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Southern Evangelistic Teams take gospel to the streets of Louisville

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Renee sold candy bars on a street corner in downtown Louisville, Ky. She cried as she stared blankly ahead. Tears blurred her vision of the onrushing forms of uncaring people — their stares frozen forward in the frigid winter air.
Her life seemed hopeless. Money was scarce. Her son was in trouble. Police had arrested him the previous night. “Doesn’t anyone care? God, please help me,” she prayed.
Two figures broke Renee’s concentration. Mark Swan and Eldridge Smith stood before her. They asked a question: “Can we tell you about the hope we have in Jesus Christ?”
They prayed with her. Encouraged her. Cried with her — on the street corner. “She had prayed all night that God would send someone to talk to her,” recalled Swan, a master of divinity student from Euclid, Ohio.
James worked at a parking lot in downtown Louisville. He knew of Jesus intellectually — but not as Lord and Savior. A man confronted him with a question. “Do you know Jesus?” asked Tristan Francis, a master of divinity student from Brooklyn, N.Y.
With tears welling in his eyes, James realized his need. He gave his life to the Creator of life.
The encouragement to Renee, the salvation of the James — these are just a few examples of the efforts of the Southern Evangelistic Teams (SET) of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
Taking to the streets of Louisville each Saturday, SET provides practical evangelism opportunities for students at both Southern Seminary and the James P. Boyce College of the Bible. SET volunteers work through three groups, with one focusing on church growth, another on church planting and the third on street evangelism.
“The vision is for seminary students to go forth to their future ministries with a heart burning for the lost. Can there be any higher goal than that?” said Tom Johnston, who directs the evangelistic teams and is a Ph.D. student from Mound, Minn.
“I can’t boast in anything I’ve done or anything anybody on the teams has done. We can just boast in Jesus Christ for the six or seven decisions for Christ just since January. Praise God,” said Swan, the street evangelism team leader.
Many of these decisions have come during street evangelism, which for Swan means “stepping out of my comfort zone.” Although street evangelism can be intimidating, the team leaders all view it as obeying Jesus’ commandment go into all the world — including the streets of Louisville.
“Sometimes we Christians think, ‘These people’s hearts are so hardened that the only reason they’ll come to Christ is if Billy Graham is preaching to them,’” Swan said. “But there’s a hunger in the city of Louisville — with the street people, the people working the part-time jobs in the parking garages and fast-food restaurants. They’re hungry to hear that there’s hope in life — that God loves them and sent his Son to die for them.”
In addition to street evangelism, the teams actively go door-to-door with existing churches and for church plants. In fact, the SET ministry thrust came in response to a request from a local church for help in door-to-door ministry.
Seeing churches grow and come into existence is a crucial part of SET’s vision. Eight churches will partner with SET this year. “These things,” Johnson noted, “are eternal.”
SET’s focus is not limited to evangelism, church planting and church growth. Randall Tan, the assistant director and a master of divinity student from Penang, Malaysia, is developing a follow-up program for people who make decisions, to send them discipleship materials and connect them with nearby churches.
Each team leader hopes SET will increasingly become an integral part of the seminarian’s life.
“Really, we shouldn’t have to advertise this. It should be an automatic thing. Being out there every Saturday is such a big encouragement in my life,” said Francis, SET’s advertising coordinator.
Johnston added that evangelism is crucial for a Christian’s — and the seminarian’s — relationship with Christ. “If I’m not involved in personal evangelism on a regular basis, I’m going to dry up like a prune spiritually.
“The bottom line of a theological education is that it be applied in practice. To be involved in evangelism every week keeps me on the cutting edge. It’s easy to see theological education as an end in itself. It’s not an end in itself — it’s a means to an end of impacting the world for Christ.”

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  • Bryan Cribb