Published February 3, 2005
In 2003 Riverbend Baptist Church in Gainesville said goodbye to four staff members, including the senior pastor, who had been called to other churches. However, the church decided that they would not languish during the transitional period. In fact, it had a hugely successful event promoted as "Hope for the Harvest" in which 109 people were saved in one day.
Inspired by another church's outreach to a low-income community, Riverbend's only full time staffer, Children's Minister Maxey Ladd, began the preparation.
A steering committee was selected and decided that an additional 25 working committees would be needed to implement the plans for "Hope for the Harvest."
During a sermon Pastor Thomas Hammond preached in September, a call was issued for workers to help with the event, resulting in 247 people making a commitment to become involved.
The church's Hispanic congregation, Latino Americano Bautista, stood shoulder to shoulder with the Riverbend church as plans were made to minister to the community in "Hope for the Harvest."
Prayer a powerful weapon
Cristie Langford, who was integrally involved in the whole process, emphasized, "The most powerful weapon we had from the beginning to end was prayer. We had a team committed to praying. Weekly we had "prayer walks" both inside and outside the church."
Langford continued, "During the day of the event our prayer warriors manned the prayer room. Without prayer no one involved in 'Hope for the Harvest' would have had the power to fight the battle against the enemy."
Sunday, Nov. 7 was set as the day for the ministry event. The day began with a joint worship service at 9 a.m. with both Riverbend and the Hispanic church coming together to celebrate God's goodness. After the worship service, more than 450 volunteers clad in blue T-shirts were poised to serve the gathering throng.
The community-wide event started at noon. Lines of people formed long before the doors were opened and were provided bottled water by the Baptist men of Gainesville.
Among the volunteers were PALS (prayerfully and lovingly sharing), whose assignment was to greet every family as they entered to register and walk with them to each ministry station and remain with that family until they left. As families were leaving, you could see many hugging their PALS and expressing thanks for the blessings of the day.
Services made available
The stations included a makeshift dentist's office with two dentists providing free service. Medical examinations - including blood pressure checks, hearing and vision examinations and ultrasounds - were offered without cost at another station.
Barbers were available to give haircuts and volunteers provided manicures. Bruce Johnson, the chief chef for the event, and his crew served chicken creole, beans and rice. The Chattahoochee Baptist Association provided an abundance of salads and desserts. Johnson estimated that the church served about 850 people at "Hope for the Harvest."
Each visiting family was given a Thanksgiving bag with food including a frozen chicken. Bibles, blankets, clothing, and baby products were also liberally distributed.
Results from sharing
The church had designated eight rooms (two for those who spoke Spanish) for the evangelistic teams trained to share the gospel. Each room had five team members who would rotate in sharing the plan of salvation. Some of the team members gave testimonies and others were available for counseling. As a result of this effort, 109 people were saved and 29 recommitted their lives to Christ.
Langford remarked, "I could never describe the feeling of standing in the hallway and hearing men singing 'Amazing Grace' as one of the gospel rooms was closing in prayer. I have not yet ceased to thank my God for choosing Riverbend Church and Latino Americano Bautista and counting us worthy enough to do this mission."
Langford exuberantly concluded her evaluation of "Hope for the Harvest" by saying, "God showed up and He showed out on Nov. 7 at Riverbend Baptist Church; and I pray that this is just the beginning of a new day in our fellowship."
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