“Do you know why we are here, sweetheart?” Paulette Foster asked a young girl receiving a Parsons Fest registration bracelet at Indian Mound Rec Center in south Columbus.
“Are you here to tell people about Jesus?” she asked.
“That’s right! And what did Jesus do?” Foster asked.
“He died for our sins?”
“That’s right, He died for our sins on the cross. We are here to show people His love. You know Jesus loves you, don’t you?” Foster said.
Similar conversations took place at 47 venues around the greater Columbus area June 13 as thousands of volunteers – local Baptists and others from across the U.S. and Canada – took part in the culmination of a year-long effort to reach the city with the gospel and connect local ministry and outreach to long-term church strategy.
Photo by Bob Carey
Amber Spallino, left, a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, helps Makya, 4, middle, and Jasmin, 5, from the Linden community in Columbus, Ohio, plant vegetables June 13. Volunteers from across the country helped plant a community garden in a vacant lot as an evangelistic outreach for Crossover 2015.
Weeklong activities with college and seminary students and Monday events increased the number of opportunities for gospel conversations. Initial reports for Crossover showed at least 2,500 gospel presentations and 250-plus professions of faith. A more complete report will be presented to the Southern Baptist Convention on June 16.
Foster, a volunteer from Infinity Church in Laurel, Md., was joined by 11-year-old Arianna Pankey, who received face-painting training in serving with other members of her church along with two other Baltimore-area churches, two churches from Ohio and Woman’s Missionary Union volunteers from West Virginia.
They were all assisting Parsons Baptist Church for the day. Pastor Charles Blake was excited to see the next step in the church’s renewed commitment to connect with the changing community around them.
“Our church has hosted outreaches at the park before, but nothing this big,” Blake said. “It was a stretch for us, but God provided. One of our members came this morning and asked if we had enough water. He pulled up later with a truckload of bottled water.
“For the past five weeks we have been at the park giving away hotdogs and snow cones to invite people to Crossover. We will be here the rest of the summer doing the same thing, inviting them to church.”
Parsons Baptist’s goal is to see people come to faith, join the church and hopefully plant a church from a core group of members and new people who connect with them. Throughout the day as Foster and other volunteers recorded contact information at registration, others took the cards across the street to the church where the information was entered into a database for a welcome card mailing this week.
Those intentional community connections are what Metro Columbus Baptist Association director of missions Rich Halcombe has been praying about for more than a year. He and Crossover coordinator Cindy Irizarry had emphasized local church leadership with strong follow-up and that’s what happened throughout metro Columbus.
“What an incredible church and community impact for the gospel,” Halcombe said of the day’s events. “The large percentage of our churches involved in outreach and the huge connection to the community will have a tremendous impact on the long-term strategy. It all exceeded my expectation. There were more volunteers, there was more engagement – more joy and excitement. And it was fun!”
At an early morning prayer session, Irizarry voiced encouragement to volunteers. Irizarry, who coordinated logistics for Crossover Baltimore, moved to Columbus to assist with this year’s efforts.
Photo by Paul W. Lee
Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, left, and Ken Weathersby, right, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee vice president for convention advancement, pray with a local resident at an outreach event June 13 at North Linden Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio. The event was part of Crossover 2015, a series of evangelistic events held prior to the two-day Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 16-17 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
“Cindy is great,” said Heather Hitchcock of the local Transformation Church, sitting under a sprawling Sycamore tree on the square in the village of Carroll, just south of metro Columbus. She is the wife of church planter Greg Hitchcock who was working with volunteers from Kentucky and Ohio on three projects to connect with community residents.
Transformation is one of the youngest churches ever to participate in Crossover, completing articles of incorporation in April. They contacted Irizarry after the deadline for Crossover volunteers but she found a way to connect them. The Hitchcocks contacted village Mayor Tammy Drobina and Bloom-Carroll school superintendent Lynn Landis, who both welcomed the help.
“Once God broke our hearts for Carroll, we knew what to do,” Hitchcock said of the church plant’s desire to connect with neighbors. “We are only meeting as a Bible study in our home. We don’t even have a place to meet for worship yet, but we knew we wanted to serve. We have seen how God can transform lives.”
One of the projects the mayor requested was a new roof and major yard cleanup at the house where Randy Barnes lives.
“It took me two years to replace the front part of the roof,” Barnes said. “We prayed for someone to help us and the mayor showed up one day. Then Greg and Heather came over. It was an answer to prayer.”
Nineteen-year-old Jesse Currens, one of 16 volunteers from First Baptist Church in Lawrenceburg, Ky., already is a seasoned missions veteran with two trips to support IMB missionaries in Malaysia already completed and third on the calendar. He was part of Barnes’ answered prayer, helping on the project.
“I love showing people the love of Christ through service and sharing the gospel with them,” said Currens, who spent the last two summers ministering in Indianapolis. “This is a great feeling.”
A ‘bridge to the community’
In the diverse Northside area of Columbus, CrossRoads Baptist Church planned their annual community yard sale in conjunction with Crossover. Aided by a 29-member team who made an 11-hour drive from the Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana de Metro Atlanta, CrossRoads added a post-yard sale block party to their outreach.
“The Lord’s bringing the world to our doors, and that’s very true of our community right here,” CrossRoads senior pastor Paul Gabriel said. The church has seen excellent response from past yard sales, he said.
“Our goal is to not only provide a bridge to the community, but we want people to get used to being on our property. It’s an opportunity for us to tell them about our church, invite them to our church, and distribute literature – including the gospel.”
The church plans to reach out to each of the participating shoppers and vendors through information gathered during door prize drawings and vendor registration.
“Families become involved in our church every year through this event, and we’ve seen a lot of people saved and join the church,” Gabriel said.
Ministry through medicine
In Columbus’ picturesque Dublin suburb, Dublin Baptist Church hosted a free dental and medical screening clinic and health seminars, enlisting the numerous doctors and other medical professionals in the congregation, noted founding members and event volunteers Debbie and Jim Dobbs. A team of 14 from Oakland Baptist Church in Corinth, Miss., joined in the outreach.
“We targeted apartment complexes in the area,” Debbie said, adding, “We didn’t know what to expect.” The diverse turnout of people reflecting the surrounding populations of Tamil Indians, Hispanics and Japanese evidenced the success of the strategy.
In the dental screening room, Danny Stowe reflected on the way God led him to a passion for ministry through medicine. The son of a church planting missionary, he said the desire to serve was “implanted in my heart many, many years ago. I didn’t know that would happen as a dentist.”
Not long after his father’s passing in 1981, Stowe began taking short-term volunteer assignments with the then-Foreign Mission Board, now the International Mission Board, providing dental care in a dozen countries around the world. He quickly realized the significant need in his hometown as well, and he now spends much of his time seeing pro bono patients at the Stowe Mission of Central Ohio – a mission named after his father.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Conway and K. Faith Morgan write for the North American Mission Board. Meredith Yackel contributed to this article.)