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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 the gospel.

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 assembled.

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?”

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 street witnessing.”

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 says.

“This outreach 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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