Hundreds of ‘foot soldiers’ toil to save souls in Tampa
TAMPA, Fla. — On a sunny Tuesday morning, nearly 400…
FORT WORTH, Texas — Emphasizing that Jesus loves all the little children — “red and yellow, black and white” — the 40th anniversary Crusade for Christ put a special emphasis on racial unity.
“We didn’t want this to be a black crusade,” Steve Cloer, minister for the Southside Church of Christ in Fort Worth, said in welcoming attendees to one night’s worship assembly. “We wanted this to be a Jesus crusade.”
“Amen!” responded the crowd, erupting into applause.
Every two years since 1979, hundreds of members of Churches of Christ have traveled to a different major city for the national crusade, which features a door-knocking campaign and a weeklong gospel meeting.
“The crusade has existed and been supported primarily by the African-American churches.”
“Make no mistake about it,” said Victor Norris Sr., the 2019 event’s local coordinator and minister for the Richmond Avenue Church of Christ in Fort Worth. “The crusade has existed and been supported primarily by the African-American churches.”
But in Fort Worth — where congregations have come together for an areawide racial unity service the past three years — local volunteers wanted to make sure the recent crusade involved all of God’s children.
“God has blessed us here in the city of Fort Worth that we have already established some great relationships between the African-American churches, the Caucasian churches and some of the Hispanic churches as well,” Norris said.
“We have already established some great relationships between the African-American churches, the Caucasian churches and some of the Hispanic churches as well.”
Those churches rallied to support the crusade and host “foot soldiers” who fanned into neighborhoods to invite residents to worship.
The predominantly black Forest Hill Church of Christ hosted a community job fair, while the majority-white Southside congregation coordinated a health fair.
“We believe that the kingdom, the church, is not just for one group of people,” Norris said. “The Bible teaches us clearly that Christ died for all. … The main theme of the crusade year in and year out is, ‘That we all be one.’”
For the first time since Jimmy Allen spoke at the 1991 crusade in Detroit, a white Christian delivered one of the nightly sermons.
“Truth without grace isn’t the whole truth, and grace without truth isn’t true grace.”
Monte Cox was part of a keynote lineup that included Ervin Seamster Jr., Orpheus J. Heyward, Jerry Houston, Randall F. Tucker Sr. and Terry Wallace. Cox preaches for the Downtown Church of Christ in Searcy, Ark. He serves as dean of the College of Bible and Ministry at Harding University.
“In a few minutes, when I put the microphone down, I hope you’re not saying, ‘We should wait another 30 years’” to invite a white speaker, Cox joked as he began a sermon in which he asserted that “truth without grace isn’t the whole truth, and grace without truth isn’t true grace.”
In the past, a single main speaker has preached all week. For many years, that was Jack Evans, former longtime president of Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, Texas, the only historically black college associated with Churches of Christ. Health issues have prevented Evans from keynoting the last few crusades.
The 2019 crusade, held at the Fort Worth Convention Center, averaged nightly attendance between 1,500 and 2,000, organizers said.
Out-of-town attendees stayed at the Fort Worth Sheraton, where vendors set up booths and afternoon workshop sessions were presented.
In all, 7,469 doors were knocked and 1,660 contacts made, crusade leaders said.
At the Southside church, a racially diverse group of church members — some from Fort Worth, others from out of town — held hands as they prayed after the final morning of door knocking.
“I just love the unity,” Pat Slaughter, a member of the Pembroke Park Church of Christ in West Park, Fla., told her fellow Christians. “I really, really do.”
The first crusade four decades ago brought 3,000 people to a convention center on the Windy City lakefront, recalls Daniel Harrison, longtime minister for the Chatham Avalon Church of Christ in Chicago.
In all, 150 souls were saved that first year, said Harrison, who has served as the crusade’s national director from the beginning.
But now, at age 79, Harrison is stepping aside to devote attention to his wife, Frances, who is battling cancer.
“God has blessed me all these years to help lead this,” he said. “Now, a younger man — Leonardo Gilbert — will be the one to carry it on.”
Gilbert, longtime minister for the Sheldon Heights Church of Christ in Chicago, said he’s excited about the crusade’s future.
“Can we come together, whether you are liberal or conservative or whatever?” said Gilbert, who previously served as the crusade’s outreach director. “I think that’s what I’m excited about: galvanizing people over something we can agree on. There’s many things we can disagree on. But can we come together just to save a soul?”
Another key transition is John Dansby’s decision to give up his role as the crusade’s staff and finance director after 30 years.
Dansby, longtime minister for the Russell Road Church of Christ in Shreveport, La., has served since the 1989 crusade in New Orleans.
But at age 81, he believes it’s time to focus on his church duties and responsibilities as chairman of the board for Southwestern Christian College.
Dansby voices hope that Gilbert can inspire younger Christians to support the crusade.
“It is very difficult,” Dansby said. “If you watch our buses going out right now (for door knocking), the folks that are still supporting the crusade and the evangelistic effort are the ones who came along with myself and Dr. Daniel Harrison.
“They’re old, some of them on canes, some of them holding walkers, and they’re still going out and knocking on doors,” he added. “But it’s very hard to attract younger folks.”
Now 47, Wendel Williams still remembers attending the inaugural Chicago crusade as a little boy.
He came with his mother and a group from the Southside Church of Christ in Montgomery, Ala.
“That was the first time I heard the song ‘Oh, Why Not Tonight?’” said Williams, a member of the Central Area Church of Christ in Memphis, Tenn. He, his wife, Melissa, and their 9-year-old daughter, Nevaeh, made the trip to Fort Worth.
“We still sing that song,” he added. “But every time I hear it, I think about my first crusade. It was an awesome experience.”
What keeps the Williams family returning to the crusade? It’s the desire to save souls, they said.
“It’s a rewarding experience just to be amongst so many people … willing to do the work for Christ,” Melissa Williams said.
The couple got a positive response at many doors where they knocked.
“A lot of people have been pretty excited about it,” Wendel Williams said. “Especially when they find out that the church is giving food away. … If we can meet their needs, a lot of times people will listen to what we have to say concerning Jesus Christ.”
Past host cities include Houston; San Francisco; Orlando, Fla.; New Orleans; Los Angeles; Atlanta; Indianapolis; Birmingham, Ala.; Dallas; Tampa, Fla.; Kansas City, Mo.; Washington, D.C.; Montgomery, Ala.; San Antonio; and Charlotte, N.C. The 2021 crusade will return to Detroit, where Gilbert expects the focus on racial unity to continue.
“There’s no greater way to be one,” he said, “than to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus.”
“There’s no greater way to be one than to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus.”
Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.
Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.