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Even follow-up visits yield decisions in Crossover Metro Atlanta outreach
--By James Dotson
     ATLANTA, June 17--Jack Smith spent most of his time during Crossover Metro Atlanta coordinating initial follow-up efforts -- a considerable task with 2,849 individuals professing faith in Jesus Christ as of June 18. But on June 14 he realized he was short on volunteers, so he and fellow witness Ed Pope went to make some visits personally. One woman wasn't home, so they asked her adult daughter if she had noticed anything different in her mother. She had. "Would you be interested in having the same thing happen to you?" Smith asked her. He and Pope wound up sharing the gospel separately with the woman, and she also accepted Christ.
In home after home, the scenario was repeated, said Smith, a soul-winning evangelism associate for the North American Mission Board. A total of 27 individuals accepted Christ on initial follow-up visits after seeing the changes in their friends and family members. It served as just one more glimpse of the contagious nature of Christianity, already amply demonstrated throughout the evangelistic blitz that since 1989 has been a regular companion to Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings.
     In addition to the traditional door-to-door surveying teams, street evangelism and block parties associated with local churches, this year's Crossover also included two major events in the massive downtown Centennial Olympic Park: 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. All of the Crossover activities were part of the five-month evangelism, ministry and church-starting effort known as Arms Around Atlanta -- sponsored by the North American Mission Board, the Georgia Baptist Convention and 10 metro Baptist associations.
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 of Jesus Christ. 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 there to create opportunities to proclaim the most important message in the world. Among volunteers in the park were individuals 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 or getting in a car or on a MARTA train or any other type of transportation to pray over the city of Atlanta. Also 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 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." The Frontliners later worked with Rehoboth Baptist Church and Peachtree Corners Baptist Church in Atlanta's northeastern suburbs -- sharing their faith door-to-door. At a praise, worship and testimony time after Monday's effort at Rehoboth, Heather, a Frontliners participant from Arkansas, said her group was initially frustrated because they visited eight houses where people were reluctant to accept Christ. Finally, after standing in one yard and praying, she and her two partners, Andy and Jennifer, led a 14-year old girl to Christ. "It was so awesome," she said.
     Brad, a student from Rehoboth, said this was the first time he had ever before spent a day witnessing to people. His group was walking through a neighborhood and saw a young man mowing the lawn. The group stopped and asked if he'd like to know Jesus, and the man simply replied, "Yes, yes I would."
     "After we prayed the prayer with him, he said he felt like someone was going to share with him today," said Brad. He didn't live there, he added, he just happened to be cutting that lawn that day.
     The June 12 Gettin' Free concert in the park 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 teen-aged 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. 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 had reported more than 2,000 professions of faith by June 18.
     The ICE ministry actually has its roots in the previous Crossover Atlanta in 1995, when Art 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 of Barton, Miss., led two young men to Christ within a few minutes. Shortly thereafter Mark Pallotto, an ICE volunteer from San Antonio, knelt with his bare knees on a concrete porch, telling a group of boys of 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 said 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." 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.
The vast majority 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. "They had heard about Christ," NAMB's David Lee recounted, "but never been invited to church. ... 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 ask 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," he said. In suburban Duluth, James Weatherly, pastor of River's Edge Baptist Church, 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 Baptist Church in Duluth, 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 that 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 take opportunities to 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. 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.
     Another facet of Crossover was a special Collegiate Crossover program that allowed 130 college students to rotate among various Crossover events, including initial follow-up visits. They shared their faith on the city's public transportation system and conducted sports clinics throughout the metro area. Rollin Delap, coordinator of the program and a collegiate evangelism associate for the North American Mission Board, said the idea is not only to win souls but to create soul-winners. "We're not here to do Crossover and that's all," Delap said. "We're trying to build the students' lives so that they will be faithful witnesses the rest of their lives." Christine Saladino, a New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary student from Melbourne, Fla., said her experience has "made me have more of heart for New Orleans, the city, and wanting to go back and do more." Smith, who as follow-up coordinator worked out of a base at the Atlanta Baptist Associations offices, said the task now falls on local churches to contact the remaining individuals who have accepted Christ and begin assimilating them into local churches.
A comprehensive follow-up plan includes:
-- a brief "Let the Celebration Begin" presentation on the basics of Christian living during the first 10 minutes after a profession of faith;
-- a second visit within a few days -- many made by the college students and other Crossover volunteers -- during which converts receive a short "Let the Celebration Continue" study guide;
-- and then a third visit by church members where they receive a "Beginning Steps" Bible study booklet and a copy of the "Jesus" video.
Because of the volume of new Christians, churches will have to combine the second and third stages for hundreds of individuals, Smith said. Efforts are also under way to start several new churches to help handle the influx. Many churches also will need assistance with basic follow-up efforts.
     "In many cases we are giving 200 or 300 new believers to a church that is not even running 200," Smith said, adding that even if churches were able to do follow-up with all of them "there is no way they could get them into their building."
"It's like a church spiritually having a nursery with 200 babies in it, and there's less than 200 other people," he said.

Ferrell Foster, Doy Cave, Matt Sanders, Joni Hannigan & Tim Palmer contributed to this article.

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