Crossing into St. Louis
June 14 2002 by David Winfrey & Michael Leathers , Baptist Editors Network

Crossing into St. Louis | Friday, June 14, 2002

Friday, June 14, 2002

Crossing into St. Louis

By David Winfrey & Michael Leathers Baptist Editors Network

ST. LOUIS - LeAndrea Bell and Leah Hoffman were about to finish their morning assignment of door-to-door surveys when they knocked on a screen door and were greeted by the harsh barking of a large dog standing guard on the other side.

No one was coming to the door, so the two teenagers from Paducah, Ky., wrote "Big Dog" on their survey sheet, wedged some information about a local church into the door and decided to move on.

It was just one more adventure in their morning as they gathered information for Ballwin Baptist Church and talked about the Christian faith to people willing to answer their interview questions. The two already had interviewed an agnostic and bought brownies from a boy at a yard sale, among other things.

Bell and Hoffman were among the hundreds of volunteers from St. Louis and around the country who participated in Crossover St. Louis, a concentrated effort to share Christ's love with St. Louis residents before the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting. North American Mission Board (NAMB) President Bob Reccord told Convention attendees that more than 1,800 people had made decisions of faith through the concerted efforts of the volunteers.

Crossover dates back to 1989, when officials seeking to stem criticism for holding the annual meeting in Las Vegas added evangelistic work to the pre-convention program.

More than 60 churches in the metropolitan area took part in Crossover St. Louis. Most either coordinated door-to-door survey work or hosted neighborhood parties. Other activities included prayerwalks and visits to employees of East St. Louis strip clubs. Scores of out-of-state volunteers came to the convention early to help.

For the surveys, NAMB prepared maps and address lists for the pairs of volunteers willing to knock on doors. The surveys asked residents what local churches can do to make a difference as well as the residents' views on matters of faith. At the end, the pollsters asked the residents if the survey team could explain their Christian faith and how the homeowners could be sure they are going to heaven.

Coby Boyd, pastor of Bogey Hills Baptist Church, was grateful to have volunteers from Florida, Illinois, Maryland and Kentucky to knock on doors. "It's not the most comfortable thing in the world, but it's quite a huge blessing, and I'm honored to have them."

Bob Curtis, pastor of Ballwin Baptist Church, called the survey information an "invaluable tool for the long haul." Responses will provide a reservoir of information about area residents' beliefs as well as locate prospects for later visits, he said.

Church block parties combined games, face painting and music with food and refreshments to attract residents and introduce people to the churches.

Pastor Jeff Edington said the performance by his church's "Hands for Christ" team was a longtime dream. The team from Lebanon Baptist Church in Bagdad, Ky., weaves interpretive movement and American Sign Language in their performances with contemporary Christian music.

The 13 teenagers and 15 adults who traveled to St. Louis from Kentucky raised $1,900 to make the trip, added his wife, Debbie, who co-directs the team with her husband. "God has supplied double what we need. It has been amazing."

Across the Mississippi River, Baptists in Illinois held block parties and prayerwalks while other volunteers ventured into the region's topless nightclubs in a ministry reaching out to the dancers and waitresses who work there.

About three dozen women took gift bags for dancers and waitresses into seven of the strip clubs that dot southwestern Illinois. Three other clubs did not let the volunteers enter, but two of those agreed to distribute the gifts to their female employees. The bags contained New Testaments and gospel tracts as well as scented candles, toiletries, gum and jewelry. In addition to their club visits, the women also delivered bags and chilled bottled water, with a gospel message on their labels, to lower-income areas.

Westview Baptist Church in Belleville organized prayerwalks Friday and Saturday in neighborhoods near the church. Strolling by houses, teams prayed for residents inside and hung cards from their front doors to tell about the church. "May all within this house enjoy good health and peace," the cards read.

Several Hispanic church members from northern Illinois drove south to help Hispanic congregations and ministries in and around Granite City. At Garduno's, a neighborhood Mexican grocery store and restaurant, children played games at a small block party - or fiesta de cuadra - on the parking lot.

Shortly after noon, about a dozen people working the block party at Gardu�o's climbed into their cars and formed a motorcade to El Jalapenos, a Mexican restaurant a few miles away. There they distributed gift bags to the employees, many with relatives still in Mexico. Each bag contained a Bible, gospel tract and a copy of the "Jesus" video, all in Spanish, as well as phone cards.

"Phone cards are very important when your family's in Mexico," said Bob Burton, an Illinois Baptist State Association employee who helps start churches in the region. The gift bags, he said, were a way to thank the owner, who in April allowed them to hold a Bible study with restaurant workers every Sunday after closing. Since the study began, more than 20 employees and their family members have made professions of faith in Christ.

Not too far away, at the intersection of Illinois Route 111 and Interstate 55, another Hispanic congregation, Iglesia Agape, held a block party on a parking lot. Awnings provided shade from the hot sun. Games were set up in the parking lot, but several children passed on those as they tried to get their kites aloft. Volunteers served snow cones, cotton candy and cold beverages as a band played songs under the largest awning.

And at Jesus Place, a mission in downtown Granite City, a hundred or so people attended a block party nestled between two aging buildings. With a flatbed truck for its stage, a four-man band belted out songs ranging from Johnny Cash tunes to "Amazing Grace."

Children were drawn to the balloon-animal creations of Itsy Bitsy and Twilly, two colorful clowns who also go by the names of Jim and Margaret Williams. A line of kids also took turns grabbing a broomstick to knock the sweet contents out of an extraterrestrial pi�ata, playfully dangling from a fire escape.

Curtis, the pastor at First Baptist of Ballwin, said there's no way to measure what Crossover will mean to St. Louis. "You don't know what kind of long-term impact this is going to have on a metropolitan area."

Chad Davidson, minister of music for Bellview Baptist Church in Paducah, Ky., said the event also taught out-of-state volunteers how to share their faith when they get back home. "It's teaching them to love people," he said. "It's teaching them that they need to be a bold witness to their neighbors and their community."

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6/14/2002 12:00:00 AM by David Winfrey & Michael Leathers , Baptist Editors Network | with 0 comments
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