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Churches on Mission

Partnering to Share Christ: Kansas Outreach Effort Yields Gospel Fruit

What happens when twenty Southern Baptist churches partner through their local association and with an SBC entity to blanket a civic event with Gospel witness?

At the Wichita River Festival in Wichita, Kansas, the answer was more than one hundred decisions for Christ.

For three days during the nine-day festival in May, sixty-four volunteers from Wichita-area congregations teamed with twelve volunteers from the North American Mission Board's Intentional Community Evangelism (ICE) team to share the Gospel with locals. Churches also supplied food, music, entertainment, and other attractions to support the evangelistic effort.

The annual River Festival, begun in 1972, features live music, food, and dozens of corporate sponsors situated along the Arkansas River in Wichita's downtown area. In all, hundreds of thousands swarm to the waterfront during Riverfest, as locals refer to the event.

Loren Phippen, director of evangelism and church and community ministries for the Heart of Kansas Baptist Association, sees Riverfest as an ideal time for evangelism. Outreach efforts at the event are now in their fifth year.

"God blessed us with a great evangelistic event at Riverfest this year," Phippen said. "Not only did we have one hundred decisions for Christ, we were able to reach a local young cult group like we've never done before. God used this event to train many of our church members to be active soul winners, and many lives were changed."

The evangelistic training occurred as the ICE team — trained street evangelists who share the Gospel at events throughout the country-paired with local Baptists during witnessing encounters. Ray Emery, pastor of Midway Baptist Church in Wichita, said the ICE team helped his church members put into practice what they learned in formal evangelism classes.

In addition to street witnessing, Walking with Power, a team of Christian strongmen based in Denver, Colorado, presented the Gospel through exhibitions such as bending steel bars, smashing concrete blocks, and breaking baseball bats over their thighs.

Walking with Power also visited local prisons, where approximately thirty-five additional people committed their lives to Christ.

Metropolitan Baptist Church, which faces the Arkansas River and sits in the heart of the festival's pedestrian traffic, serves as the anchor church for the outreach effort. Bruce Cargile, Metropolitan's senior pastor, said the 775-member congregation decided years ago to "turn lemons into lemonade" when it comes to Riverfest.

"Our church is right in the middle of everything going on during the festival," Cargile said. "The river goes in front of the church and all the food booths and activities are all around us.

"When Riverfest is going on, our church practically has to shut down. There's no way for our members to get in or out. The church parking lot is jammed. So since there are tens of thousands parading around our property, what a perfect opportunity to host some sort of evangelistic outreach."

Cargile said the outreach is important because Riverfest attendees have such deep spiritual needs.

"So many of the people need to be reached," he said, "especially the younger adults who have such serious issues in their lives-a lot of addictions and brokenness."

In all, Baptist volunteers handed out more than ten thousand tracts.

"For the rest of this year, like last year, we'll get phone calls from people who received a tract during Riverfest and who later call for help or to find a local church," Phippen, of the Heart of Kansas Association, said. "Everything we do for the festival is aimed at attracting people so we can share the Gospel with them. It generates a lot of prospects for our local churches, and each one is followed up on by a local church."

One of Riverfest's greatest victories was the salvation of several members of a youth cult known as the Juggalos. Followers of the band, the Insane Clown Posse, Juggalos wear black, paint their faces, and have been associated with violent crime. Some law enforcement officials consider Juggalos a gang because of their repeated pattern of criminal activity.

But thanks to the efforts of Country Acres Baptist Church in Wichita, sinister activities should be a thing of the past for several Juggalos. After the church's kitchen fellowship ministry prepared sandwiches for the Juggalos, the group's leader allowed an ICE team member to present the Gospel to more than one hundred of the youth. Several committed their lives to Christ.

Lynn Webb, a NAMB Mission Service Corps volunteer from the Catawba River Baptist Association in North Carolina, has participated in Riverfest before and said work in previous years seemed to lay a foundation for this year's success.

"I saw the largest number of church members participating and being willing to go out compared to the last couple of years," Webb said. "I personally saw some of the spiritual labor that has been spent over the past several years start to produce fruit amongst the people."

Webb also said prayer played a role in the salvations this year. Several Arkansas churches along with a campus group from the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Arkansas, prayerwalked the waterfront area prior to the event.

"I certainly noticed that the area had been prayerwalked," Webb said. "You could feel the Holy Spirit before us and the receptiveness of the people willing to talk compared to prior years. I actually witnessed more people being willing to receive a tract. Even the teens on the river (Juggalos) were less volatile."

Glen Davis, director of missions for the Heart of Kansas Association, said the Riverfest outreach is designed to empower churches.

"Riverfest is an opportunity for the Heart of Kansas Association to assist our churches in furthering discipleship, especially in evangelism training," he said.

That's exactly what happened for Faith Baptist Church in Andover, Kansas. Members Jean Walker and Marsha Agard partnered with ICE team members and saw two young girls receive Christ as their Lord and Savior. The ease with which ICE volunteers witnessed and the attentiveness with which the two girls listened gave both women confidence that they could present the Gospel themselves. The next week, God provided an opportunity for Walker to practice what she learned by sharing the Gospel with two co-workers as she recounted her experience at Riverfest.

Micki High, from Midway Baptist Church in Wichita, had a similar experience as she saw how easy witnessing could be. She learned that inviting people to the Walking with Power exhibition created opportunities to give out tracts. Thanks to Riverfest, High realized that she can talk about religion without making people feel uneasy.

Even a photojournalist covering Riverfest for the Heart of Kansas Association said the experience deepened her walk with Christ. She shared briefly with a 10-year-old girl how Jesus is the only friend that will never leave or forsake us.

"Being the photojournalist gave me the opportunity to understand how the members of the churches were encouraged in sharing their faith, blessed by seeing God at work up close and personal, humbled by God's awesome power to save an individual, and made more bold in my own witness to speak without compromise," photojournalist Bev Jackson said.

Juanita Hammond, a volunteer from Believers Baptist Church in Wichita, summed up the attitude of all the Baptists at Riverfest. She said the time for lost people to respond to Christ's offer of grace is short, and we desperately need more workers for the harvest.

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