TIME FOR A DECISION
Dozens of desperate and disillusioned people make salvation decisions
at Mardi Gras. For instance, team members daily encounter crying
women whose intoxicated husbands or boyfriends have cheated on them.
This year, 120 people asked Jesus to be their Savior as a result
of an ATC invitation.
This evening on Bourbon
Street, ATC volunteer Sunshine Thomas, 19, a Master’s Commission
student in Lafayette, Ind., approaches Jerry, a business owner in
his late 30s. Jerry questions why God answers some prayers and not
others. Thomas tells him God is like a wise parent, who sometimes
allows children to do things and other times not, for their own
good. Later Thomas leads Jerry, a former science teacher, in a sinner’s
prayer of salvation.
Jessie Shanks, 20, a
North Central University student, evangelizes a man in his late
50s who has been drinking alcohol on Bourbon Street. Shanks urges
Bobby to remove the multiple strands of beads around his neck. He
throws them on the ground. Immediately Bobby’s countenance
changes and he remarks that he didn’t realize how much the
beads had weighed him down. Shanks says that’s how the Lord
lifts our burdens. Bobby, who had been drinking excessively for
40 years, pours his beer on the sidewalk. Shanks spends an hour
with him, and Bobby surrenders his life to the Lord as Savior.
Those who lead someone
to the Lord take the new convert to a centrally located table for
a Bible and Christian literature. The ATC member finds out where
the person lives and later contacts a church in that area. The new
Christian also receives a handwritten note from the person who presented
HERE I AM TO
Local Assemblies of God churches let the ATC young people use their
facilities during their stay. Westbank Cathedral, in suburban Marrero,
serves as the home base this year, with young men sleeping in the
youth building, young women in the sanctuary and married couples
in classrooms. Lakeview Christian Center has been instrumental in
providing logistical help.
Before heading out to
evangelize in the evenings, ATC team members are rejuvenated during
daytime teaching sessions at Westbank. Northup’s wife, Kristi,
and Matt Robinson, young adults pastor at Community Pentecostal
Church in Toronto, take turns leading worship on keyboards and singing.
“My goal is to
make sure these students have the opportunity to encounter God before
they hit the streets,” Robinson, 25, says later. “It
can be an overwhelming event.”
By 9 a.m., loud music
and fervent praise permeate the sanctuary.
Teens are jumping and
twirling with their hands outstretched toward heaven. As the worship
progresses, some people have intense looks on their faces, realizing
they are engaged in spiritual warfare. Some kneel on the altar steps;
others are prostrate on the floor, crying faces buried in carpet.
Young people gather in small groups to pray for each other.
The soul-winning training
camp includes inspiring instructions from Northup about combining
boldness, friendliness and street smarts.
Middle-aged mentors such
as Gary Grogan, affectionately called Papa G by Northup, teach the
Grogan, 52, has been
evangelizing at Mardi Gras for a quarter century. “People
won’t be able to say they never heard the gospel at Mardi
Gras,” says Grogan, pastor of Urbana Assembly of God near
the University of Illinois. “The devil certainly has his evangelists
out here. What would this place look like without a Christian presence?”
SENDING OUT A
ATC’s presence had a modest beginning when the group first
came to Mardi Gras. Northup initially drove down in a van with 11
fellow enthusiastic NCU students. By the second year attendance
had grown to 80 and it doubled each of the two following years.
Team leaders now include youth pastors, Masters Commission directors,
and Kristi Northup, Wayne’s wife since 2000.
“People who come
on these trips are just normal Christians,” says the 27-year-old
Kristi, who met Wayne when she was an NCU student. “You don’t
have to have a certain personality type or even have experience
Jason Nordland, 26, is
one of the original dozen and he comes back annually. Nordland,
who now owns a real estate company in Minneapolis, donated several
thousand dollars this year to provide scholarships to 45 needy students
covering their meals, registration and ATC sweatshirt costs. “If
they can develop boldness and learn to share their faith in an environment
like this, they can share their faith back home,” Nordland
forces you to become radical for God,” says Justin Lathrop,
25, young adults pastor at The Oaks Fellowship in Dallas. “When
Wayne first challenged me to preach in the streets it served as
a catalyst to get me out of my comfort zone.”
Soon after Mardi Gras
ends, the young evangelists head back to their homes, schools and
churches. The pagan festival in New Orleans has been a blatant reminder
of the undercurrent of sexual images and alcohol that bombards American
youth in a variety of ways every day. But now these Christians are
better equipped to handle the culture clash in their own communities.
John W. Kennedy is news
editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.
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