Partnership carries Gospel to inner KC
Georgia evangelist, Midwestern prof spearhead effort
KANSAS CITY – “What’s going on here?” someone asks Tom Johnston, pastor of Central Baptist Church here.
“Revival!” he says, with more enthusiasm than seems possible outside in the heat and humidity of a 100-degree Missouri July afternoon.
Despite the heat, “Revival!” seems like an understatement for what God has done and is still doing at the corner of Independence and Garfield.
Central’s doors had long-since been closed when Johnston arrived in July 2004 as a Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) church planter and restarted the church in one of the most ethnically diverse areas imaginable.
“At Garfield Elementary school there are people from more than 60 nations representing 27 languages,” he said. “They call it ‘United Nations Elementary.’”
Central’s weekly bulletin includes Johnston’s sermon text in Spanish, French, Somali and Sudanese.
Johnston is also a professor of evangelism at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, just a 10-minute drive from the church. The church is a product of a partnership involving the seminary, the church, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists. The partners share a vision for focusing on churches like Central with no or low baptisms. They begin by bringing the congregation together for an old-fashioned tent revival meeting
What had once been a dead, empty church building is now a growing, diverse congregation, celebrating its first baptisms in more than 20 years.
Midwestern hosted an “intentional evangelism” week that consisted of 43 students working under experienced evangelists in the morning before being sent out in teams to witness to people in the surrounding area. Students also helped out at a Gospel fly-in at Excelsior Springs, and led Bible Schools in various parts of Kansas City including at Central.
Keith Fordham, an evangelist from Georgia lectured at the seminary on the ins-and-outs of being an evangelist and also led a week-long revival meeting.
“Personal evangelism is the way people are saved,” Fordham said. “We’ve set evangelism back 2,000 years. It works today just like it worked then.”
If Fordham is so passionate about evangelism, maybe it’s because he was saved as a result of a friend’s witness. And by his own words, if God can save him, God can save anybody.
When he was eight years old, he and a group of boys spent their afternoons throwing rocks at cars as they drove by. One day, a rock flew out from among the group, shattering a passing Ford pickup’s windshield. Though Fordham swears he didn’t throw that rock, it was he, nonetheless, that a police officer on motorcycle chased down and arrested.
“I had a tremendous sense of guilt,” he said. “I prayed that God would send somebody to my house to tell me how to have my sins forgiven. No one ever came.”
Two years after the rock-throwing incident, the Fordhams moved to a new neighborhood where the local church was holding a revival meeting.
“I went to church with the neighbors and on Sunday night of that revival, one of the neighborhood boys told me, ‘Keith, Jesus died for you,’ and it hit me like a load of bricks. He didn’t just die for Skeeter or Gene sitting beside me, He died for me.”
Fordham prayed for God’s salvation and like he’d been told in Sunday School, “You go up to the preacher to tell him what you done.”
“I had a desire to tell everyone,” he said. “I went home and told my parents, I told my teachers, I told every friend that I had. I was so excited, I didn’t care how they received me. When I finally answered the call to preach as a senior in high school, I had already been witnessing regularly. I wanted to tell everyone how to be saved. I still pray everyday, ‘God, let me see someone come to you today.’”
As a result of the teams canvassing the neighborhood and the tent revival meetings which drew more than 50 a night, at least nine people received Christ as their savior. One man, limited to a wheel chair and unable to walk, was lowered into a horse trough to be baptized during the revival. A team of volunteers from Macedonia Baptist Church in Springfield repaired the baptistry inside the church building and on Sunday nine more were baptized.
“Paul and the early Christians walked into a world that didn’t know the Bible, that had confused every kind of philosophy and vision under the sun,” said Fordham. “They went in and preached Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, and it worked. This is probably as difficult as any an area to spread the Gospel. If it’ll work here, it’ll work anywhere.”