|Crossover Northeast Florida touches lives with gospel
By Margaret Colson
November 14, 2013
JACKSONVILLE—With the morning sun just peeking over the horizon, motorcycles roared their greeting to the new day; individuals grabbed brooms, dustpans and cleaning supplies, and carnival games began to take shape.
The early morning activities across the First Coast, although diverse, all pointed to a common purpose—taking the gospel to the greater Jacksonville area, where an estimated 50 percent of residents are unchurched.
Florida Baptists joined efforts to reach these individuals during Crossover Northeast Florida, an evangelistic effort preceding the 2013 Florida Baptist State Convention annual meeting.
This year’s multicultural evangelistic outreach took place in 17 venues and ranged from fall festivals to car/motorcycle shows to strength team exhibitions.
Approximately 6,700 people came to the events where the Gospel was presented more than 100 times, resulting in 179 professions of faith “so far,” according to Jeff Hessinger, lead strategist for the personal evangelism team for the Florida Baptist Convention.
This year’s event “truly embraced the evangelism initiative of loving your neighbor and sharing Christ,” said Hessinger. “Every outreach site was customized to the needs of the people in the community that the church exists to reach.”
Such customization is a key component of Crossover, first begun in Florida in 1991, as a joint effort between the churches, local association and state convention. Planning for the event begins as much as a year in advance as churches begin with a “blank page” and then strategize how they want to reach out to their communities, said Hessinger. The association and state convention then determine how they can best resource those outreach initiatives.
For many churches involved in Crossover Northeast Florida, the experience becomes a training ground and model for continued evangelistic outreach into the communities served by each church, according to Hessinger.
Hibernia Baptist Church, Fleming Island
Red, royal blue, brilliant yellow—the array of bold colors gleamed in the bright morning sunlight, giving hint to the careful buffing and polishing that proud owners had bestowed on their classic cars.
The cars, along with an impressive collection of motorcycles, rolled proudly into the parking lot of Hibernia Baptist Church for the Saturday car/motorcycle show.
The show provided an opportunity to “invite people to the church campus where they can hear about Jesus Christ,” according to layperson Mike Stewart, who helped plan and organize the day’s outreach activities.
In addition to the estimated 50 cars and 30 motorcycles, close to 40 vendors, serving food and selling arts and crafts, helped round out the event.
For five years, the church has hosted a car/motorcycle show, complete with trophies awarded in numerous categories, said Stewart, who serves as state coordinator for Florida Baptists’ Faith Riders motorcycle ministry.
Yet, beyond the shiny trophies, “what participants really win is hearing the truth,” said Bryan McNair, director of evangelism for the Fleming Island church.
“Sharing the gospel is what it’s all about,” he said, as he explained that numerous church members were trained and ready to greet participants and engage them in spiritual conversations.
Trained church members were stationed in a “testimony tent,” where they invited participants to register for a free television and, with permission, hear the gospel.
Through such an evangelistic event, church members “stretch and become bolder in sharing Christ,” he said.
Director of missions Asa Greear, who traveled from St. John’s River Baptist Association, was determined not to miss out on the Crossover evangelistic opportunity.
“I was 17-years-old when I first heard about Jesus Christ,” he said.
“I have a heart for sharing the gospel. It’s part of who I am.”
By day’s end, the gospel had been shared more than 100 times, and at least 7 people went home with something more eternal than a shiny trophy; they went home with a new relationship with Christ.
Shindler Drive Baptist Church, Jacksonville
Armed with a broom, dustpan and bucket of cleaning supplies, the foursome walked resolutely along the uneven sidewalk of a four-lane highway, cars whizzing by, and looked for their next opportunity to clean a bathroom or wash windows, all in the name of loving their community.
For months, church members from Jacksonville’s Shindler Drive Baptist Church, inspired by the vision of their minister of discipleship and missions David Garrett, had volunteered regularly to pick up trash along a two-mile stretch of road near their church.
On the bright November morning of Crossover Northeast Florida, church members, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with two words, “Love Community,” took their efforts to the next level, stepping out to serve their neighbors by cleaning their bathrooms and windows.
Entering an auto parts store, Shindler Drive pastor John Green offered his team’s cleaning services to surprised employees. While one employee protested letting the eager volunteers “take on” the store bathroom, another exclaimed, “Y’all are on point!”
Soon, the four, including Pastor Green, were on their hands and knees, joyfully scrubbing two bathrooms.
“I ask my people to do a lot of things,” the young pastor,” but I won’t ask them to do anything I’m not willing to do myself,” looking up from his “porcelain throne” long enough to explain that such unexpected acts of service often open the door to spiritual conversations.
During Crossover Northeast Florida, the church, buoyed by a partnership with Westwood Baptist Church in Live Oak and 103rd Street Baptist Church in Jacksonville, sent out four cleaning teams, put three trash pick-up teams to work and set up three stations near local restaurants offering free food to passers-by.
According to Garrett, such a partnership de-emphasizes the local church and instead places greater emphasis on exalting Jesus.
Fifteen students from Westwood Baptist Church learned firsthand, “It’s not enough to preach the gospel, believers are called to ‘do’ the gospel,” said their minister to students Jonathan Rodriguez. This event, he said, was a simple way for his students to learn to share Jesus.
“I love this!” explained Shindler Drive member D.J. Scott, one of about 80 volunteers, her blond hair blowing in the wind as she met people wandering to her tent in the parking lot of a local Mexican restaurant where free food was provided.
“If only we could spread the love of God in the community all the time, America could change!”
Gardenview Baptist Church, Jacksonville
With fearless tenacity, red-headed Sue Reddington locked eyes with the young African American teenager, her hands squarely on his shoulders.
A church member at Old Plank Road Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Reddington slowly, methodically presented the plan of salvation. Within minutes, the young man indicated he wanted to make a profession of faith in Jesus.
She, along with a male volunteer with Hellfighters motorcycle ministry, bowed in prayer with the young man on the grounds of Gardenview Baptist Church, the site of a Crossover Northeast Florida evangelistic outreach event.
“God answers prayer!” said a thrilled Reddington, who explained that as she readied herself for the day’s activities, she prayed that God would send someone directly to her who would “accept Jesus so others could see God’s glory.”
As day turned into early evening, laughter and friendly conversations echoed across the parking lot and grounds of Gardenview Baptist Church, energizing even weary volunteers as the sun was setting.
A climbing wall, dunking booth, children’s train, cake walk, numerous carnival games for youngsters, face-painting, giant inflatables and a strength team demonstration—along with hamburgers, hot dogs, nachos, cotton candy, popcorn and drinks—kept the festivities going strong for four hours on Saturday afternoon.
Gardenview Church struggled for several years until Rodney Keith accepted the call to pastor the church. With his no-apology evangelistic emphasis, the church has grown exponentially, growing from an average attendance of 60 just three years ago to approximately 600 today. Every time he preaches, Keith presents the gospel message, using the EvangeCube that is never far from his reach.
Church member Lisa Thacker, volunteering at one of the carnival games, explained that as troubles seemed to besiege the church, “The core group stayed. We kept loving the Lord … and see what happened. The pastor’s heart is evangelism.”
The Crossover Northeast Florida seemed tailor-made for the evangelist pastor, as he made his way through the crowd of 1,000, meeting people, praying with them and responding to opportunities to share the gospel message.
As day turned into evening, 20 people had made life-changing professions of faith.
Park City Baptist Church, Jacksonville
The hard times seem relentless in the impoverished area where Park City Baptist Church ministers. From immigration issues to language barriers to financial woes, community residents, primarily Hispanic and African American, welcome any relief from the day-in, day-out challenges of life.
To help combat the pervasive sense of hopelessness and bring even a sliver of hope to their community, pastors Wayne Rowbottom and Bill Horne have joined forces through their one church in two locations, Park City 1 and Park City 2 as the duo refers to the two church sites.
Their strategy for Crossover Northeast Florida was custom-fit to the community. Early in the day, immigration attorneys met with community residents concerned about their legal status in the country. A health fair offered helpful information to those with questions.
Children, leaving the adults to deal with life’s harsh realities, jumped, with seemingly no cares in the world, in a colorful inflatable brought in for the day.
During the day’s festivities, a strength team took center stage, tearing a telephone book in half, bending and breaking a license plate, twisting a steel rod into the shape of a fish. Through such feats of strength, the strength team sought to encourage participants that, even through human weakness and challenges, God’s strength is sufficient.
On Sunday, the same team visited the church’s original campus for worship.
The outreach will continue, even after the two-day special event. In December a mobile dental clinic is slated to visit one of the church locations.
“We do these things to show people we care and God loves them,” said Horne.
The message of God’s love was heard. With an attendance of 776, professions of faith numbered 58.
First Haitian American Baptist Church, Jacksonville
Located on the west side of Jacksonville north of I-10, First Haitian American Baptist Church took to the road for its Crossover Northeast Florida outreach event.
Although primarily Haitian in its makeup, the 10-year old church draws from throughout greater Jacksonville to reach its fellow Haitians with the gospel. For First Haitian American Baptist Church, led by pastor Jean Emile, culture has usurped location in its outreach efforts.
Due to space limitations at its church site, conducting the outreach event in a locale with plenty of parking and even more room for the day’s activities made perfect sense.
The outreach event, held in Arlington, started with a lively worship service and also included a strength team demonstration, an inflatable for the children, music and, true to Southern Baptist tradition, plenty of food.
With smiles and hugs throughout the day from the approximately 250 participants, pastor Emile expressed gratitude for the support from Florida Baptists to hold the event designed to “go to the people outside of the church.”
But, the pastor who also serves as a counselor for Duval County schools, emphasized, “It’s more than fun or food. Through this day, we were able to witness.” At least 3 people made professions of faith.
An integral part of Crossover Northeast Florida, members of the strength team visited several schools as well as Florida Baptist churches, amazing onlookers with feats such as ripping telephone books and decks of cards and blowing up a hot water bottle until it burst.
As each feat was completed in the schools, the men shared life truths, such as dreaming, anti-bullying, setting goals, persevering and overcoming tough circumstances, often distributing cards with local church information, according to strength team member Andy Gavin.
However, at Baker County High School in Macclenny, the school had recently endured the aftermath of a very serious car accident involving a beloved teacher. There, strength team members were invited to share the gospel message, as students chose whether to opt out of the assembly if they desired. In the school of approximately 1,200 students, only about 20 chose not to attend the strength team assembly.
As the strength team finished its presentation, approximately 30 hands went into the air, indicating spiritual decisions. The following Sunday three of those teens showed up at First Baptist Church, Glen St. Mary, sharing their decisions and inquiring about baptism.
Time after time, the message of the strength team resonates with audiences, leading many to make professions of faith.