News Articles

Welch tour: From Lambeau Field to meeting a former soldier

GREEN BAY, Wis. (BP)–Lambeau Field, Lombardi and cheeseheads. It’s Sunday in Green Bay and the festivities are getting started. Some are singing. Others’ hands are in the air. A cheerful, team spirit pervades the crowd.

No, the Packers aren’t running onto the field. But about 400 yards away from the Pack’s storied “Frozen Tundra,” about 300 members of Highland Crest Baptist Church — the largest Southern Baptist church in Wisconsin — are worshiping God and also hosting the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bobby Welch.

Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., spent Sunday morning at Highland in the 35th rally of his “Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” national bus tour of Southern Baptist churches.

Highland’s pastor, Jim Downs, and Welch talked for about 30 minutes before the rally as the two walked around the outside the church.

Marveling at the choice piece of property that stands almost in the shadow of Lambeau Field, and which is bordered by two main roads, Welch remarked that the city of Green Bay would be yearning for the taxes the land might bring.

Downs said others had expressed interest in the property as well, but the church isn’t interested.

“We have a calling from God to be right here,” Downs said. “As best as I can determine, this church is the only warmhearted evangelical church within four miles from here.”

But about 70 miles away, in Menominee, Mich., there is another such church — warmhearted, evangelical and Southern Baptist: the Bay Area Community Church. But it’s not situated near a landmark sports facility. The church is alongside a state highway on the edge of town in a former Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. That’s where the Everyone Can rally was held later that Sunday night.

The church is more than 100 miles from any other Southern Baptist church in Michigan. Bivocational pastor Thomas Mackay said the sense of isolation is real. In a region so heavily populated by Roman Catholics and Lutherans, Baptists are often unfairly characterized as a cult.

Welch spent time with Mackay just talking about his family, church work and what his other job is.

Mackay works the grill at Macdonald’s. “I chose the 4:30 to 10:30 [a.m.] shift on purpose,” Mackay said, “because when I get off, I still have nearly a full day to do ministry.”

“This guy is a hero,” Welch said of Mackay after the rally.

Expressing his gratitude for Mackay’s dedication, Welch cited the admirable level of the bivocational pastor’s commitment. Mackay is vital to Southern Baptist work “because he mans our only outpost up here,” Welch said in an interview with Baptist Press.

Welch said Mackay is like some of those preachers who traveled the American frontier instead of staying in those “cushy, New York City churches, with their voluminous libraries and comfortable pews.”

Following the rally, Welch and his bus stopped in the most exciting spot for teens in Menominee –- the parking lot of Taco Bell.

“Excuse me, we’re with the FBI,” Welch joked with the teens as he walked toward them.

“Cool!” said one teen.

It didn’t take long for Welch to get his five FAITH-acrostic fingers in the air to explain the Gospel to the giddy teens.

Even after they claimed to be devout Roman Catholics or confirmed Lutherans, Welch still prayed for the teens, voicing a prayer of repentance from sin and trust in Christ, hoping that some of the teens would pray the prayer silently.

From Menominee, Mich., to Minnetonka, Minn., the bus rolled on through the moonlit night.

The parking lot of Northern Oaks Community Church (SBC) barely accommodated Welch’s 45-foot tour bus in the wee hours of the next morning. But for Welch, “These small, frontier churches out here where church work is so hard is what makes this trip so rewarding.”

Welch was rewarded in an unusual way once inside the church. Northern Oaks also sponsors a Vietnamese church within its facilities, and the Vietnamese pastor and his wife were in attendance at the Everyone Can rally.

“David, come up here,” Welch said to David Doan, the pastor of the Vietnamese church.

Doan had hardly reached the platform in front of the 20 or so people in the Sept. 27 rally when Welch reached out and wrapped an arm around him.

“Never would I have thought I would meet a South Vietnamese soldier at a church in Minnesota,” Welch said.

Welch said that both he and Doan were far from the Lord while in the war, and God used it to draw them back to His side.

“Brother David spent 10 years in prison after the North Vietnamese invasion of Saigon,” Welch said. That’s where God got Doan’s attention. And God got Welch’s attention after he was shot point-blank and nearly died.

As visitation teams left to share the Gospel in the neighborhood, Doan’s wife, Kieu, stopped Welch and said, “I am so happy to say thank you from me and my family for your service in Vietnam.

“Thank you,” she said repeatedly.

And again, after Welch had shared the Gospel in a shopping center parking lot, the bus left Minnetonka for Temple Baptist Church in Fargo, N.D.

“Dr. Welch, our church has been anticipating your visit for a long time,” Durward “Dude” Garrett, pastor at Temple, said. “When I first heard about it, my heart came into my throat, and I thought, ‘Why us?’ Then I realized you don’t have a lot of choices in North Dakota,” he said.

“And I also realized God could use this visit. So, for a month we’ve been talking about evangelism,” Garrett said.

Noting how God had already used the expectation of Welch’s visit, Garrett’s voice cracked a little when he said, “I’ll admit that, for 17 years I have never walked up and down our street just to say hello to people -– until last week. And that’s because of you,” Garrett said, gesturing toward Welch. “And I appreciate that. And I thank you that it was an encouragement and not a put-down. So, thank you for coming to share with us. May it be true that ‘Everyone Can.’”

Welch queried the crowd of about 15 people, asking for those who were not from Fargo to identify themselves.

A USAF chaplain, Capt. Andrew G. McIntosh, said that when he read in SBC LIFE that Welch would be in town, he changed his plans for the evening and came to the rally.

“When did you read about this rally?” Welch asked.

“About 1:30 this afternoon,” answered McIntosh, who explained the magazine from the SBC Executive Committee had arrived that day.

After the rally, McIntosh presented to Welch a medal he’d earned, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary medal.

Welch is in a war on terrorism himself. At every rally he tells the crowds “The arch terrorist of your soul is Satan.”

    About the Author

  • Norm Miller