COLLEYVILLE, Texas -- God saw a community of people hurting and hungry, and he provided a way to meet their needs by planting a vision in the hearts of his people.
The people at First Baptist Church in Colleyville, Texas, near Dallas, received a vision to minister to those that no one else was reaching in their community. Colleyville has a growing Hispanic population of more than 40,000, and many are poverty-stricken.
Ron Cogburn, a deacon at First Baptist, helped initiate the church's response to the community's needs by sending a membership-wide e-mail proposing a Christmas outreach dinner during the first weekend of December. The response was Christlike.
"Every time God would give us a vision of what we could do, someone would step up and say they would help with that particular task," Cogburn told Baptist Press.
Crews set up a carnival-size tent meant to seat 750 people on the church grounds, and as church members approached the tent, some expressed doubt that it could be filled. "That's an awful big tent," they said.
Cogburn admitted that the workers were concerned that perhaps they had taken on more than God intended. Some feared that only a few would come. But with the vision still alive, the nearly 200 church volunteers continued in obedience to make the place ready for guests.
"Someone said, 'Do you think that many people will come?' I said, 'We will leave the results up to God. We have been obedient and cast the net. Let's see how big our God can be,'" Cogburn said.
At 1 p.m. Dec. 7, teenagers, men, women and children from First Baptist canvassed the neighborhoods, inviting people to the dinner. By 5:30, the masses began to fill the tent. Immediately, Cogburn said, he could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit as God told his people to watch what he would do.
"At first the arrivals were slow, 10 then 20 and then more," he said. "They arrived by the busloads, pouring into the building with smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes. Single parents with two and three children in tow began to arrive with hope in their eyes."
By the time everyone had arrived, God had exceeded expectations by bringing 1,039 people to the dinner.
"Most had never darkened the door of a church. There were those who were hurting, wounded, down and out, drunken, depressed and on their last leg," Cogburn said. "There were those looking for answers to situations in their lives. All were looking for someone that cared."
Throughout the dinner, First Baptist volunteers mingled with the guests, discussing their lives and the needs they had. Many church members shared their faith with people who had never heard such good news. Outside the tent, a bicycle stunt team performed to upbeat music. Cogburn said the young men from the team had approached him only the week before, asking to help because "they wanted to do something for Jesus."
A photographer from a nearby newspaper told Cogburn how the experience had touched his life.
"I have covered other stories about churches before, but I am seeing a side of church that is really different," he said.
After dinner, the adult guests moved into the church's auditorium while the children were taken to the church's recreation center for more fun and evangelism.
In the auditorium, a Hispanic band played praise and worship songs in English and Spanish.
"As I entered the auditorium, the crowd was standing and clapping to the beat of the music," Cogburn said. "The air was charged with the presence of the Holy Spirit. God was there."
Frank Harber, pastor of First Baptist, along with an interpreter, presented the simple gospel message of John 3:16 and then invited the crowd to join him in the sinner's prayer.
"If you are not ashamed of Jesus Christ and you have asked him to come into your heart tonight, I want you to get up out of your seat and come down front," he said. Before he could finish his sentence, Cogburn said, people flooded the altar.
"I'm going to draw a line across the front here, and I want you to come and stand," Harber said. "I want to shake your hand."
Two hundred five people made professions of faith that night. As the guests left the auditorium, each family was given a sack of groceries donated by the congregation.
"As the crowd began to slip away on the buses, the volunteers had tears of joy in their eyes and smiles on our faces as we all had seen the power of God's love demonstrated in a tangible way," Cogburn said. "One 75-year-old deacon exclaimed, 'I have never seen or experienced anything like this in my life!' Another volunteer said she did not want to leave because God was there in such a powerful way."
The outreach effort has adopted the name Mission Colleyville and the goal of meeting the physical and spiritual needs of the less fortunate on a daily basis, Cogburn said. A family sponsor from First Baptist has been assigned to each of the families that attended the Christmas dinner. The First Baptist families are expected to follow up on the event with phone calls and personal visits as well as distributing the Christmas toys that have been donated by the congregation. They hope to get those who made decisions for Christ plugged in to Bible studies on a regular basis.
"We plan to continue to reach this area in a very real way," Cogburn said.
By Erin Curry