OMAHA, Neb. (BP)–The midnight lights of Omaha wink at the bus Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch is riding in as it approaches the city Sept. 28.
Twenty-four hours earlier, the bus had been on a dark Dakota highway, tuned to “Monday Night Football” via satellite TV after a full day of activity in which Welch had set forth his “Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” for Southern Baptist churches to baptize 1 million people in a year.
“That’s good football!?” Welch half-yelled as a Dallas Cowboys player decked a Washington Redskin. Welch hoarsely bids goodnight to his travel team on the bobbing bus and pinballs his way down the narrow hall to his bed. It’s midnight –- and time to get some sleep for his Sept. 27 stops in South Dakota and Iowa.
At 6 a.m. on that Tuesday morning, the sun is up and so is Welch. Having showered and shaved, Welch heads to the refrigerator in a starched shirt at about 6:20. The 30-year pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., says, “Good morning” to a couple of his bus team in a way that makes them believe he really believes it is a good morning.
The men’s early morning prayer meeting is underway at First Southern Baptist Church in Sioux Falls, S.D. Welch, meanwhile, walks the church grounds alone, praying, claiming the land for God — like he does at every stop.
By 7 a.m. Welch has met the pastor, Rob Grimm. They walk through the church and talk shop. And by 8, Grimm takes Welch to IHOP for a breakfast meeting with leaders of the Dakota Baptist Convention.
At three minutes ‘til 9, Welch dispatches two emissaries back to the church to tell a newspaper reporter that he’ll be right along. The 9 o’clock interview starts 10 minutes late and goes till 9:45, then the morning’s Everyone Can rally starts at 10.
As the rally ends an hour later, everyone heads outside for a group picture in front of the bus. But many people want to greet Welch. And he wants to meet them. After the picture, he slips into the bus to take a breather and drink three swallows of a Diet Coke. Off the bus again, he’s met by those who have yet to express their thanks and offer their prayers of support and protection. Welch greets each one warmly.
Noon finds the bus leaving the church parking lot. Welch wants to make a few unscheduled stops at Southern Baptist churches he might find while on the way to lunch in Sioux Falls. Brief stops at Ridgecrest Baptist Church, Crossroads Community Church and Sonrise Baptist Church require about 90 minutes. J.D. Moore, pastor at Sonrise, was the only pastor in his office during lunch hour.
After greetings of long handshakes and big smiles, Welch saunters intentionally toward the church auditorium and then the front pew, all the while talking about ministry with Moore and complimenting him on the beautiful sanctuary.
By the time the two reach the front pew, Welch is inviting Moore to pray with him.
“You know we prayed, Lord, that we’d get to stop at some churches,” Welch, kneeling, prays.
“Lord, we pray that you will bless this facility, and we thank you that it is in soul-winning hands — a pastor and a flock that believes in reaching people. Bless these pews with many attendees, with many people who will stand for You and follow You and live for You.
“We don’t know if we’ll see each other again in this life, but we do know that we are bound together by Your Spirit and we have hearts that are bound together for the sake of souls.
“We love You, Lord, and we ask You to forgive us of all our sins,” Welch continues in prayer. “Cleanse us from all our unrighteousness. And everything You see in us that You don’t like, dear Lord, burn it out of us. I pray You’ll just put Your finger on that spot just like the doctor does, Lord, and press on it ‘til we holler and make it right. We love You, Lord, and we want to be more for You, and we want to be more disposable to You. So use us. Bless our nation, Lord, in these times. And somehow, someway, Lord, may we reach more than a million people with the Gospel.
“May there be a million people witnessed to and won and baptized. And may it flow fresh life into this church. And I pray the same for the church in Daytona. Bless them, Lord. We love You now, in Christ’s name. Amen.”
It’s 2 p.m., and the bus does something unusual — it stops. Welch and his team are inside a restaurant eating lunch. By 3, the bus is rolling again for that night’s Everyone Can rally in Sioux City, Iowa, at Southern Hills Baptist Church.
Welch grabs a few winks and is up again, ready to meet at 5 p.m. with Southern Baptist leaders from the Iowa Baptist convention. Leaving the bus at 5:50, Welch is met by a local television news reporter. Her camera is set up and ready to go, but the reporter is not on the list of those who requested an interview.
It doesn’t matter to Welch. He’s happy to tell anyone who will listen that “everyone can!” share the Gospel.
At 6 p.m., Welch is in front of another crowd repeating the same message he has delivered more than three dozen times in church settings across the eastern half of the country.
But it’s as fresh as the first time he spoke it.
By 7:30, the rally has ended and Welch finds a place near a shopping mall to share the Gospel. The Hobby Lobby manager stands outside on the sidewalk as Welch approaches. He’s a believer; nevertheless, the two mention some things to pray about, and then they pray.
At 8:30, the bus is rolling again. Welch dips a cracker into some garlic-flavored cheese spread and sips a Sprite. He and his crew are mulling the details of a 13-hour nonstop jaunt on the bus. Just before midnight, Welch crawls into bed and tomorrow, in Omaha and then in Kansas City, he’ll do it all again.