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San Diego streets, paved with prayer, fertile for evangelists

SAN DIEGO (BP)–Canvassing neighborhoods and streets paved with months of prayer from several Southern Baptist congregations, a group of veteran evangelists -– known as the I.C.E. team -– along with more than 120 local church members converged on San Diego for three days of intensive street and door-to-door witnessing.

Walking on foot and saddled with backpacks full of tracts and Bibles, the I.C.E. (Intentional Community Evangelism) team talked to people on sidewalks, on doorsteps, at traffic lights, in parks, in the front of shopping malls and coffee shops, at bus stops and in taxis, and wherever and whenever people would stop long enough to listen to the simple Gospel message.

Despite running into language barriers in a city that neighbors the U.S.-Mexico border, the team was able to share the Gospel with numerous Hispanic residents using Spanish-translated tracts and asking them to read while following along in the English version. Several team members were aided by bilingual children in translating the Gospel to their parents and subsequently led whole families to Christ as a result.

More than 250 prayed to receive Christ with two- and three-person teams from the 33-member group of evangelists who came from as far away as New York, North Carolina and Georgia. Names and contact information of those who made decisions were turned over to seven San Diego participating churches for follow-up counseling, baptism and assimilation.

The participating churches were Greater Life Missionary Baptist Church, Calvary Baptist Church, First Southern Baptist Church of San Diego, Exodus Missionary Baptist Church, Encanto Southern Baptist Church, Blessed Trinity Baptist Church and Chosen Vessel Baptist Church.

More than 10,000 tracts were distributed and another 500 New Testaments were handed out throughout the city, which will likely add to the total number of decisions as people read them and consequently pray to receive Christ.

Team director Victor Benavides, who assembles, trains and leads the I.C.E. events as a personal evangelism associate with the North American Mission Board, predicted the number of decisions from the Oct. 7-9 outreach to increase substantially as follow-up work begins.

“That 250 will grow because in the follow-up process they [the churches] will be leading boyfriends, girlfriends, family members to the Lord also,” he said.

Each year, Benavides leads several I.C.E. events in sponsoring cities across the country for NAMB. Last summer, he led a weeklong inner-city street witnessing trip in Nashville just before the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting. That group recorded 976 decisions, with more than 100 baptized as a result.

“I.C.E. is a strategy to get churches healthy in four areas of evangelism,” Benavides said. “I call it the total church strategy for evangelism.”

The four areas are: personal witnessing training, community ministry, prayerwalking and follow-up counseling.

Participating churches commit to purchase tracts, Bibles and other materials for the I.C.E. team, be trained themselves in personal evangelism, and strategically prayerwalk their communities in advance of the team’s arrival.

The key in seeing God’s blessing, Benavides said, is for churches not just to be praying for their communities, but prayerwalking their streets and neighborhoods before the I.C.E. outreach. He calls prayerwalking “God’s roto-tiller.”

“It’s asking God to bust up the hard soils, to get them ready to receive the Gospel,” he said referencing the parable of the four soils in Matthew 13.

Dwight Simpson, director of missions for the San Diego Southern Baptist Association and the city’s coordinator for the event, said the participating churches saw firsthand the “value and power” of strategic prayerwalking in their communities

“The churches felt like prayerwalking really did soften up their neighborhoods,” he said.

And its fruit, Simpson said, was evidenced in the number of people who made decisions along those streets.

“To have 250 souls saved in one weekend is no small thing,” he said. “That was a very good weekend for San Diego.”

Simpson said the region’s beautiful weather, easily accessible beaches, mountains and deserts, and affluent economy, with homes with a median selling price of $500,000, combine to produce a spiritual climate of “indifference.”

“There’s a pervasive indifference where the attitude is, ‘We don’t need this,’” he said describing the “good life” lived by so many in his city.

Added to that, approximately 5 percent of the region’s 3-million-plus population is evangelical, Simpson said, with Southern Baptists’ 54,000 reported membership being the largest.

“San Diego, along with most of Southern California, has what I call a ‘generic’ spiritual interest,” said Simpson, who has pastored and been an associational leader for more than 30 years in the area. “It’s a spiritual interest almost as much in New Age and spiritism as what we would call true biblical spirituality.”

Despite this indifference felt by many I.C.E. team members, Simpson said the group’s presence made a deep impact not only in the lives of those who made decisions but in his association’s churches.

More than 120 local church members participated with the I.C.E. street teams and another 50 attended the personal evangelism training workshops during the three-day event.

Simpson said the event has helped energize his churches and put “fire in the bones” of leaders for intentional community evangelism.

“The churches that participated were blessed and excited about what they saw happening and wanted to be able to keep something like that going,” Simpson said.

“They want to take some of the ones that got trained and create their own I.C.E. teams to assist other churches that wanted to participate but couldn’t because of funding issues,” he said, noting that several teams already have formed as a result and four I.C.E. training events have been scheduled.

The level of involvement and excitement of the participating churches, Benavides said, has made the San Diego I.C.E. event one of the most successful events he has done.

“What was exciting about this whole weekend is that my guys [I.C.E. team evangelists] were saying that the church members we’re saying to them, ‘We can keep doing this. It’s not difficult,’” he said.

Benavides now will turn his attention to checking up with Simpson and the participating pastors to see how the follow-up counseling goes.

“To me, the work now begins for the church,” Benavides said. “The soul-winning was the easy part. The hard part is getting people plugged into church.”

He said follow-up counseling has to be “face-to-face encounters” and “intentional.”

“For a lot of these people who aren’t going to church or have never been, they won’t come unless they know somebody there,” Benavides said.

Getting them connected, he said, will sometimes require creativity on the part of the churches, like doing Bible studies in their homes, in parks, coffee shops or wherever the people are.
Four I.C.E. events are scheduled for 2006: Greensboro, N.C., June 4-10 in coordination with the SBC annual meeting; Charleston, S.C., July 27-30; Binghamton, N.Y., Aug. 17-20; and Toledo, Ohio, Sept. 28-Oct. 1.

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  • Cory Miller