HARRISBURG– What can be accomplished when area churches unite for Christ, even on short notice?
A community can be positively impacted by witnessing believers working together towards the same goal: showing the love of Christ and sharing his plan of salvation to city residents. This is called missional engagement: the act of reaching the people in a community on their own turf and providing an open, welcoming and fun environment that draws families together with one main goal; to proclaim the gospel message together, as separate churches, yet one body of Christ.
This recently happened in Harrisburg as local churches took advantage of an opportunity that emerged rather unexpectedly. The BRN office received a call from Andrew Heathershaw, the Pastor of Music from First Baptist Church in Crestview, Florida. Their youth choir, Lifeline, was traveling through Harrisburg during a series of concerts they were performing in several states. The group already had an engagement at Red Land Baptist Church in New Cumberland for their summer concert series and Andrew was looking to find another opportunity for his choir to perform.
It was suggested that this would be a great opportunity to bring God’s message to the inner-city residents of Harrisburg. A proposal was sent to Andrew recommending a local park venue with the anticipated costs and area churches who might be willing to work together for the common goal of sharing Christ. He committed to the event, contacting leadership at Transcend Church and Inglesia La Fuente, both church plants within a few blocks of Reservoir Park and the band-shell where the choir would perform.
Working together, invitations and posters were produced and were handed out during set prayer-walking times around neighborhoods in the target area. Posters were hung in local stores, laundry mats and on poles along the streets. Because the park has a busy playground, word spread quickly and neighborhood children were excited to come. Pastor John Toone and East Shore Baptist Church members also attended the prayer walk and assisted during the concert.
On Tuesday afternoon as set up began, families began to arrive an hour early, excited about the event. Face painting was extremely popular and for nearly three hours there was a constant line of children as four volunteers faithfully worked to paint each child’s face with their request.
As the choir performed, families enjoyed hotdogs, chips, popcorn, snow cones and drinks, all provided through a grant from the BRN. Volunteers from all four organizations had ample time to mingle with the community, build relationships and evaluate where people were in their spiritual journey. Transcend handed out flyers with a list of their upcoming events including a VBS and sports camp. They expect to have many of the same families attend which allows the Gospel to be presented in several different settings.
Overall, the message of unity could be clearly seen. Along with the songs, one of the choir youth shared his salvation testimony and at the end of the concert, Pastor John Weathersby shared the Gospel while Helen Paz from La Fuente translated the prayer into Spanish. Pastor John proclaimed that every life will come to an end, but each person’s spirit will spend eternity in either heaven or hell. A person’s relationship with Christ determines which eternity they will experience. He urged participants to settle that matter there and suggested that people take the time and talk to any of the pastors or volunteers who would explain more or pray with them. It was clear on their faces that his message had gripped the attention of many in the crowd.
According to Barry Whitworth, BRN’s Executive Director, the benefit of uniting for a missional event is three-fold:
- Church members get to see and interact with the “real community” who live in the neighborhood. They get to hear their challenges, stories, and feel the desperation of making sure people in the community hear the gospel.
- In the case of the event, “more was done with less.” Whenever more than one church engages a community they are able to share the expenses and resources in reaching people together.
- Residents see churches uniting to make an impact within their community. In a world that doesn’t usually get along and cooperate, this is seen as peculiar and unique.
Pastor Weathersby agrees, “The testimony it gives the community is this: the cause is greater than any brand name. Moreover, as one of us served food or snacks, the other painted faces. We split forces and reached more people, more meaningfully, more fully together. I so enjoyed seeing what happens when churches participate together. I wonder how many churches would like to see more of that kind of activity?”
Pastor Edgardo Paz would do it again. He explained, “It was a great opportunity to work together, get to know each other, and have a time of fellowship for the community to experience the love, unity and enthusiasm that we share in order to serve God and the neighborhood, that we do this because we care and God loves them. This is key to reaching the community for Christ. Jesus prayed for us in John 13:35, ‘By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ I would like to see more of this and other activities that we can do together”.
Please pray for our Harrisburg churches; that God will continue to draw community members to Himself and that each of these churches will be a light in the neighborhoods where they serve.