NEW ORLEANS – Crossover 2012 – the evangelistic emphasis that precedes the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in the host city – covered metro New Orleans just like Saturday’s early morning showers – which ended as soon as they began – turning gray skies blue and sunny, making it a pleasant day to share Jesus in The Big Easy.
More than 1,500 Southern Baptist volunteers – from 59 local churches and many others from across the United States – shared the gospel. Their efforts stretched from the Lower Ninth Ward outward to Metairie and Kenner. Counting Saturday’s 38 Crossover block parties, special events and door-to-door community evangelism efforts for the week, 871 made decisions for Christ during Crossover 2012.
Photo by Adam Miller
Maritza, left, and Guillermo Soriano make balloon animals for children at a block party in Metairie, La. The Sorianos, from Fairview Baptist Church in Cary, N.C., came to assist Eric Gonzalez, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Hispania Emmanuel. The event was part of Crossover 2012, an evangelistic outreach throughout metro New Orleans held prior to the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting June 19-20.
Annual Crossover events are a partnership between local Southern Baptist churches, associations and the North American Mission Board (NAMB). NAMB provides funding, strategy and coordination assistance.
“We put a lot of work and preparation into it, and the churches and church planters executed the plan superbly,” said Jack Hunter, director of missions for the New Orleans Baptist Association. “God did a great work at this year’s Crossover.”
One of the 38 area churches hosting a block party was Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, pastored by Fred Luter, expected to be elected as the SBC’s first African-American president during the June 19-20 annual meeting at the Ernest Morial Convention Center downtown.
“Our block party is a great event for the community, the city and the SBC,” said Luter. “My prayer is that – using the games and the music – we’ll be able to share Christ with folks who don’t have a relationship with God so their lives can be changed.
“New Orleans is not the same place as in 2005. It’s a whole new city. That’s why I’m excited the SBC is here. Baptists came in and helped rebuild our city (after Hurricane Katrina). It’s great to see Baptists come back and see the fruits of their labor.”
Whether it was large churches like Franklin Avenue Baptist or small congregations like Evangelistic Baptist Church on Elysian Fields Avenue, local churches offered neighborhood children “bounce houses”, water slides, hamburgers and hot dogs, snow cones, cotton candy and live entertainment by Christian rap artists, praise groups and strength teams on church campuses or in parks throughout metro New Orleans.
Evangelistic Baptist lost 65 percent of its members after Katrina – down now to only 25 or so members. But those surviving members – along with some help from youth and adults from Baptist churches in Peachtree City, Ga., and DeRidder, La., hosted a block party drawing some 200 or more, said founding pastor Anthony Pierce.
“We didn’t know whether we’d ever even have church here again after Katrina,” Pierce said. Floodwaters destroyed the sanctuary of the old church, which had to be rebuilt on the inside.
Local churches benefited from the outpouring of volunteer labor from around the state and across the convention.
Thomas Strong, the pastor of Metairie Baptist Church in Metairie, La., believes their block party represents another opportunity for the church to let the surrounding community learn more about the church. He said the Crossover volunteers played a critical role in the block party.
“We’re all working together at this block party,” said Strong. “It’s reminding our church that it’s not just us. It’s not just the churches in our city. It’s all of us as Southern Baptists coming together to accomplish God’s purpose for us in reaching out.”
Dustin Swanger, a member at First Baptist Church of Peachtree City, Ga., had the opportunity to lead a 17-year-old to faith in Jesus Christ at the block party hosted by Metairie Baptist. The boy told Swanger he hadn’t really read the Bible and had never prayed to receive Christ. Swanger then led the young man to faith in Christ.
“That hits me deep within when I think about it – to know that someone who once wasn’t saved is now saved and I was there to witness it,” Swanger said.
For Emmanuel Spanish Baptist Church in Metairie their block party culminated a weeklong Vacation Bible School with close to 30 decisions for Christ. First Spanish Baptist Church of Atlanta came to help Emmanuel with both VBS and the block party. Parents of the children who attended VBS and others in the community were invited to the party to see the children perform some of what they learned during the week.
According to Jonathan Sharp, the cross-cultural evangelism strategist at the New Orleans Baptist Association, Emmanuel had been apprehensive about holding a block party since it would be new for them. But volunteers from the Atlanta church helped teach them how to put the block party together.
“They’ve helped us do many things this week to help us better reach our community,” said Eric Gonzalez, Emmanuel’s pastor. “It also helped to encourage and motivate our people to serve more.”
Downtown, volunteers fanned out to prayerwalk the French Quarter. Starting at the Baptist Friendship House, teams learned about the surrounding community from Executive Director Kay Bennett.
Supplied with water bottles and tracts, a team from San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, walked down Frenchman Street stopping to talk and pray with locals.
“The people who live here are looking for something to believe in,” said Scott Flenniken, director of Baptist Student Ministry at San Jacinto. “They want to find a friend, acceptance.”
Flenniken and his wife, Nicole, have been to New Orleans many times, but it was the first mission trip for the students with them.
Scott and I just feel a connection to this city,” Nicole said. “To see what God is doing in this city is addicting. That’s why we keep coming back. You can tell God has a heart for this city.”
Prior to Saturday, Southern Baptists in New Orleans were making door-to-door community evangelism visits and staging special youth events.
Twenty community evangelism volunteers from across the U.S. and 96 students from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., used Carrollton Avenue Baptist as their base from which to fan out across the Crescent City.
The team of Marshall Kellett, Victor Benavides and Cameron Moore led 49 to Christ between Monday and Friday, walking the streets and neighborhoods of New Orleans’ Holly Grove community. By Friday, more than 300 were new believers.
Kicking off Crossover Weekend was an “Awaken The City” rally attended by about 500 excited and loud high school kids – from the greater New Orleans area – at East Jefferson High School in Metairie Friday night. The rally was co-hosted by Church of the King, a church plant of 400 that currently meets at the high school, the New Orleans Baptist Association and Abandon Productions.
The students were entertained by Christian rap artist Trip Lee and treated to amazing feats of strength by Andy Gavin of the Strength Team, a Christian ministry of athletes. Gavin included his testimony and the gospel in his demonstrations. His feats included breaking a baseball bat over his thigh, tearing a thick phone book and deck of cards in half, and bending rods of steel, horse shoes and frying pans.
“We just want kids to give their hearts to Jesus,” said Dean Ross, executive director of Abandon Productions and pastor of Lakeside Church in Metairie. “The theme, ‘Awaken The City,’ is literally what we want to do in New Orleans. Events like this are great, but movements are better. We want to change the fabric of this city forever.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board. With reporting by Tobin Perry and Carol Pipes.)