A festival that combined servant evangelism with a two-day community event led to nearly 700 decisions for Christ and generated new life among Foursquare churches involved in western Oregon’s Willamette Celebration.
Ed Sweet, who facilitated the collaboration of close to 50 pastors across denominational lines, says it also allowed his Foursquare congregation to demonstrate love without expecting anything in return.
“This was an opportunity for us to serve our community in a tangible way,” says Ed, pastor of Valley Christian Center (Albany South Foursquare Church) in Albany, about an hour south of Portland. “It’s about loving our neighbors without strings attached. In the past, we’ve put strings on the things we do—’You have to come to our church or believe the way we do.’ “
Volunteer staff member Roger Peterson, who led Valley Christian Center’s participation in weekly prayer meetings, believes the celebration is part of something larger God is doing in his life. He says his involvement stimulated a greater hunger for righteousness and sensitivity to God’s voice.
“I believe I am far more kingdom-oriented in my thoughts and desires, in contrast to being focused primarily on our local fellowship,” says Roger, a salesman for a water purification supplier. “The greatest blessing personally has been an ongoing commitment to prayer and the development of a ‘house of prayer’ in Albany.”
Valley Christian Center was one of four Foursquare churches that took part in the summer event. Others included Albany Foursquare Church, pastored by Terry Gleason; Emmanuel (Corvallis Hispanic Foursquare Church) in Corvallis, pastored by Josue Gomez; and Lebanon Foursquare Church, pastored by Mitch Bourgeois.
A partnership with evangelist Mike Silva of Portland, the activities kicked off in mid-May with a series of community service projects that concluded with a two-day festival in late July. The festival attracted 30,000 visitors, with another 4,000 attending a community worship service on Sunday morning. Volunteers collected 694 decision cards after Silva’s messages. In addition, during their service projects some congregations saw people come to Christ and start attending church.
In addition to Christian bands and performers such as motorcycle stunt riders Metal Mulisha, the festival featured free haircuts, blood-pressure checks and other services.
About 30 members of Valley Christian Center took a Saturday in June to pull weeds, trim bushes and do other yard work at an elementary school facing budgetary constraints. Although they didn’t see anyone come to Christ that day, Pastor Ed says it improved community relationships. The church followed up by collecting school supplies in mid-August to help area foster children.
The initiative marked the first time in his 22 years at Valley Christian Center that Ed has seen so many churches work together. He credits that in large part to the thousands of hours of prayer backing the event and an ongoing commitment to build relationships among pastors of various denominations.
Although Valley Christian Center is currently following up on nearly 30 decision cards, Ed says salvation wasn’t the primary purpose of the festival. Instead, the campaign’s four goals were unity among the churches, devotion to prayer and fellowship, performing acts of compassion and service, and proclaiming the gospel.
“In terms of those four goals, we (with Jesus) knocked it out of the ballpark,” the pastor affirms. “Churches working together is a tremendous thing. At the festival, it was very encouraging for our members to see hundreds of volunteers in same-color T-shirts, engaging in the common goal of serving and reaching people.”
One result of the celebration was establishing closer ties between Valley Christian Center and the Hispanic-based Emmanuel congregation. The two are discussing planting a Hispanic church in Albany. Emmanuel’s pastor, Josue Gomez, says the two churches had a combined, bilingual worship service in July and are planning another for mid-September. In addition, Gomez saw the hunger that exists among numerous denominations for unity in spreading the gospel.
“Out of 10 participating Hispanic churches, seven joined together, and a vision was born called ‘The 300,’ ” Gomez explains. “Our goal is to get 300 people from Hispanic churches sharing their faith.” By late August, the group was two-thirds of the way toward their goal and sponsored its first mass evangelism event in Salem.
The festival stimulated more than Hispanics coming together, Gomez notes.
“We expect a lot of unity among Anglo and Latino pastors and the churches,” he says. “We had a great time. People working together was very neat. There was a spirit of unity and cooperation. Seeing people getting saved was very exciting.”
Terry Gleason, pastor of Albany Foursquare Church, sees the spirit generated by the celebration continuing long past the summer. Often, he says, churches that get involved in this kind of effort leave it behind after a few months and go back to their old lifestyle. Today, Terry senses something different taking place.
“Now we’re seeing smaller churches are even desiring to work together to reach the community,” Terry says. “More than anything else, it was the laypeople who made this work. The laypeople really got together on this.”
By: Ken Walker, an award-winning freelance journalist living in Huntington, W.V.