The iconic Gateway Arch represents the pathway to the west for most travelers and locals.
For Tom Breeden, St. Louis Metro Baptist Association’s (SLMBA) executive director, it’s also the gateway to a mission field in need of hope. That’s why he welcomes the estimated 3,500 Southern Baptist volunteers who will converge on the metropolitan area June 11 for Crossover St. Louis.
File photo by Matt Miller
Taylor Warren, 4, part of a mission team from Eagle Lake, Fla., washes cars at a free car wash at Bloom Baptist Church in Lithopolis, Ohio. The event was part of a series of evangelistic outreaches called Crossover 2015 in Columbus, Ohio.
The scores of travelers who constantly cruise the I-70 corridor through Missouri’s largest city likely never see what Breeden sees. From the Arch to Lambert International Airport, they will pass neighborhoods unreached with the gospel – much like major cities in foreign lands.
“We have 12 unreached areas of St. Louis that don’t have a Southern Baptist church within a three-to-five-mile radius,” Breeden said. “Visitors driving on the I-70 corridor will pass some of the darkest and most dangerous areas of our city.”
During Crossover, volunteer teams will visit five of those areas to plant and water the gospel. Some of those volunteers may become part of the 25 church planters and church planting partners that SLMBA hopes to recruit long-term via the evangelism outreach, Breeden said.
One Southern Baptist church exists for every 7,872 St. Louis residents. St. Louis is a North American Mission Board (NAMB) Send City.
Mission projects along the I-70 corridor are among an estimated 75 initiatives in SLMBA seeking volunteers for music concerts, block parties, city beautification and projects designed to enhance SLMBA’s growing partnership with local school districts. Most of these projects will happen around existing SLMBA churches, with each having received a grant from NAMB and the association.
“From the beginning, we have asked our churches to dream and do more than they could ask or think from God on their own,” said Tom Firasek, SLMBA’s ministry and partnership coordinator. “We have churches getting on board that have done very little ministry outside their church walls.
“Our churches have received a new passion to reach their neighborhoods for Christ,” said Firasek, who is also serving as the local Crossover coordinator.
File photo by John Swain/NAMB
With the events of Ferguson, Mo., then still fresh on their minds, St. Louis Metro Baptist Association Director of Missions Jim Breeden (far left) and Tom Firasek, a member of St. Louis’ Maplewood Baptist Church, looked over Crossover planning at the Columbus Metro Baptist Association office on the Saturday morning of Crossover Columbus in 2015.
“Our vision is to enhance and enlarge what is already in place,” Breeden said. “We focus (daily) on starting, strengthening and sending churches on mission. That’s the focus of Crossover this year.”
Four more area associations in the 2.73 million St. Louis metro area are also planning Crossover events: Jefferson, Franklin and Two Rivers associations in Missouri, plus Metro East in Illinois.
Joel Southerland is NAMB’s executive director for evangelism and their point person for Crossover. He welcomes the group of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) seminaries that sponsors a weeklong practicum for an estimated 150 students from each of Southern Baptists’ six seminaries. The students will spend half a day in class and the rest of the day engaged in evangelism, both door-to-door and event evangelism, to support local churches.
“Many churches are doing evangelism projects for the first time in that pastor’s tenure,” Southerland said. “So we’re hoping the training that goes into big evangelism projects trains the church pastor for future evangelism endeavors.”
“We want Crossover to have a lasting impact on the church plants and the churches long after we’re gone,” Southerland said.
Send Relief compassion projects bring a new complementary dimension to Crossover this year by inaugurating NAMB’s new mobile medical and dental clinics. They will serve in the Ferguson area, which gained worldwide attention following riots fueled by racial tensions in 2014. Southern Baptists have recently replanted a church there.
Other Send Relief compassion projects will include hunger and poverty relief with local churches and a construction project called Home Fire Campaign, which will check and install fire alarms, according to David Melber, NAMB’s Send Relief vice president.
Firasek described details of some of the Crossover ministries/projects:
On the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, The Calling Church will carry out a major community cleanup project. This project will take place with the cooperation and support of the local government in Granite City, Ill. There will be people assigned in groups whose specific responsibility will be to share the Gospel with the people they meet.
In South St. Louis City, the Church at Bevo will host a block party in one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the city. One of their outside partners will include people from a Burmese-speaking church who have a passion for seeing a Burmese congregation started here.
Michael Byrd, pastor of Faith Community Bible Church in Baden, will host a block party in North St. Louis City. This area has not had a Baptist witness for many years and has one of the higher crime areas of our city.
Churches traveling to St. Louis can download a distance partner form at crossoverstlouis.com, or contact Firasek at (214) 225-1948 or [email protected].
Southern Baptists began Crossover evangelism events before the annual pastors’ conference and SBC’s meeting in 1989 in Las Vegas. A few years later, leaders branded the initiative as Crossover.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jim Burton is a writer and photojournalist based in Atlanta who writes for the North American Mission Board.)