Even as scorching temperatures bumped 102 degrees in Arizona's Urban Corridor, Southern Baptists mobilized in Crossover 2011 to bring the Living Water to people throughout the region's parched deserts.
Some 5.2 million people live and work in the corridor, which stretches from the Phoenix metro area down to Casa Grande and Tucson. Several hundred of those people are new believers in Christ following a week of community evangelism and Crossover's Saturday events.
Phoenix was the 23rd year for Crossover, an evangelism event coordinated by the North American Mission Board, the Arizona Baptist Convention, local associations, and churches that precedes the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting. This marks the second time the annual meeting has converged in Phoenix, the first time in 2003.
"This past week, Arizona Baptists have truly shown their neighbors the love of Christ in action through Crossover," said Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board. "This has been a model for how we can show people we care and then tell them why we care. It's exciting to celebrate those who have given their lives to Christ this week.
"I'm also excited that this has been an opportunity for existing churches and some of our new church plants to gain a higher profile in the community," Ezell added. "I'm praying all of our churches in the Phoenix and Tucson areas will benefit from Crossover and keep this momentum going long into the future."
To share the Gospel the week of June 7 and on Saturday, Arizona Baptists used dozens of block parties, a skateboard-a-thon, bottled water distribution, painting and landscaping projects at area schools, community arts and cultural festivals, women-only events, and of course door-to-door evangelism. In total, more than 1,100 professions of faith were recorded.
The most creative event was a six-hour Skateboard-A-Thon, sponsored by Mountain Ridge Baptist Church in Glendale, Arizona, attended by hundreds of kids and parents on Saturday.
A 19-year-old college student and member of Mountain Ridge, Presleigh Boulos—herself an avid skateboarder—knows skateboard enthusiasts are one of the most unreached groups in any community. So she envisioned a dynamic event that could reach skateboarders with the Gospel.
"I was just hoping to grow God's Kingdom," Boulos said. "We had thirty-three kids go up there and accept Christ. That was my goal, not how many attended."
"If the North American Mission Board and Cooperative Program giving weren't here, we probably wouldn't have been able to do this event, although we've wanted to for a long time," said Monty Patton, pastor of Mountain Ridge Church.
ARTS, CARS, MARIACHI
In Tucson, four SBC churches in the central part of the city hosted a Crossover community arts festival at Reid Park, with activities for children, live music, food, and booths with artisans' hand-crafted items. By noon, volunteers from Calvary Baptist Church, Rising Star Baptist, First Southern Baptist, and North Swan Baptist—along with Intentional Community Evangelism (ICE) teams—had shared the Gospel scores of times, leading twelve kids to faith in Christ.
That number was in addition to the twelve children and five adults who accepted Christ the night before at a Tucson car show—attended by 4,000—hosted by the same four churches. A week-long series of cultural events, capped off by Crossover Saturday, was also a gift to Tucson from the city's SBC churches and the Catalina Baptist Association.
"Our prayer was to strengthen our association and churches and reintroduce Tucson to Southern Baptists," said event organizer Gary Marquez, pastor of North Swan Baptist for twenty-four years. Marquez's wife, Dianna, choked back tears as she told of the seventeen children who made decisions for Christ at a mariachi festival (a festival with musical/cultural ties to Mexico) at nearby Kennedy Park earlier in the week.
In east Tucson, Sabino Road Baptist Church sponsored a landscaping project at a local school and conducted door-to-door witnessing in the area's neighborhoods, joined by volunteers from Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.
Back in the Phoenix metro area, one of the earliest Crossover events for women only, was held at the Christian Challenge Building on the campus of Arizona State University at Tempe. ASU has 3,500 international students from 140 countries.
"Ministry to international students is a big thing at Arizona State," said Terrie Sullivan, executive director of Arizona Woman's Missionary Union. "Our event was designed to allow international women—either students or wives of students—to practice their English and give us an opportunity to love on them and show them God's love. Most are not Christians."
Women from several Asian countries and Kenya spent the session getting free manicures and learning how to make necklaces and scented bath salts. Following a luncheon, they all left with scented candles—and an aroma of the Gospel.
SNOW, MAGIC, PAINT
In spite of the heat, snow was the featured attraction at the three-acre campus of Royal Palms Church—site of one of Crossover's larger block parties—in north central Phoenix.
After a vendor ground up bags of ice to make "snow" for the rubber slide, local kids lined up to make the run on plastic sleds. The neighborhood children also enjoyed giant water slides and "bounce house" attractions.
"It's been a wonderful week for our church," said Charles Lord, pastor of Royal Palms. He said they were expecting up to 1,000 on Saturday. "Many people have come to know the Lord. But the block party is not the end of what we are doing, but only the beginning." Lord said his church runs about 220 in worship and is in the center of a neighborhood with students, suburbanites, and refugees from Africa and the Middle East.
Another highlight of the Royal Palms block party was Christian illusionist Robby Lashua, who did three thirty-minute magic shows, wowing audiences with his jaw-dropping illusions. Only 27, Lashua has been doing magic for nineteen years.
"It's easy to weave the Gospel into my tricks," Lashua said. "I tell the audience that everything I do is a trick that can be explained. I tell them how David Copperfield requires trucks of equipment to do his illusions. Then I compare him to Jesus, who walked around Palestine doing His miracles without the need for trucks or tricks. That's when I tell them Jesus' miracles were real, not magic."
In South Phoenix, about twenty-five members and staff of The Puente Church, a two-year-old church plant, volunteered to paint interior walls at Maxine Bush School, despite the stifling heat.
As he neatly painted the gray trim of the principal's door, Tim Lesher, associate pastor of The Puente's sponsoring church—The Bridge Church—said, "We're doing this to build relationships and meet families in the community. In south Phoenix, the best way to reach people is through the schools. We're here to give them some hope."
The Puente, pastored by Armando Barraza, is a three-year-old "Spanglish" church running about 120. As a Spanglish church, its goal is to reach second-generation Hispanics who embrace the Hispanic culture but prefer to speak English. "We want to be a culturally relevant church for second-gen Hispanics," Barraza said.
SBC president Bryant Wright, who took in the block party at South Peoria Baptist Church northwest of Phoenix, said it was clear the church was well organized and put a lot of effort into its event.
"Crossover gives the local church an opportunity to reach out into its community in a creative way," Wright said. "I think that's a wonderful product of Crossover. They're building relationships with people coming to this festival in the hopes that one day they'll be able to share the good news about Christ."
South Peoria Baptist didn't have to wait long to see that happen. Not long after the block party started on Saturday morning, Jeannine Carter had the privilege to lead a mom and her three children to profess their faith in Jesus Christ. Jeannine Carter is a member of Judson Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, who came as a volunteer to support the outreach.
"That's the greatest joy you can have—to know that someone is in heaven because you shared the Gospel with them," Carter said.
The church's pastor, James Hayes, said, "VBS and block parties are the two most effective ways for our church to reach out to our community, make a difference, and meet people." For this block party, the church set up numerous inflatables and games and served food.
Hayes believes that the evangelistic efforts during Crossover represent much of what's good about being Southern Baptist.
"We're cooperating Baptist churches that are Kingdom-minded and that work together to reach our world," Hayes said.
At Glendale's The Church at Arrowhead, hundreds of families showed up for cool, refreshing fun at a Crossover event billed as "Summer Splash," which featured water slides, inflatables, and lots of free food.
"We put out 4,000 door hangers, sent out 2,000 cards, and handed out 2,000 to 3,000 invites," said Dennis Adams, the church's senior pastor. "Part of it is just name recognition for us."
Another church that used Crossover to introduce itself to the community was The Way Fellowship, a four-year-old church plant in Glendale. The Way offered a water block party for neighborhood families.
"We hope our community feels loved," said Scott Gourley, the church plant's pastor. "We want them to be intrigued and inspired enough to check out why we're doing this. Then hopefully, we'll have an opportunity to explain that we're disciples of Christ, that we're loving them as He loves us, and then be able to share the Gospel."
The Way Fellowship received substantial financial and volunteer support from Parkwood Baptist Church in Gastonia, North Carolina. Gourley said the partnership of Parkwood and others was crucial to the block party's success, since The Way only has seventeen members.
In addition to the Crossover events throughout the Phoenix metro and Tucson areas, Intentional Community Evangelism (ICE) teams, organized by the North American Mission Board, spent the week of June 7 going door-to-door in metro Phoenix, Tucson, and smaller towns like Casa Grande, Coolidge, Florence, Eloy, Picacho, and Arizona City.
"Unofficially, we've recorded more than 400 professions of faith this week," said NAMB's ICE coordinator, Victor Benavides. "We've had a great partnership with the local associations and eighteen churches in thirteen cities.
"We've had teams of twenty-four ICE volunteers from Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas, and Texas—along with evangelism students from New Orleans, Southwestern, and Golden Gate seminaries."
One of the volunteers was 81-year-old Hiram Acree of Duluth, Georgia, who started sharing the Gospel with the Intentional Community Evangelism method in 1981. He says he's only missed two Crossover events since they began in 1989.
Acree was unfazed by Phoenix's triple-digit temperatures.
"I do it because the Lord gives me strength, wisdom, and understanding," Acree said.