FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–A “new breed” of student buoyed by prayer stirred at least 60 people to Christ from the neighborhoods surrounding Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The Fort Worth, Texas, seminary, which has emphasized missions and evangelism throughout its 93-year history, cosponsored a block party April 21 in nearby Rosemont Park, and organizers are thrilled with the results.
“It exceeded any of our expectations,” said David Wheeler, director of Southwestern’s Nehemiah Project church planting emphasis and organizer of the event. “We prayed and asked the Lord to impress and he did.”
In the weeks leading up to the party, 21 people prayed to receive Christ as seminary students and people from local churches went door-to-door in the largely Hispanic community to invite people to the event. About 40 more professions of faith were made April 21, and Wheeler believes others were not reported.
Kirsten Timmer, a block party organizer, said one of the groups that canvassed 400 neighborhood homes the morning of the event was confronted by a man who initially was cursing at the students. They shared their faith with him, and he prayed to receive Christ.
Block party organizers estimate that at least 900 people attended the four-hour event, with about 400 to 500 filling out registration cards. The cards will be given to area churches that participated in the party.
“I expect this to be an annual event,” Wheeler said. “It will just grow.”
Organizers had ordered enough food for about 750 people, which meant an unexpected, but welcomed trip to buy more hot dogs.
“I think the block party was a phenomenal success,” said Scott Grimm, party outreach coordinator. “We planned for 500 to 750 people attending the event and over 900 showed up.”
Grimm admitted to being uncertain how many volunteers would attend but asked God to send enough workers for the harvest.
“I believe he did,” Grimm said, estimating that 100 to 200 students and their families attended the event.
“I’d like to thank the students and the faculty who helped make the block party so successful,” said Paul Varnedoe, event coordinator.
Wheeler was most impressed with the Christians who turned out to share their faith. These ranged from a volunteer from Gambrell Street Baptist Church, who through tears told Wheeler that he had just led his first person to the Lord, to Southwestern President Kenneth S. Hemphill, who led two people to the Lord in between having his hair painted purple and taking his turn as a target at a wet-sponge toss.
The witness did not end with the party. Scott Kimsey, a master of divinity student from Tennessee, had been stuck in the cotton candy booth throughout the party. Forty-five minutes after the party was over, he was playing basketball with teenagers at the park and led five of them to the Lord.
An hour and a half after the event, one local pastor was still sharing with a man in the parking lot. The man eventually prayed to receive Christ.
“We’re seeing a new breed of students here. They are relentless,” Wheeler said during the event.
He recalled sharing with one elderly widower who admitted to being bitter over the death of his wife. The man sat at the party for three of the four hours. Wheeler said he passed by the man several times and each time a different student was sharing the gospel with the man.
“If this is any indication of the kind of students we have at Southwestern, then we’re in good shape for the future,” Wheeler said.
In some cases, no fruit was borne, but seeds were planted.
“I shared with an elderly lady from the neighborhood,” said Grimm, a diploma in theology student from North Carolina. “She didn’t want to take the time to hear the Scripture, which was sad, but I know the seed was planted.”
Timmer, a master of divinity with biblical languages student from The Netherlands, had a similar experience, sharing her faith with a man who said he wasn’t ready to make such a decision at that time. While she was going through a tract with him, his daughter came and he had to leave.
Grimm attributed much of the event’s success to a 21-day prayer vigil planned and promoted by Timmer and prayer coordinator Barbara Johnson,* a master of divinity with biblical languages student from Texas.
“I think the greatest asset that we had available to us was our prayer committee,” Grimm said.
As much as the party did for the community, Wheeler believes it will also have a strong, positive impact on the school and the students.
“I think Saturday, if I heard one student I heard 50 say, this is what I came to seminary for,” Wheeler said, giving them most of the credit for the event.
“They’re the ones who said we need to reach the community with the gospel,” he said.
He added that he hopes this will help more students realize that “you can’t learn evangelism in the classroom. You have to practice it on the field.”
“We are the hands, feet and mouthpiece of Christ and must go into that community,” he said.
Timmer agreed. “I think this is what seminary should be all about,” she said. “Yes, we get the training here, but we need to go out there and do the practical aspects of it.”
The significance of the event for the seminary was not lost on Grimm.
“It means that we were being faithful to the Great Commission,” he said. “We went and we shared the gospel in our Jerusalem.”
Timmer also noted that the way volunteers worked together was a witness itself.
“We all had different tasks, but at the same time we were a unity,” she said. “I hope we sent that message out to the community.”
Varnedoe, a graduate diploma student from Georgia, believes this is just a small part of what the seminary can do.
“All three schools have a multitude of talent that can be used to reach the community,” he said. He suggested that the seminary consider making the annual spring picnic into an evangelistic event.
In addition to Southwestern and local churches, the event was sponsored by the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Wayne Shuffield was the BGCT representative and Toby Frost was the NAMB representative.
Wheeler was especially appreciative of Gambrell Street Baptist Church, located across the street from the seminary, which provided chairs, tables and volunteers.
*Name changed for security considerations.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: SEMINARY’S WITNESS and PARTICIPATING PRESIDENT.