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Journey along the Mississippi

part 2

By Kirk Noonan

My dad, Barry, and I take up the Mississippi River journey about two hours south of St. Louis, where John and Zach finished their trip. Our travels will take us into small towns where skin color still matters to many and to places where people from around the world come to revel in sin. But our journey will also reveal the hearts of Assemblies of God people who are yearning for revival and putting everything on the line so others might know Christ.

Cape Girardeau, Missouri
It’s Saturday night and Gary Brothers, pastor of Cape First Assembly of God in Cape Girardeau, Mo., is fanning through the sanctuary gripping hands and hugging necks. A few minutes later he and the nearly 125 others who have gathered here have hands raised as they sing, "Open the eyes of my heart, Lord; I want to see You."

The Saturday night service is one of many ways Cape First is dealing with a nine-and-a-half-year growth spurt that has seen the congregation grow from 200 worshippers to more than 2,500 each week.

To reach people with the message of Christ, Cape First uses cutting-edge ministries such as a 30-minute television broadcast each week, a state-of-the-art teen center and an urban outreach to lower-income families.

"We are seeing new Christians born into the kingdom of God every week," says Jeanette Hinze, a longtime member of the church. "People are being drawn to this church, and they are being touched by God. We have been praying for this to happen for a long time."

Earlier today, the House of Hope, a ministry started in a lower-income area by the church, held a block party. Volunteers served hot dogs, hamburgers and sodas, and several new bicycles were given away. Residents of a nearby Teen Challenge center and volunteers from the church presented the gospel. Nearly 1,000 people attended — 20 made commitments to accept Christ. "We wanted to make an investment back into the community," says Blake Tiemann, outreach pastor at Cape First. "But we also wanted to provide an adequate witness of the gospel. We planted many seeds in people’s hearts today."

As the Saturday night service nears its end, the presence of the Lord pervades the sanctuary. Brothers gives a call for salvation — seven people respond.

Memphis, Tennessee

Intense worship: To ensure a sense of family pervades Manantial De Vida’s congregation, children worship in services before being dismissed for children’s church.

The Mississippi River rolls gently under the bridge we cross from Arkansas into Tennessee. Minutes later we are standing among more than 100 Hispanic worshippers at Manantial De Vida (Spring of Life) Assembly of God in Memphis. Though my dad and I speak little Spanish, we are reminded the presence of the Lord knows no language barriers. When Danny Frizzell, 33, pastor of the church, opens the altars, most in the congregation press forward for prayer. There Frizzell and others anoint and lay hands on those seeking prayer. Within seconds the sanctuary is consumed with cries of repentance and worship.

According to Frizzell, nearly 120,000 Hispanics live in the Memphis area. The key to reaching them with Christ’s message of love and grace, says Frizzell, is conducting services in Spanish and assisting them in their daily activities. On a typical weekday, Frizzell, his wife, Omi, and others help many by interpreting at doctors’ offices, filling out job applications, obtaining resident status and even teaching new residents how the post office operates. "We are open to doing anything that will draw more people to church," says Frizzell.

That approach has reaped eternal dividends. "I was worldly and would drink and blow all of my money," says Rene Palma, who committed his life to Christ five years ago and attends the church. "I was a typical bad guy. But when I got saved I found peace."

Oscar and Pilar Gonzalez had a similar experience when a member of the congregation invited them to attend church. "At first we didn’t want to come," says Oscar. "But the first day we came the Lord touched our lives and changed our hearts. We don’t know where we would be if our friend had not invited us to this church."

Frizzell is leading the church in the construction of a 16,000-square-foot building. As we stand in the darkened foyer of the new church, Frizzell, my dad and I pray that God will do a mighty work among the Hispanics of Memphis.

Helena, Arkansas

Unsung hero: Melvin George, pipeline welder and Assemblies of God pastor, works hard so he can pursue his passion of telling others about Jesus.

Billboards promising thick slabs of prime rib, loose slots and better odds mar the country scene as we drive through Mississippi before crossing back into Arkansas. Helena is located in a land of verdant rolling hills, secluded fishing spots and one of the poorest counties in the state. Twenty thousand people live in this community, where the economy depends on the chemical and agriculture industries that line much of the river.

We meet Melvin George, pastor of Lighthouse Assembly of God and also a full-time welder on natural gas pipelines.

"The company I work for has been flexible with the demands I have at the church," George tells me as we sit in his office, which is decorated with fishing nets, lighthouses and old model ships. "But the biggest challenge with my welding job is that I am on 24-hour call for emergencies. If something happens and I have a funeral or wedding planned, I have to find another minister."

George, his wife, Darlene, and their four children have been at the church for five years. Balancing career and ministry is challenging, but it’s a calling the George family embraces. "This church is where God has sent me," says George. "It’s been a blessing that God has provided a job so we don’t have to depend on the church financially."

We take a short drive to the pipeline station where George spends the bulk of his days. On a wall a sign reads: "Be careful, somebody is expecting you home tonight." Though he loves being a welder, George gets more excited talking about revival.

"God has a plan for Helena," he says passionately, his voice full of conviction and emotion. "He is going to pour His Spirit out on this place, and it’s our job as a congregation to be ready to receive it.

"We have to get the message out that Jesus wants everyone to have eternal life," he says.

Kennedy part 1

Kennedy part 2

Noonan part 1

Noonan part 2

 

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