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Training, God’s intervention result in evangelistic harvest at Reach ’98

SAN DIEGO (BP)–The Reach ’98 School of Evangelism and Church Planting moved from conference center meeting rooms to the streets of San Diego Sept. 10.
More than 177 professions of faith were recorded during seven “experiential events” that provided immediate application for the North American Mission Board-sponsored conference. Another 726 individuals accepted Christ during an Inner-City Evangelism (ICE) Conference held in conjunction with Reach ’98 .
The experiential events included a “prayer journey,” a door-to-door evangelistic survey, two block parties, a “servanthood evangelism” project, food distribution, an evangelistic dinner for women, and inner-city evangelism. They were among about 75 workshops offered during the Sept. 8-11 conference on various aspects of church planting and evangelism.
“Hearing something in the classroom is not necessarily learning,” said Thomas Hammond, director of direct evangelism for the North American Mission Board (NAMB). “We found that when people actually experience something is when they really start learning the concept as well as get a heart for it.”
One of the newest evangelistic emphases for NAMB is “prayer journeying,” an expansion on the concept of prayer-walking. A prayer journey includes not only teams walking through neighborhoods praying for each house and each family, but other teams praying from cars and still others using street maps to guide their specific prayers. Churches can then ensure everyone in their chosen area is the subject of prayer, even when walking each street is not possible.
“We’ve got to broaden our view of prayer walking into prayer journeys, so that every person in a geographic area is intentionally prayed for, and that they will know the truth, and that truth is the person of Jesus Christ,” said Thomas Wright, a NAMB prayer evangelism associate. “Every person in the church can participate in prayer journeys, even if they can’t get out and walk a long distance,” he added later.
Prayer journeying is part of a comprehensive evangelistic prayer strategy for churches that will be introduced in book to be published by NAMB early next year, Wright said.
In San Diego, prayer-journey teams were one of the first on the scene for a Sept. 9 block party in the city’s North Park, fanning out in four directions praying for area residents who would attend. Wright said the walks also gave opportunities to lead several people to faith in Christ as they spoke to residents and offered to pray for them. Such offers of prayer are rarely declined, he said.
“Prayer is universally accepted,” he said. “Even a hardened anti-church person will be open to prayer.”
While those teams were praying, other teams were conducting door-to-door surveys nearby in the neighborhood immediately surrounding First Southern Baptist Church of San Diego as a practical application of a “saturation” evangelism strategy. They were following in the footsteps of church members who earlier had conducted prayer walks on the same streets.
One team of ladies, with only six minutes left before they were due to catch a ride back to their hotel, stopped at one last house. The woman who answered the door told them she had been praying for someone to tell her about Jesus Christ.
“She said, ‘I needed help and I prayed God would send somebody to help me,” said Bev Clark, one of the participants in the saturation event. “And we almost missed it by six minutes.”
The block party at North Park, sponsored locally by First Southern Baptist Church, resulted in about 110 decisions for Christ among the estimated 700 who attended, according to Tim Knopps, a vocational evangelist and consultant for NAMB who helped coordinate the event. Throughout the park one-on-one conversations over marked New Testaments were commonplace, followed by prayer huddles as scores of individuals committed their lives to Christ.
The overwhelming response and receptiveness to the gospel made the experience “like fishing in a pond,” said Richard Harris, NAMB vice president for church planting.
Another block party in the National City area of San Diego brought similar results, with about 128 accepting Christ, Knopps said. Totals for both block parties included 71 led to Christ by Inner-City Evangelism Conference participants.
In another neighborhood, near Calvary Southern Baptist Church, other teams of witnesses experienced servanthood evangelism, the concept of sharing the love of Christ through unmerited acts of kindness. In this case, volunteers gave residents at 450 homes a light bulb, chosen because it is a universal need that carries a valuable message.
“We ask people that every time they turn on the light they remember that Jesus Christ is the light of the world, and that our church wants to shine some light in their life,” said David Wheeler, evangelism director for the Baptist Convention of Indiana and leader of the servanthood evangelism workshop. Wheeler said he personally was able to lead two individuals to Christ through the encounters.
“It opens the door to the gospel, because many of them asked, ‘Why are you doing this?’” Wheeler said. “One lady said, ‘I want my whole family to come to Christ.’”
Wheeler said servanthood evangelism also is effective in involving church members who otherwise would remain on the sidelines in evangelism. Many will be ignited with a passion for evangelism as a result of their participation, he said, and will become a consistent witness through other methods.
“Some people will never graduate past this. But at least they’re out there, planting seed,” Wheeler said.
During another Sept. 10 workshop, participants personally made sandwiches for bag lunches as part of a domestic hunger awareness workshop, designed to highlight the needs and evangelistic opportunities in hunger ministry. The lunches were later distributed among the homeless in downtown San Diego, accompanied by a gospel witness.
“We are creating an awareness that poverty and hunger are still a reality in our country,” said Donoso Escobar, a church and community ministries associate for the North American Mission Board. He noted welfare legislation reform is placing more of an opportunity for meeting such needs on churches.
“The need is there, and churches that are responding to hunger needs are experiencing professions of faith,” he said.
That same evening a group of 58 women, including 36 from the local Coronado Baptist Church, participated in another evangelistic concept: a dinner for women featuring a noted speaker as well as a presentation of the gospel. Kay Warren, wife of prominent Southern Baptist pastor and author Rick Warren, spoke to the group on balancing life’s many demands, according to Jaye Martin, a family evangelism associate for NAMB. Two ladies made professions of faith, and 10 rededicated their lives to Christ.
Martin also conducted a demonstration a day earlier for conference participants of a Christmas Traditions Open House, a holiday home tour that incorporates a gospel presentation into the Christmas story.
The last of the experiential workshops, on inner-city evangelism, was actually a condensed version of the five-day Inner-City Evangelism Conference conducted concurrently at Highland Park Baptist Church in nearby National City. The full conference also included training in Continuing Witness Training (CWT) and the SAFE (Setting Alcoholics Free Eternally) addiction recovery program.
The first members of NAMB’s Inner City Evangelism (ICE) Team, a group of about 15 trained witnesses, hit the streets on Sept. 5, two days before the ICE Conference actually began. They worked with a number of churches, training witnesses and seeing hundreds led to Christ throughout the week.
Joe Cowan, one of the team’s leaders and a layman from San Antonio, said they found the same hunger for the gospel they usually see among inner-city residents — as well as a tremendous lack of knowledge of Christ.
“Of all the children I spoke with, not one of them knew who Jesus was,” Cowan said, adding only one adult had been able to give a clear description of what Christ had accomplished on the cross. “That was an awesome thing, to have such a high level of spiritual illiteracy.”
He also said it was encouraging to see Christians transformed so quickly into committed soul-winners. A group from Primera Iglesia Bautista on the Mexican border went out with the ICE team Sept. 6, and the group saw 130 people profess faith in Christ in one afternoon.
“These people are fired up and ready to go,” he said. “I’m convinced they’re going back in those areas, but this time they are experienced soul-winners.”

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  • James Dotson