Criswell College hosts Crossover festival
Written by Michelle Covington, TEXAN Correspondent
Dallas, Texas, November 12, 2011 —
The squeals of children’s laughter and parents’ conversation mingled with upbeat melodies of Christian pop songs pumped through speakers scattered across the Criswell parking lot-turned festival ground at the college’s first annual block party Nov. 12.
The event served as one of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Crossover events designed to reach out to the community leading up to the convention’s annual meeting. Every year, Southern Baptist churches and organizations coordinate Crossover events like Criswell’s block party the weekend before the annual meeting in the city where it will be held. The purpose of Crossover is to reach out to the neighborhood and connect people with churches in their area.
“The goal is to make a difference in this community,” said Criswell graduate student Martin Villoria. “We want to let them know that we’re here and we want to share the gospel with them.”
In preparation for the block party, volunteers went out into the neighborhood around the college passing out 10,000 flyers to members of their community. They reached out to families, businesses and homeless shelters in the area.
“The beautiful thing about this event,” said student Rick Bailey, “is that we canvassed the area not looking just for one certain group of people. We weren’t just looking for individuals, or just families. We canvassed whole neighborhoods and homeless shelters. We’re interested in reaching the community, not just one specific group.”
The culmination of their efforts brought 754 children and adults to the outreach event. Their evangelism method came in the form of pony rides, bounce houses, and games for children, while also offering entertainment with a message on the main stage. A puppet team served as the opening act, drawing in a group of wide-eyed kids with music and puppet antics. They were followed by Team Impact, who used feats of human strength to point out the superhuman strength of God who alone can transform lives. Bombin the clown followed, sharing the truth of God’s word through magic tricks and illusion.
Besides those who took the stage, a troupe of 162 volunteers played varying roles in orchestrating the festival. The majority of these volunteers came from the Criswell family. Students ministered side-by-side with professors and Criswell staff. The hallmark of each volunteer was a willingness to serve, whether through mingling in the crowd to share and pray with people, moving bounce houses out of the wind at a moment’s notice, or holding a sign on a street corner.
“I wanted to make an impact in the community,” student body president Jonathan McLeod said. “Everyone without fail makes some kind of impact whether it’s positive or negative. Even just going to the store we make an impact. We want to make an impact for the gospel. That’s why we’re doing this because we really want to make an impact and a dent in our sphere of influence.”
The desire to minister showed through in faculty and students alike. Alongside McLeod, Professor Alan Streett used a combination of “gospel magic” and witnessing tracts to engage people in spiritual conversations. In this way, not only was Streett able to reach out to people in his community, but he was also able to model ministry for his students.
“It’s important to us that we engage students in ministry while they’re going through the academic side,” said Professor Bobby Worthington. “As you’re going through your education, theology in practice is important.” Worthington also serves as the director of Encounter Missions, which encourages students to be involved in ministry while they are still in school.
“The whole purpose is to give them an opportunity to do ministry and do it alongside faculty and staff in the community,” he said.
The volunteers’ heart for their neighbors communicated plainly through their words and actions.
“I think it’s a good thing to be able to reach out to the community that’s immediately around us,” said Villoria. “That’s what Christ did. He went to the outcast and the poor and that’s our immediate environment here at Criswell, so we’ve got to reach out to them.”
Each semester, Criswell students dedicate one day to go out into their community to share the gospel and pray with people. The difference is, at those times, they go out into the community. The block party was designed to invite people to come to them. It’s the first time Criswell has brought the community to their campus, and students and faculty alike express the intention that it will not be the last.
“We’re located here and we’ve never really done anything like this for the neighborhood,” said Criswell’s President Jerry Johnson. “We want them to know that the college is a safe place. We want them to know that we’re Jesus people and this is a good place to connect. We’re exploring the idea of actually starting some ministries here that would be ongoing.”
In order to stage the event, Criswell partnered not only with the SBTC, but also with the Gideons, who provided New Testaments in English and Spanish; local homeless ministry Our Calling; the Dallas Fire Department; and five local Baptist churches, including First Baptist Dallas, Bethany Baptist, Lake June Baptist, Good Shepherd Community, and Ferguson Road Baptist.
“These events are very much for the community with the local church in mind, which is what SBTC is all about,” Worthington said. “We don’t just think about reaching people for the gospel, but also about the follow-up that’s necessary afterward. That’s where the local churches come in. We want to connect them with the body of Christ.”
At final count, 24 people made professions of faith, and five rededicated their lives to Christ. Volunteers mingling among the visitors prayed with countless more. When anyone made a profession, volunteers took down their name and information on a card.
“I talked to three or four people,” said Bailey. “I had one guy come forward during the invitation and so it’s been very fruitful. I also had one rededication. We’re taking the cards and giving them to churches in the area that will contact them. It’s just a great way to plug people in to the body of Christ.”
Two prayer pavilions stood a few feet yards from the main stage. These served as a base where people could come to ask for prayer, receive a copy of the New Testament, or hear the good news from a volunteer.
“I prayed with a lot of people and led two people to the Lord,” said McLeod. “One of them was a man named Julius. I told him about another man named Julius—Julius Caesar. They called him the lord and savior of the whole world. But the reality was that he wasn’t the Lord and savior of the world. Jesus is the lord and savior of the whole world. He can deliver you from your sin and your lifestyle and he can fix you. I led him in prayer to ask for Jesus to come and intervene in his life and to change him.”
A flyer on his door brought Rob to the block party solely for the purpose of entertaining his twin 6-year-olds. All three received Christ during the invitation given by Team Impact.
“Today was a good day,” said Rob’s brother-in-law Charles. Charles became a Christian a few years ago while he and his wife, Jean, were living in a homeless shelter. Because of the block party, they were able to celebrate three more salvations in their family.
“It was a big breakthrough,” Jean said. “We never thought he would accept Christ. He’s been a hard-core atheist. But for the three of them to come to Christ today, it made our day.”
Another part of the ministry was determining the physical needs of the people each volunteer talked to. The homeless ministry Our Calling handed out 50 bags to homeless visitors. These bags contained hygiene items, socks, gloves, and other things most of us may take for granted.
Criswell College also gave out 75 complete turkey dinners for people who would not otherwise be able to have a Thanksgiving meal.
Ikema Brown was one of the recipients. She moved to Dallas only seven weeks ago and lives with her son in a temporary home for women. She learned of the event when festival volunteers gave out flyers to the residents.
“I thought it would be a great chance to get to know more of Dallas,” she said. “It’s a great experience and the Christian background is the best thing.”
Brown has struggled physically and financially since a car accident three years ago that left her unable to walk for nine months. Getting back on her feet, literally and figuratively, has taken time, but she trusts that the Lord will help her with a new start in Dallas, where she has already gotten involved in the PTA and tutoring at one of the neighborhood schools.
By all accounts, the block party was a success and volunteers and visitors are excited to see more such events take place in the future.
“SBTC churches should be encouraged that they can do the same thing,” said professor Streett. “There are stores in the area that will donate hot dogs and gifts. There are Christians that are willing to come out and volunteer. When you have a welcoming environment like this where people are having fun, hundreds of people will come out. Even if they don’t come to Christ, you move them one step closer, because they see Christianity is not something to be avoided. It’s something that brings joy.”