SEDALIA – About 1,300 State Fair attenders looking for corn dogs, carnival rides and deals on snazzy merchandise stopped by the Missouri Baptist tent located near the fair’s midway. They had the opportunity to step inside the tent and register for a free 50-inch TV and blue ray entertainment unit.
Well, it was almost free. They had to give the volunteers three minutes of their time before they could register. The 165 volunteers who worked at the tent during the 11-day fair shared about their lives before they met Christ, how they met Jesus, and what their lives have been like since that time. They then asked “Has anything like that ever happened to you?” If given the opportunity, they then shared the gospel and sometimes led people to accept Jesus.
They recorded 54 professions of faith during the fair. The names of these people will be shared with a church back in the community where they live. Many people also asked for help in finding a church in their community, and these names will also be shared.
One lady came in the tent just gushing and saying, “I have to tell someone this story.” She had friends in the Colorado Springs area last year who experienced the loss of their home during the Black Canyon wildfires. She said their friends called to say, “All of a sudden these Missouri Baptists in yellow shirts showed up and started helping us clean up everything.” She really appreciated the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Disaster Relief workers who helped her friends. She said the minute she saw the words “Missouri Baptists” on the tent she knew she had to come inside.
Others said they appreciated a chance to come inside under the tent and relax a few minutes in the shade. Volunteers bantered with people as they drank their lemonade and munched on corn dogs from the stand next door.
On the first Sunday of the fair, MBC evangelism/discipleship strategist, Mark Snowden, reported they were getting a lot of rain and a river of water from a nearby building’s downspout was flooding through the tent, causing them to huddle on one side. They thought about closing the tent down, but a family of seven came in and Snowden shared the gospel with them. All of them accepted The Lord.
“I saw one teenage girl make sure her younger sister came to hear the gospel,” Snowden said. “What a joy it was to hear her pray to receive Christ. A teenager brought her entire blended family to hear – and they responded in faith. And there were so many adults who stopped in who were really hurting and appreciated a listening ear. And then there are those that come so close to making a decision, but back away. These don’t go in the numbers, but represent dozens of divine encounters.”
Missouri Baptist directors of missions and associations provided most of the leadership for the booth. Associations from across the state sent workers along with some local churches. Funding was provided from the convention as well as associations. MBC state staff also pitched in, taking a few shifts to volunteer.
David Mifflin, director of missions (DOM) for Fellowship Baptist Association, Warsaw, coordinated many of the volunteers along with Daryl Stagg, DOM for Harmony Baptist Association, Sedalia.
“I want to express a word of thanks to all of the volunteers who make it possible to have this ministry,” Mifflin said. “About all I have done is try to organize it a bit. But all the work is done by our volunteers. Without a host of volunteers, we just couldn’t do it.”
Mifflin said that the labor of Missouri Baptist volunteers at the state fair is not in vain.
“If I ever had doubts about the validity of what the state fair ministry can do, those were dispelled by one lady’s testimony,” he said. Stopping by the Baptist tent this year, this lady recounted how she had been saved at the state fair in 1967 through the witness of Missouri Baptists.
“Now she is married to a man who is connected with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and is able to share the message of Christ in many, many places,” Mifflin said.
The number of visitors to the tent and the subsequent professions of faith was down a little from the last two years, but organizers said they had a hard time getting all the time slots filled with volunteers. They are hopeful more will step up and participate next year.
“It’s the intimidation factor,” Mifflin said of the lower than usual response. He added, “It is hard to get people to commit to talking to people about Jesus.” But day after day volunteers stood in a circle during the orientation and nervously asked questions. But when the fair attenders came in they smiled and welcomed them to the tent and began to share Christ with them.
Fifty-four people are now going to Heaven as a result of their work.