NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP–Rush hour came and went. Those with jobs in downtown Nashville left, and those without jobs were left – without.
Homeless, Tony Brown was left without.
Bobby Welch, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, stood outside the SBC Building having finished an all-day meeting Sept. 22. He was waiting to begin the second leg of his “Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” tour.
He didn’t wait long.
“How ya’ doin’?” Welch asked Brown, whose oily braid flopped about in the humid air. Welch extended a handshake as warm as his smile.
“Not too good, sir,” said Brown, with tattoos forming a web of blue on his arms.
Brown’s story ambled on as he and Welch sat on the curb.
“Do you know how many hundreds of times I’ve heard that story?” Welch asked.
“But it’s true” Brown said.
“Do you know how many times I’ve heard THAT?” Welch asked again, reaching into his wallet to help with the night’s lodging at a nearby Salvation Army facility.
Welch then told Brown another story – redemption’s story. Brown said he was a Christian, but Welch prayed with him anyway – and the western U.S. segment of Welch’s he Everyone Can tour was under way, though not a wheel on the bus had turned.
The next day, shopping carts and sweat were rolling in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Cabot, Ark. Under the noontime sun, shoppers criss-crossed the lot. Welch wiped sweat from his brow while living up to a personal commitment to share the Gospel in every state.
Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., is visiting all 50 states on his bus tour to raise awareness among Southern Baptists of the urgent need to tell others about Jesus Christ. He hopes to help reverse a four-year downward baptisms trend among Southern Baptist churches.
John Yarbrough, vice president for evangelization for the SBC’s North American Mission Board, joined Welch for the day. He also went with Welch to witness at Wal-Mart.
Yarbrough met a 19-year-old man named Tony, who, at age 18, left home and his Southern Baptist church.
“He was baptized as a 9-year-old and reared in a Southern Baptist church,” Yarbrough said. “But he told me he saw no evidence for God.”
Even though Tony’s parents are still active Southern Baptists, he told Yarbrough he otherwise saw “no evidence for God in their lives unless it was when they are at church.”
Despite self-proclaimed atheism, Tony agreed to let Yarbrough pray for him and promised to read the Gospel materials he had been given.
Welch approached Steven, another 19-year-old. “He had no church background whatsoever. He had never heard John 3:16,” Welch said.
But Steven can’t say that now. As the sun beat down on the asphalt, Welch beat a path to Steven’s heart with John 3:16’s message of Jesus Christ.
“Steven was a muscular kid, but I held his hand and listened to him pray one of the sweetest prayers I’ve ever heard,” Welch said.
Retreating to shadow at the store’s edge, Welch wrote Steven’s name, address and phone number on a small piece of paper. A few minutes later, he gave the follow-up information to Dennis Phelps, pastor of First Baptist Church in Cabot, Ark., where the morning’s Everyone Can rally had been held.
That Steven had never heard one of the most popular Bible verses is “unusual, especially considering where we are,” Welch said.
“Steven is not only one-in-a-million, he is one among millions in our country who need the saving message of Jesus Christ,” Welch said.