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Crusade expected to draw thousands

September 10, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

GREENCASTLE, PA. - When the blue and yellow signs began popping up by the hundreds a few weeks ago, a lot of people did not know who Steve Wingfield was, or why he was coming to Franklin County.

"Three weeks ago, there were people thinking they were political signs," said Jim Metz of Chambersburg, Pa., who was wearing a T-shirt promoting the Cumberland Valley Steve Wingfield Encounter that runs from Wednesday, Sept. 15 to Sunday, Sept. 19. "I really don't know a lot about it, but I know it's going to be big," he said.

"When people first saw the signs, they thought, 'Is this a real estate broker or a politician?'" said the Rev. William Harter, pastor of Falling Spring Presbyterian Church in Chambersburg and one of the many people who have been planning the evangelist's appearance for months.

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The crusade, which will bring Grammy winners Randy Travis, Petra and Jaci Velasquez to town, will take place under a circus big top in a field off U.S. 11, three miles north of Greencastle, said Paul Ferris, of Waynesboro, Va., the encounter director. More than 190 area churches and 1,000 volunteers are involved, he said.

The 300-foot-by-150-foot tent can seat 5,000 people, Ferris said. Its sides can be raised to allow people to be seated outside if crowds exceed that figure, which could happen Friday, Sept. 17, when Travis, one of the best-known names in country music, is the headline performer.

If crowds warrant, large outdoor television screens might be needed, said Fred Baye, a spokesman for the Steve Wingfield Evangelistic Association in Harrisonburg, Va.

Ferris said Wingfield, who is returning from Fiji today, has been an evangelist for about 20 years. He holds about four to six crusades a year, mostly in the eastern United States, but also evangelizes overseas, Ferris said.

"This effort has brought churches together that have never really cooperated on any ecclesiastical effort before," Harter said. "You'll see an amazing cross section of people at this."

There are more than 20 committees to assist with matters such as parking, ushering, hospitality for the performers and traffic control, according to Ferris. A 300-member choir formed by area churches has been practicing and 240 people have been trained to work in the ministry's Sharing Your Faith program, he said.

"It's a major logistical effort," Harter said.

In addition to Travis, the lineup of entertainers includes some familiar names, beginning Wednesday with Petra.

"I think of them as the Eagles of Christian music," said Ferris, a former management consultant who joined the ministry a year ago.

The Encounter Power Team, which mixes feats of strength with testimony, is to perform Thursday, along with singers Billy and Sarah Gaines. Saturday is aimed at a youthful audience with Kidz Jam featuring Psalty the Singing Songbook in the morning and Extreme Day in the afternoon and evening, with the King of Kings Skateboard Team, bands, sporting events and games.

Velasquez, who Ferris said performed at the Republican National Convention, will sing Sunday night. Churches with largely Hispanic congregations also are involved, and the encounter can be translated into Spanish over headsets for as many as 150 people, Ferris said.

All events are free, Ferris said.

"The money to pay for it is raised locally and all the money raised stays in the community," Ferris said.

Baye said Wingfield's crusades come at the invitation of communities and the planning is left largely to an executive committee and subcommittees made up of representatives from local churches and businesses.

The budget for this crusade is approximately $200,000, Baye said.

"This is 21st-century evangelism," Harter said. "The music and the activities are attractive to people, but the core of the event is the message."

"We're not promoting Steve Wingfield and we're not promoting Randy Travis," Ferris said. "Our primary mission is to bring the message of Jesus Christ to the community."

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