WARRENSBURG – Each year Pastor Randy Neal considers it an honor to hop on his Harley and lead the procession of flagged Freedom Rider cyclists at Freedom Spectacular on July 4. The event draws more than 3,000 people to celebrate.
“We do half a dozen major community events that we fund ourselves and don’t charge the community,” said Neal, pastor at Grover Park Baptist Church here. “At Freedom Spectacular we have professional fireworks, we feed everyone, we have the community band play and our motorcycle ministry makes a grand entrance. It’s our gift to the community.”
He said the church once held a small Fourth of July dinner on the grounds while the city always put on a big fireworks display elsewhere. Then ten years ago the city didn’t have a fireworks license, so Grover Park approached them about joining forces for a citywide event that is 100% free.
“Our church property is centrally located and it’s been great to do something for the community with the community,” said Neal, who has been pastor there for 15 years.
With the success of Freedom Spectacular, Grover Park decided to plan more gifts for the community at other times of the year. They host an Easter Extravaganza, again in cooperation with the city, where members of their church present a skit illustrating the true meaning of Easter to more than 1,000 people.
The Christmas season means more gifts from Grover Park. During the second week of December the church puts on a drive-thru Living Nativity that is, once again, free to all. Somewhere between 150-200 members get involved in recreating scenes that tell Jesus’ story from his birth to his resurrection.
“We had over 1,500 people drive through this year,” Neal said. “They get a CD that tells the story and they usually try to give us money at the end, but we won’t accept it. We tell them it’s a Christmas gift.”
The church was even asked by the city to bring part of their living nativity to the Johnson County Courthouse for display.
“Of course we did,” Neal said. “We are always looking for more ways to join with our community.”
While Grover Park feels a strong calling to pour into these big community events whenever they get the chance, they also love to reach out to their “Jerusalem and Judea” in smaller, more interpersonal ways.
“We found one of the large mobile home parks in Warrensburg known for its drug involvement and problems, did a prayer ride and then reached out to the manager of the park,” Neal said. “He was completely cooperative and allowed us to do some Christmas caroling, put on an Easter egg hunt, and even start up a Bible study.”
Then several years ago Neal got a call that one of the mobile homes was on fire. He jumped in his car and drove out there and found a home ablaze and a family with five kids and nothing but the clothes on their backs watching it happen.
“I didn’t actually know them but I introduced myself and told them our church would see to it that their home items that could be replaced, would be,” Neal said. “We provided them with everything they lost—kitchen items, toys, furniture, a stereo—so much that I think they may have came away with more than they had before. Not only did that show God’s love to the family, it showed the community that our church is here to give, not get. We don’t want anything in return.”