by the church partially in response to the Celebrate Jesus 2000 evangelistic advertising campaign that had begun only days earlier.
“He came in and he just said ‘I’m LDS, I’m not happy with that anymore, and I would like to have a Bible,” said Cherry Barfoot, one of the volunteers from Texas who led the man to faith in Christ.
Another woman who accepted Christ was a family member of someone at the church, Jason McNair, youth minister and coordinator of the block party, said. “This was special in that this was a personal touch. This is somebody we’ve been praying for for a year. Now she’s a part of the family.” One young Mormon man came in part because his church leaders had told members to stay away from the parks. “I don’t know why we have to be afraid of knowing what the truth is,” he told volunteer Thomas Wright, one of almost 100 employees of the North American Mission Board who participated in Crossover. The man was interested in knowing “the truth about God,” Wright said, and wanted to accept Christ and leave his Mormon church. But he was not yet ready to do so.
Volunteers at Holladay Baptist Church south of Salt Lake City were somewhat disappointed in the turnout at their Crossover events but were encouraged by three professions of faith. Ernie Owens, a lay volunteer from First Baptist Church of Millington, Tenn., led a teenage boy and a single mother to Christ. “I used a Good News New Testament with the boy and the Roman Road in my own Bible with the young woman. It was great,” he said.
Marilyn Patrick, coordinator of the block party, said early morning inclement weather was not the primary reason for the poor turnout. “The local Mormon ward told their people not to attend and even scheduled a conflicting event at the same time as our party,” she said. “But we know the Lord did what he wanted to do here, and we praise him for that.”
“Aside from what the Lord did in the lives of our visitors, this church has been saved through this event. It has focused our church on the purpose of our church, which is reaching our community for Christ,” Patrick explained. In Ogden, a joyous Christian atmosphere prevailed in a block party hosted in a city park by Second Baptist Church. Pastor Charles Petty noted that 16 weeks of preparation went into the event. “The Lord has just been blessing in a mighty and marvelous and powerful way, and the good news has been shared.” Volunteers did door-to-door surveying in the morning, and the pastor said the church looks forward to good results. “We’re tired, but we’re excited.”
Hoffmantown Baptist Church in Albuquerque, N.M., sent a team of rollerbladers, skateboarders and breakdancers to the Day of Champions block party sponsored by Southeast Baptist Church in Salt Lake City. It was followed by a sports clinic, held at nearby Brighton High School, featuring skills training in basketball, soccer, football and baseball.
Prior to the clinic, church members, with the help of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), set up an area in the parking lot for a “free skate.” Kids in grades 7-12 were invited to ‘board or ‘blade on the ramps. The team from Hoffmantown church provided exhibition skating.
Mike Celenze, adult sponsor of the Hoffmantown team, walked through the melee’ of skaters and boarders. “I don’t care if they skate right into me,” he said. “I get a chance to talk to them and that’s what I want to do.”
Much of the Crossover interaction with Mormons came during door-to-door visits focused on a spiritual opinion survey. Most visits were generally reported as cordial and friendly, but with little interest expressed by residents in abandoning their faith for the Christian gospel. In one home in the southern suburb of Sandy, an extended visit revealed that a woman in her 30s was an active Mormon but with a belief that many religions offered legitimate paths to God. She had limited knowledge of some of the distinctive Mormon beliefs on the nature of God, Jesus and salvation, however, and was open to further contact with Baptists. In Tremonton, north of Ogden, Bob and Patty Compere of Shelbina, Mo., reported a friendly reception. But their responses also indicated people are counting on their good works in this life to get them into heaven. Bob Compere spent five years in the 1960s as pastor of a church in nearby Ogden. “I met a lot of people just like him,” Compere said after leaving the home of one Mormon. “The Holy Spirit is the only one who’s going to change his mind.” Larry Bishop, pastor of the Tremonton church, thanked the people who had done the surveys. “You see what we’re up against,” he said. “We need your prayers.” At Mountain View Baptist Church in Layton, which also hosted a block party, 350 volunteers visited more than 5,000 homes, according to pastor Keith Markham. Only 15 to 20 people refused to talk, he reported. NAMB President Bob Reccord emphasized during a pre-Crossover news conference that the purpose of the evangelistic event was not to target Mormons but to share Southern Baptists’ message with “anybody and everybody.” “We’re not trying to make Baptists out of Mormons. We’re not trying to talk anyone out of their church. We simply want to share the good news about how anyone can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” he said.
Reccord acknowledged “distinct and significant” theological differences between Baptists and Mormons, but said those differences were not discussed during a June 5 meeting with church officials.
Reccord told reporters that he, SBC President Tom Elliff; Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Phil Roberts, NAMB’s interfaith witness director, met with LDS President James Faust and Elder Neal Maxwell for almost an hour.
“We were asked by our hosts to concentrate on those areas where we agree, such as moral and family issues and religious freedom both at home and abroad,” Reccord said.
Asked by journalists if the SBC leaders took the opportunity to share their faith with the LDS officials, Roberts said, “We did not talk about salvation because they asked us to focus on areas of agreement. However, we did talk about our own commitments.”
Unlike past Crossovers held the weekend preceding the SBC annual meeting, evangelistic events in Salt Lake City will continue through June 14. A group of 500 college students is slated for a wide range of projects, including a number of sports clinics. About 250 teenage “Frontliners” are scheduled to spend each afternoon, June 8-10, sharing their faith around the city. An evangelistic crusade for Hispanics will be held June 12-14. Inner-city and street evangelism teams also are scheduled to continue their witnessing efforts, along with other SBC messengers.
Also integral to the effort was a “Prayover” campaign June 5 in which volunteers spread throughout the city to pray where Crossover venues were slated.

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  • James Dotson