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Rope in hand in Calgary, evangelist lassos new believers

CALGARY, Alberta, Canada (BP)–The 90 members of Cambrian Heights Baptist Church have been tackling the challenge of following up with people who made professions of faith at the Calgary Stampede, one of the world’s largest rodeo events that draws more than a million people during the 10-day run every summer.

Texas evangelist Ronnie Hill decided to take a team to witness at the Stampede. He has ridden horses all his life and competed in roping events for the last 15 years. But as an evangelist his passion is to preach to lost people.

In the last Canadian census, the fastest-growing religion was “no religion.” According to North American Mission Board statistics, China has more Christians than Canada.

“At a place like [the Calgary Stampede] I can preach to more lost adults in one weekend than I do in churches all year. People come to the Stampede from all over the world,” Hill said.

As he began planning the work earlier this year, Hill e-mailed Southern Baptist pastors and others in the Calgary area. He received one response, from Dwayne Bartley, pastor of Cambrian Heights Baptist Church.

But Bartley was far from convinced that Hill had a viable idea.

“I doubted he’d come, then I doubted it would work. I’m evangelistic at heart, but I wouldn’t have given him a snowball’s chance in the hottest place ever,” Bartley admitted.

The pastor even tried to convince Hill his plan would fail. “I told him we’ve tried this before and it didn’t work.”

But Hill was undeterred.

Plans to find a site inside the Stampede grounds failed. But Hill then found a nondenominational church located one block north of the event’s main entrance and arranged to set up a tent in the parking lot. He arrived in Calgary with a team of eight and 20,000 cowboy-themed salvation tracts. He also had $10,000 Canadian dollars to give away, donated by Texas businessman David Plyler.

“Our strategy was to offer people a chance to win $10,000 if they would listen to my personal story. We were going to do that at the top of the hour and the bottom of the hour. But people wanted to hurry up and get in. They didn’t want to wait, so we changed our strategy on site,” Hill recounted.

He pulled the team together and told them they would do one-on-one witnessing. Team members headed out to the crowds wearing bright orange T-shirts that said, “Ask me how to win $10,000,” and carrying backpacks stuffed with tracts.

“That first day there were several groups of people who wouldn’t give us the time of day,” Hill said. So he decided to find something that would stop them in their tracks. Literally.

“I started roping. Sometimes I’d rope people walking by,” Hill said.

He gave them a chance to sign up to win the money if they would give him two minutes to listen to his testimony. Often the two minutes stretched into 15 minutes or more.

“I was told confrontational evangelism does not work in Canada, but it did. They were hungry for it, especially the 30 and under crowd. The teenagers were wide open. Of course, there were a lot of people not interested. They’d just cut you off, but 1,200 people let us share the Gospel from beginning to end,” Hill said.

Of those 1,200, 459 prayed to receive Christ. Everyone who listened to a testimony filled out cards for a chance to win $10,000, but their information also went into the hands of local pastors.

The $10,000 winner was Elizabeth Stark, 20, from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and a student at the University of Alberta. Stark prayed to receive Christ on Saturday of the Stampede, and a student minister on her campus will be following up with her decision.

Cambrian Heights Baptist Church, meanwhile, already has contacted more than 100 people.

“They are absolutely saved. Some are in churches already. We try to match them up with churches in their area, but some are willing to drive quite a distance,” Bartley said.

The reason it worked this time, Bartley believes, is prayer. “The team came and prayerwalked before they started and God has His hand on Ronnie Hill. I’ve never been more impressed. We’re a little church, but we’re going to get with it next year.

“It was the most awesome single event I’ve ever seen in Calgary,” Bartley said. “We’ve tried to do this before, but we did it the Canadian way. The Texas way is just ‘get’er done’ and it just flat worked.”

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  • Sherri Brown