The Good News raced across Louisville like a thoroughbred at Churchill Downs June 20 when three thousand Southern Baptist volunteers braved 95-degree temperatures for Crossover '09, an evangelistic effort prior to each year's Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.
A total of 1,012 professions of faith were recorded at two festivals and twenty-eight block parties that topped a list of ninety-five events, including door-to-door community visits. The outreach involved 1,800 volunteers from 107 local SBC churches along with 1,200 volunteers from out of town.
Charles Barnes, coordinator for Crossover Louisville, said more Louisville-area Baptists were involved in the effort than for any other event with the exception of a Billy Graham crusade eight years earlier. Crossover was jointly sponsored by the SBC's North American Mission Board, the Kentucky Baptist Convention, the Long Run Baptist Association, the Kentucky Woman's Missionary Union, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
"I think the people in the local association and the surrounding area have really been energized for the Lord and the work of the Kingdom," Barnes said.
"Lostness is huge in Louisville," Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director Bill Mackey said, noting that only about 8.5 percent of the population is churched on any Sunday. "We wanted to do our best to take advantage of Crossover and to make Louisville one of the most prayed-over cities in America."
Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt and North American Mission Board President Geoff Hammond joined Feed The Children's president and founder, Larry Jones, to kick off the first of three "food drops" in the greater Louisville area.
Cars lined up outside distribution sites at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Shively Baptist Church, and the Baptist Fellowship Center where volunteers loaded food and personal items into vehicles for 1,200 pre-qualified needy families — and shared the Gospel with those who wanted to hear.
"Today, because of this food drop, people are going to come to Jesus — people whose names we do not know," Hammond said. "On behalf of the North American Mission Board, we are delighted to be in a partnership with Feed The Children, the Kentucky Baptist Convention, the Long Run Association, and Bethlehem Baptist to meet these folks' human and spiritual needs."
Hunt told the crowd: "We're never more like Jesus than when we're giving. The Bible says actions speak louder than words. It's time for people to see what Baptists are doing."
Jones, from Feed the Children, reminded people there might be a Johnny Hunt or Billy Graham in one of the cars driving up.
"Jesus said that 'when you do it unto the least of these, my brothers, you have done it unto me,'" Jones said.
As the three food drops were getting under way, volunteers at twenty-eight other Baptist churches throughout Louisville were preparing for block parties on their campuses or in nearby parks. Thousands of hamburgers and hotdogs were thrown on charcoal grills, inflatable bouncing attractions set up, snow cone and popcorn machines revved up, and soft drinks and bottled water iced down.
At a block party at Rock Lane Baptist Church, Gospel bluegrass music, a ventriloquist, sloppy Joe sandwiches, and cotton candy provided a backdrop for an outreach partnering with three other Baptist churches — Lees Lane, Ormsby Heights, and Parkwood — in their shared neighborhood.
Reflecting on the labor involved in planning the event, Lees Lane pastor Tom Claus said, "If we do all this and only bring one to Christ, it would all still be worth it."
St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church near downtown Louisville drew a multicultural crowd of about one thousand thanks to the presence of a City of Louisville fire truck, a helicopter simulator, clowns, face-painters, balloon artists, a clothes closet, puppet show — and a tent full of barbecue, baked beans, and potato salad.
"This is nothing new for us," said Lincoln Bingham, pastor of St. Paul's, a predominantly African American congregation, for eighteen years. "We do this every summer, even without Crossover. We want to be celebratory and make the statement about the abundant life — all this in Louisville's highest crime area."
At a six-church event in Jeffersontown's Veteran's Park — a largely middle-class suburb of thirty thousand east of Louisville — 150 volunteers got together after one of the pastors asked, "How big do we want to make this?"
"We hoped one thousand people would show up," said Don James, pastor of Hopewell Baptist Church, which joined with Poplar Level, Highland Park, Lakeside, Forest Park Community, and Jeffersontown Baptist churches to offer children's games, three-on-three basketball, and live music, including a Christian hip-hop artist.
"This is a tough community to penetrate with the Gospel," said Jeff Pennington, Highland Park's pastor. "With a middle-class [that is] heavily Catholic, there are thousands of unchurched in Jeffersontown. It's hard to reach them. We hope we can break through with this event and start some relationships."
To coincide with the block parties around Louisville, an international fair and a Hispanic festival took place in the Iroquois area of south Louisville.
The international fair hosted about 1,500 Koreans, Chinese, Burundi, Nigerians, Haitians, Somalis, Bosnians, Vietnamese and Ethiopians, with a diverse display of food, music and dance, a Chinese string chamber music group, and a team of twenty taekwondo experts.
About one hundred volunteers, led by Bill Mazey, set up in the parking lot of a local shopping center representing such sponsoring churches as Bethel Evangelical Church (Ethiopian); Bethel Baptist Church (Haitian); Haitian Tabernacle; Louisville Chinese Christian Church; True Light Korean Baptist Church; Sangmyoung Sam Korean Baptist Church; Kentucky Central Mission Baptist Church (Korean); Eglesia Bautista Senda de Luz (Hispanic); and ECWA (West African) and ECWA 2 (Burundi).
Mazey, a recent seminary graduate and former pastor, offered a quick explanation why the volunteers work so hard to reach out in so many different ways-and languages-to reach this segment of Louisville's population.
"Because people need Jesus," Mazey said, blinking back tears. "He didn't save us so we can be just healthy, wealthy, and wise. He saved us to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We as Christians get comfortable and forget we're here to reach people, whatever color, with the Gospel."
A mile away, Hispanic pastor Yurian Cabrera directed Crossover's Hispanic festival at Iroquois Amphitheatre and Park, jointly sponsored by Iglesia Bautista Senda de Luz; Iglesia Bautista Victoria; Iglesia Bautista New Cut Road; Iglesia Bautista Cooper Chapel; Iglesia Bautista Getsemani; Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispanic Shelbyville; Iglesia Bautista Jefferstown; and Iglesia Bautista Fe y Esperanza.
"We prepared for one thousand," said Cabrera, as the praise team from his church, Iglesia Bautista Senda de Luz, filled the amphitheatre with Christian music in Spanish and the audience clapped and sang along. "We will have to do this again. It's a great thing to do to bring people to Jesus, along with the food, the music, and everything," Cabrera said.
On Sunday, June 14, volunteers with the Intentional Community Evangelism — ICE — team gathered for a worship and prayer service at Walnut Street Baptist Church in Louisville. The group then hit Louisville streets beginning Monday morning, sharing Christ in parks, neighborhoods and throughout downtown streets. More than one hundred volunteers participated in the effort, including sixty students from an organization named Error! Contact not defined, located in Louisville.
Supporting ICE team efforts was a mission team of 150 members from Hunter Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The group spent the week conducting Vacation Bible Schools, backyard Bible clubs, and other outreach efforts. By Saturday morning, ICE team members already had seen more than five hundred decisions for Christ stemming from their outreach.
At Louisville's Jackson Woods Apartments, a naked concrete slab welcomed forty-two volunteers with the Kentucky Builders on Monday, June 15. By Friday, team leader Sanford Hill and his team from Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida had built the first phase of a learning center for school children who live at Jackson Woods.
Constructed during a heat wave in Louisville that suddenly shot temperatures toward 100 degrees, the Kentucky Builders' initial, though unfinished, phase includes walls, the roof, wiring, and plumbing.
"A lot of these kids who live at Jackson Woods are latchkey kids," said Hill, also a pastor. "The average income at Jackson Woods is $5,000 a year. The center will have a paid adult supervisor and volunteers to help the kids with their homework.
"We talk about the love of God, but it's one thing to talk about it and another thing to show it," Hill said. "We do this simply because we love the Lord."