More than 200 people prayerwalked on Saturday, March 21, the mile and a half from the Riverfront in downtown Natchitoches to the coliseum at Northwestern State University.
NATCHITOCHES – More than 200 people prayerwalked on Saturday, March 21, the mile and a half from the Riverfront in downtown Natchitoches to the coliseum at Northwestern State University.
They then completely circled the round structure and with hands joined in one accord, prayed for God to do His work there the next day, at District Eight’s Festival of Hope for West-Central Louisiana, an evangelistic event a year in the planning.
“We were walking along [as a city-permitted parade,] and traffic had to stop,” said Ron Thompson, pastor of Trinity Baptist in Natchitoches, and chairman of the Festival of Hope. After describing two young men on bicycles clad in black pants, white shirt and ties – typical garb of Mormon “missionaries” – Thompson added, “They had to stop what they were doing, for what God was doing. It was such an assurance that God was in this.”
Perhaps 1,500 people participated in the Sunday evening Festival of Hope. Following a 90-minute gospel music show of several local vocalists and vocal groups, Fred Lowery, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bossier City, brought a challenging message to church-goers and the friends accompanying them who might not be right with God.
“If you’re 90 percent saved, you’re 100 percent lost,” Lowery said in one of the soul-stirring one-liners he’s known for. “You can do good things, great things, godly things and still not go to heaven,” he preached a few minutes later. “We are soiled and spoiled by sin and selfishness. … We’re just one heartbeat from eternity. … It’s not enough to be stirred; you need to be changed by the power of the Living God. … If I thought baptism saves I wouldn’t waste time preaching.”
Fifteen people made public decisions, including seven professions of faith.
The Festival of Hope started in 2005 as conversation between Thompson, new then as pastor of Trinity, and Wayne Hicks, pastor of Grand Ecore Road Baptist Church in Natchitoches. Ideas began to flow as more and more pastors got in on the conversation.
“By the beginning of 2007 there was a consensus [among pastors in Natchitoches Baptist Association] to do something bigger than any church could do on its own, to make an impact in our city,” Thompson said. “As we continued to pray and to network, it grew beyond our association into the area. We said this event would be reaching all of west-central Louisiana with the message of Christ.”
That’s the area of District Eight, where Lee Dickson is director of missions for five associations: DeSoto, Natchitoches, North Sabine, Red River and Sabine.
“Without Lee and Barbara [Dickson] this would have been much more difficult to accomplish,” Thompson said. “Their support and encouragement in it was immeasurable.”
Boaz Squyres, 14, was one of 22 people from his church, Grace New Testament Baptist in Natchitoches, to participate in the Festival of Hope.
“I’m here to find the true meaning of Jesus,” Squyres said during the gospel music show. “I believe I’m not saved yet, and I want to see Him in the afterlife.”
Shirley Aldredge of Clarence Baptist in Clarence, said she was part of the WMU group at her church that started a prayer group last October for the Festival of Hope.
“It’s just been a miracle how churches have gotten involved together in this,” she said. “It’s the first time in the 37 years I’ve lived here that they’ve done anything like this. It’s gotten things happening in the churches. We have a couple of young kids, teenagers, that got saved after getting involved in what we were doing, and that was a couple of weeks ago!”
The Festival of Hope worked because it was a joint effort of many churches, Thompson said.
“One of the really neat things was to see all the churches working together, to see how the many different churches took on different responsibilities,” the event chairman said. “To see the different ministries come together – Toledo Bend Resort Ministries and the [Northwestern] BCM [Baptist Collegiate Ministries] with the pastors and the churches to reach our area – that showed us what can be done when we all work together.”
Richard Kaufman, pastor of First Marthaville, handled logistical details as arrangements chairman.
Tommy Rush, pastor of First Natchitoches, was chairman of counseling/follow-up. His church hosted a two-day training course for about 120 people that was part of the year-long preparation for the Festival of Hope.
Wayne Hicks, pastor of Grand Ecore Road Baptist in Natchitoches, was treasurer for the event that cost about $15,000. Most came from participating churches; some came from the association, and the North American Mission Board covered expenses for Jim Coldiron, who is an evangelism event planner with NAMB and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Coldiron is the co-author of the NAMB Evangelism Planner CD.
Johnny Dunn, music minister of Westside Baptist, as music chairman developed and organized the gospel music show, and coordinated with Eddie Colvin from First Bossier, who led the worship backed by the First Bossier praise team.
Jerry Smelley, pastor of United Baptist in Campti, was prayer coordinator.
Craig Beeman, pastor of Calvary Baptist in Natchitoches, was publicity chairman – radio, television, newspapers yard signs – and assistant coordinator of the Festival of Hope. He worked with a local TV station to video the Festival of Hope. Call the station for $15.95 DVDs of the event: 318.238.8817.
John Elliott, pastor of Emmanuel Natchitoches, was ushers/parking/special populations chairman.
“We followed closely the directions given by Jim Coldiron,” Thompson said. “That’s why we had the structure we had, even to planning for people with special needs.”
Three men worked together to help reach the area’s youth: Oren Conner, youth pastor at First Natchitoches, Louden Wells, youth minister at Fairview Baptist in Coushatta, and Bill Collins, Northwestern State University BCM director. They put together a “late night” youth and college service that resulted in two professions of faith.
“It just came together with prayer and the Holy Spirit’s guidance,” Thompson said. “I do believe we broke through some of the strongholds that have limited some of our effectiveness in our churches. The focus on praying for the lost and praying for our hearts to break and our eyes to see the needs of the lost people all around us – it all contributed to God’s work that Sunday morning in our churches, through the festival, and beyond the festival in our churches in the days and months to come.”
The pastors in District Eight already are talking about another major event, perhaps in 2011, and perhaps a multi-day event, Thompson said.
“God was in it,” Thompson said. “He did His work. We’re excited and look forward to what He has in the future.”