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1,900-plus decisions recorded during first week of Crossover
--By James Dotson, 9:30 p.m. June 13, with reporting by Ferrell Foster, Doy Cave, Joni Hannigan & Tim Palmer
ATLANTA, June 12--More than 1,900 professions of faith were reported as of late June 13 resulting from Crossover Metro Atlanta, the Southern Baptist Convention's annual effort to impact its convention host city with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
     "We're excited as we can be about anybody that comes to know Christ, so it's a real joy to see hundreds and hundreds of these cards coming in," Jack Smith, an associate in soul-winning evangelism for the North American Mission Board and follow-up coordinator for Crossover, said.
     This year's roster of Crossover events reflected the growing variety of evangelistic activities. In addition to the traditional door-to-door surveying teams and block parties associated with local churches, there were also two major events in the massive downtown Centennial Olympic Park. They were Family Fest '99 for the kids and Gettin' Free, an evangelistic Christian concert for youth and other fans of popular bands Small Town Poets and Third Day.
     Other activities under way during the first week of Crossover included: prayer teams mobilized to pray over the city and Crossover venues, inner-city evangelism teams working in some of the city's most depressed areas and various street evangelism teams sharing their faith through entertainment in the park and elsewhere downtown.
     All of the Crossover activities were part of the five-month evangelism, ministry and church-starting effort known as Arms Around Atlanta. The Southern Baptist North American Mission Board and the Georgia Baptist Convention each contributed about $500,000 toward the project, which includes funding and other assistance for 24 new churches, special events, a mobile medical clinic, a Habitat for Humanity project and other efforts.
     Crossover is a joint effort of the North American Mission Board, Georgia Baptist Convention, nine metro Atlanta Baptist associations and approximately 1,500 to 2,000 volunteers from churches across the country.
     The Family Fest event -- a centerpiece of both Crossover and Arms Around Atlanta -- included food, games, entertainment and plenty of opportunities to respond to the gospel. Popular children's characters Psalty and Friends were among the featured entertainers.
"This is the biggest block party in Southern Baptist history," said John Yarbrough, North American Mission Board vice president for evangelism. A crowd of about 20,000 was estimated for the combined Family Fest and Gettin' Free events.
     Hundreds of young children bounced on, slid down and crawled through an impressive array of large, inflatable devices -- all aimed at creating opportunities to proclaim the most important message in the world.
     "We're in a world that does things right," Yarbrough pointed out. "We've got the truth. Doing things right to proclaim the truth ought to go hand in hand."
     During Family Fest, hundreds of high-school-age "Frontliners" circulated through and around the park, sharing their faith and handing out free tickets for the evening concert.
Lindsey Gaddis, one of a group of 56 Frontliners from Longview, Texas, said she and her friends witnessed to one man and one woman who then prayed to receive Christ as her Lord and Savior.
     "There are no words to describe how awesome it is," Gaddis exclaimed. "We drove 12 hours and we knew God was gonna do something."
     Beginning June 14, the Frontliners are scheduled to be working with Rehoboth Baptist Church and Peachtree Corners Baptist Church in Atlanta's northeastern suburbs, sharing their faith door-to-door.
     Also circulating throughout the park were other volunteers participating in "Prayer Journeys." At the prayer tent in the park, participants could come by as they desired, pick up both prayer journey and witnessing materials, and go on their journey, stopping at stations in the park, getting in a car or on the MARTA train or any other type of transportation to pray over the city of Atlanta.
     The "Gettin' Free" concert was marked by a special emphasis on the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo., and the vast spiritual needs it illustrates among America's youth.
     Fourteen-year-old Mike Scott, brother of Littleton victim Rachel Joy Scott, stood with 12 other teens holding large wooden crosses on the concert stage as thousands of teens slipped to their knees -- some lying prostrate on the ground -- to pray for their souls, the souls of their leaders and their country.
     There was a marked silence as the crosses were presented and the mostly teenaged crowd paid close attention to Jerry Drace, president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists, from Humboldt, Tenn.
     "Your generation will not forget Columbine," Drace predicted, calling those who died the only teenaged Christian martyrs in America. "What happened was not only a tragedy, but also a triumph. Children never die in vain."
     Darrell Scott, Rachel's father, said he has lost 15 pounds in the weeks since Rachel's death, but credits God with taking care of his family and providing peace and grace.
     "I will never again take my children for granted," Scott said. "Communicate with [your children]. Love them and spend time with them. You never know when you are going to lose a loved one. 'Love one another' -- that's what the Lord said. Love -- it may be the last time."
Approximately 41 youth responded with professions of faith in Christ. The Frontliners prayed and counseled with concert-goers who responded to a call from the band, Third Day, to walk to the front stage area to pray about a relationship with God.
     Brandon Camp, a 17-year-old student from East Paulding High School in Atlanta and a member of New Canaan Baptist Church in Dallas, Ga., said he was "praising God to see people get saved."
     By far the largest number of professions of faith coming from the Crossover effort were from the Inner-City Evangelism team, a group of trained street evangelists sponsored by the North American Mission Board. With a five-day head start on most of the events, which were held June 12, the team reported more than 1,300 professions of faith during its first week.
     Because of delays in reconciling all of the decision cards and telephone reports not all of those decisions were included in the 1,400 decisions, according to Smith, although more accurate figures for the weekend were expected to be available by June 14.
     The ICE ministry actually has its roots in the previous Crossover Atlanta in 1995, when Stacer and two other street evangelists from San Antonio, Texas, introduced their methods to Southern Baptists. Their effective strategies for reaching individuals in the most depressed areas of cities were eventually incorporated into a larger ministry that now is the focus of training conferences across the country. More than 7,000 have been led to Christ through the ICE team since early 1997.
     During one afternoon visit to an Atlanta neighborhood, Dani Wilson, a 16-year-old from First Baptist Church, Barton, Miss., led two young men to Christ.
     Shortly thereafter Mark Pallotto, an ICE volunteer from San Antonio, Texas, knelt with his bare knees on a concrete porch, telling a group of boys about Christ and how he died for their sins. Eventually, they bowed to pray, and the boys repeated the words of repentance and acceptance of Christ stated by Pallotto.
     Pallotto talked with enthusiasm about the evangelistic effort. "It's gnarly. It's radical," said the 24-year-old house painter. Travis Johnson, another ICE member from San Antonio, called it "intense, full-blown, anointed, power-packed, in-your-face evangelism."
     Stacer, the 63-year-old ICE coordinator, speaks with less excitement, but with deep passion. "There is much tragedy in the homes," he said prior to the Thursday effort. "That's why we go out."
     The block parties, a standby of Crossover events for years, reflected the diversity of Atlanta, with events targeted for internationals and African Americans, urban teens and suburban boomers.
     One of the largest events this year was the "Multicultural Block Party" held in the parking lot of the Buford Highway Farmer's Market in Doraville, an area of town noted for its large international population. As people came to shop they were offered hot dogs and traditional Korean food, and trained witnesses spoke with them about their relationship with Christ.
     The 48-foot clinic of the Baptist Mobile Health Ministry, sponsored by the Georgia Baptist Convention, also was on-site offering free medical and dental services.
     Most of the 37 participating churches were affiliated with the Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches of Georgia, one of the primary sponsors of the event, along with NAMB and the Georgia Baptist Convention. Five churches were Hispanic, and one each were Vietnamese and Chinese.
     One Chinese couple stopped by the market on a day-trip to Atlanta from North Carolina, recounted NAMB's David Lee. "They had heard about Christ, but never been invited to church," he said. "They made a decision today. It's wonderful."
     Across town in southeast Atlanta's Wesley Coan Park, a trio of pre-teens waiting for a tennis court overhead Howard Ramsey of NAMB's Inner-City Evangelism Team sharing the gospel with another individual, and later came to him and asked him to tell them the same story. All three wound up praying to make Christ Lord of their life.
     Another woman, Mary Doss, met volunteer Joe Mosley of Dallas in the parking lot and listened intently as he explained Christ's "substitutionary" death on the cross -- in her place -- for her sins.
     "That was a different word," he said, noting how the gospel suddenly gained new meaning. "And God used that to really get a hold of her."
     In the northern suburbs, James Weatherly, pastor of River's Edge Baptist Church in Duluth, said their block party was effective in raising the profile of the congregation.
     "It has the potential to bring you right into the community," said James Weatherly, pastor of River's Edge, which meets in a day-care center. "You don't have to wait for them to come to you."
     Helping out with that party, as well as events at Euclid Avenue and Pointe South, was an experienced team from Whitesburg Baptist Church in Riverdale who shared the gospel through music, puppets and drama.
     The most popular Crossover events in terms of local-church participation were the door-to-door surveys. More than 25 churches sponsored organized efforts to survey residents on spiritual needs and beliefs and share their own faith in Christ.
     In Clarkston, the team of Tegga Lendado, and Jerry Atkins found the men's difference in color got people's attention in an area where people from varied races and ethnic groups live in the same neighborhoods. "It made them interested," said Lendado, pastor of Ethiopian Bible Church, a Southern Baptist congregation that is part of Clarkston Baptist Church.
     People's interest increased when Atkins, an independent Baptist pastor from East Bend, N.C., confessed to being a racist 30 years ago, Lendado said of his partner. The white man told people that "Jesus is the one who heals. ... He took that away from me."
     They listened to him very intently," the Ethiopian pastor said. "He said Christianity is not a white man's religion." And the pair related the biblical story of the Ethiopian eunuch coming to Christ.
     Ken Magness, of Panhandle Baptist Church in Hampton, Ga., reported that four people prayed to receive Christ as part of that young congregation's door-to-door witnessing. Nine people from Panhandle, which averages about 50 in Sunday school, visited 67 homes. The church had no volunteer help from other Southern Baptist churches, but Magness said the local members who led people to Christ are excited and want to continue surveying the neighborhood.
     Mike Hutcheson, of Brookhaven Baptist Church in Atlanta, said two people professed faith in Christ as 20 teams visited 374 homes. "Our folks were just really encouraged" that people were so receptive.
     Other activities planned during the second week of Crossover include continuing work by the ICE team and Frontliners, as well as continued efforts of 130 college students participating in a special Collegiate Crossover program. The students rotate among several activities, including follow-up of individuals who have made decisions in earlier events, sharing their faith on the city's public transportation system and conducting sports clinics at approximately 10 locations throughout the metro area.
    
Additionally, two back-to-back World Changers projects are scheduled to begin June 19. World Changers is a ministry of the North American Mission Board in which youth groups repair and rehabilitate dilapidated housing and find opportunities for personal witness with area residents. In some of the projects, including the first Atlanta effort, the day is divided between work projects and separate ministry efforts such as Vacation Bible Schools.
     Atlanta is one of 51 World Changers projects being conducted this summer throughout the United States and Puerto Rico involving more than 19,000 participants.

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