By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
CROWLEY – Reaching some of the 100,000 people who attend the annual International Rice Festival seemed daunting, but members of the First Baptist Church in Crowley embraced the challenge using jambalaya, antique tractor demonstrations and train rides to plant Gospel seeds in the community.
The 15th annual Harvest Fest, held on the grounds of First Baptist Crowley, drew nearly 15,000 people who enjoyed a wide selection of Cajun foods, Zydeco music, family activities such as a petting zoo and bouncy houses and more. While organizers did not see many commitments to Christ at the festival, the results usually are seen several months later, they said.
“For many people, it’s an introduction to our church,” said Michael Doughty, one of the Harvest Fest coordinators. “The harvest is seen not the following weekend, but 6-9 months down the road. When we see someone come to Christ it makes all the hard work of planning months in advance worth it.
The festival began in 1995 when a few church members served water on the church grounds to Rice Festival goers. Through the years, the congregation added activities and has used Harvest Fest to build a bridge between the community and the congregation.
“We wanted the festival to show folks that our church is normal,” Pastor Cullen Clark said. “When we finally do see a person visit our church who came to the Harvest Festival, it’s not this huge leap for them because they already are familiar with us.
Alan Knuckles, pastor at First Baptist Crowley from 1993-2000, returns every year to volunteer at Harvest Fest. He enjoys the camaraderie between the church members and those attending the festival.
“An event like this builds relationships with the people in the community which opens doors for evangelism and personal ministry,” Knuckles said. “This Harvest Fest event during the Rice Festival has changed the whole relationship of FBC to the community of Crowley and surrounding areas. FBC is respected like never before because of the effort put forth by the people to make the Rice Festival a family friendly event.”
Among the people who have put their faith in Christ after attending Harvest Fest is Mona Dupuis, who attended the inaugural one.
“We knew years ago that this was a safe place to take our kids and for us to enjoy a good time away from a lot of the other activities at the Rice Festival,” said Dupuis, who now cooks during the Harvest Festival. “Now, I get to give back by being a part of this wonderful outreach to our community. When you know your service helps someone find an eternal place in heaven it’s so fulfilling.”