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No pause for coronavirus, ‘Soul Patrol’ has stayed on track

SUMMERVILLE, Ga. (BP) — Since mid-January Pastor Steve Pickern of SonRise Community Church has led 186 people to the Lord.

Should Pickern keep the pace he established Jan. 16, the number of those who accept Christ through his one-on-one evangelism will surpass 500 this year. Whether at Walmart, a restaurant, pumping gas, or anywhere, the 66-year-old asks others what would happen if they died that day. Sure, some say no to his invitation, but at least one a day since he started has said yes.

“I wake up each morning and ask the Lord to give me a divine appointment that day,” Pickern said. “I always get one. He hasn’t failed me yet.”

Pickern points back to a recorded sermon he heard earlier this year by David Gibbs of the Christian Law Association. “It was called ‘Doing the Impossible’ and talked about how God does not want us to do great things for him,” Pickern said. “God wants us to do impossible things for Him.”

The message struck Pickern, who has witnessed to around a dozen people a day ranging from age 10 to 91. From Jan. 16-March 21, before SonRise Community Church stopped regular meetings due to the coronavirus and moved to drive-in services, he baptized 24 people. When the church comes back together for in-person worship June 7, Pickern will baptize a family of 11 he led to the Lord a few weeks ago.

Not every response has been positive — like the guy who called back to Pickern that, yes, not only is he going to hell, but he’s going to ask to be the foreman. Nevertheless, the pastor has continued to tell people about Jesus not only in Summerville but nearby in Menlo, Lyerly, Trion and Rome. Where there are ears to hear, Pickern has a message.

“I just wish I had heard that sermon 30 years ago,” he said. “I’d have been convicted to do this then.”

“He’s just trusted God to provide someone each day and God has been faithful,” said Barry Peppers, associational missions strategist for Chattooga Baptist Association.

Last year Pickern and Tracy Espy, a bivocational pastor at West Summerville Baptist Church, led an evangelism push that covered Chattooga County with a door-to-door strategy prior to Easter. Peppers credits the success not only to Pickern’s initial contact with people, but also to his dedication to follow-up.

“That part of it makes a big difference,” Peppers said.

Pickern keeps a notebook that chronicles each conversation. The cover bears the name of his witnessing excursions — “Soul Patrol.” Those listed don’t include anyone who indicates a decision for Christ during SonRise’s services, only those Pickern witnesses to individually.

“I write down their names and address; I’ll also ask for their phone number,” he said. “I want to stay in touch and let them know I’m praying for their family.”

At the time Pickern spoke with The Index, there were 187 people on his list for follow-up. Two weeks ago, he witnessed to a young man who accepted Christ. That led to an introduction with the young man’s mother, who also became a Christian.

The encounters start with Pickern’s question about eternity and then a request for two minutes of that person’s time if they’re not sure. Some days, meeting the goal has been a challenge. One day, the pastor hadn’t led anyone to Christ until his discussion with a Walmart employee gathering carts in the parking lot that night. Another time, Pickern was held up at the doctor’s office for an appointment. While waiting, he called a student who had been visiting the church and led him to the Lord over the phone.

Pickern is a seventh-generation pastor whose father Henry died in his study on a Saturday night going over his message for the next day. He’s been at SonRise full-time for five years. He sees his witnessing efforts as merely fulfilling his purpose as a Christian.

“Many people think their goodness is going to get them to heaven,” he said. “But most of them are hungry and acceptable to the Gospel.

“I don’t want to take credit for [the number saved]. It’s all God. I’m just being obedient.”