Journey along the Mississippi
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
Its 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 peoples 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
worship: To ensure a sense of family pervades Manantial
De Vidas congregation, children worship in services before
being dismissed for childrens 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 Christs 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 didnt
want to come," says Oscar. "But the first day we came the Lord touched
our lives and changed our hearts. We dont 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
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 its a calling the George family embraces. "This church is
where God has sent me," says George. "Its been a blessing that
God has provided a job so we dont have to depend on the church
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 its our job as a congregation to be ready to receive
"We have to get the message out that Jesus wants everyone to have eternal
life," he says.