By Ann Maniscalco
From the senior adults who met before the event to assemble goody bags to several youth who gathered tables and chairs and helped hoist canopies to the children who handed out flyers and filled cups with lemonade, the recent “Cruisin’ the Coast” outreach sponsored by First Baptist Church of Ocean Springs was definitely a multi-generational mission endeavor. Using the “front yard” of the sanctuary as home base, the members reached their arms around the world, touching thousands from their coastal community to such far-away locales as Mexico, Spain, Canada and New Zealand.
As coordinator of the event, I’m always thrilled to see how excited our congregation becomes as “Cruisin” week nears. As usual, God pulled together a team of 40-plus volunteers to carry out the various aspects of the project, designed around the theme, “Showing God’s Love in Practical Ways.” Since the event draws owners of over 5,000 antique vehicles to the coast for a week-long celebratory time, the crowds are immense, not only from those visiting from out of the area, but the local classic-car aficionados, as well. Thursday through Saturday features cruise sites across the Gulf Coast, and in Ocean Springs, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, the vehicles provide an almost-continuous parade down Washington Avenue, delighting those stationing themselves along the route. Since First Baptist sits on the lovely, tree-shaded corner at the route’s beginning, the congregation has ample opportunity to touch countless lives.
Near the tables and chairs set up in the “viewing stands”, we position our hospitality booth, where we offer ice water, lemonade and simple snacks. Next to this appreciated service is the blood pressure screening area, staffed by a nurse or two. A children’s play area, with balls, bubbles, and hula hoops is available for kids and their families to enjoy. Our “doggie dish’ provides cool water for visiting canines. But what seems to draw the most interest is our “Where Y’all From”? map station. Two oversized maps, one of the United States and Canada, and the other of the world, are placed where they grab the eye of passers-by. Our enthusiastic volunteers call out, “Where Y’all From?”, and invite folks to place a map pin in their home town, and sign our guest register, listing their city and state (or country). At the end of the three days, we had greeted people from 34 states and 14 countries, and as we distribute goody bags containing simple gifts and a gospel of John, we know we are obeying Acts 1:8 without even having to pack a toothbrush!
Of course, not everybody passes by our area. To impact as many as possible, we distribute flyers to drivers as well as the thousands sitting and walking down the nearby streets. Cute clip-art depicts our services, our location and church contact info. At the bottom of the flyer is the message to “see other side for more good news!” On the reverse is a printout of the gospel message. At least 6,000 of these flyers were distributed, so the probability of touching even more lives than this was high. One of our “rest-area greeters” had the joy of leading a young man to Christ, and contact info was exchanged to facilitate this new believer’s discipleship process. As we scattered the precious seed of God’s word, we delightedly rest in His promise that it will accomplish His purposes (Isaiah 55:10-11).
Margaret Lackey (for whom our state missions offering is named) would have been pleased. And we were certainly pleased and thankful to be recipients of funding from this offering, which provides many avenues of life-changing outreach, including community mission projects. If you participated in this important giving opportunity, you played a vital part in our outreach. We will one day gather around God’s throne, rejoicing together for the lives that were forever changed because faithful Mississippi Baptists obeyed God by giving, praying and going!
(South Mississippi writer Ann Maniscalco, a contributor to WMU’s Missions Mosaic magazine, enjoys reading and writing about churches on mission. She treasures facilitating such community-service ministries that meet needs and soften hearts. If you would like ideas about planning and carrying out simple, meaningful ministry/mission outreaches for your community, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org Please put “mission outreach” in the subject line.)