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Thousands flock to revival's opening night

September 16, 2004|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - For weeks, many Franklin County residents have been wondering who Steve Wingfield is.

They've seen his face on countless yard signs around the area. His name appears on bumper stickers, on fliers in local businesses and in church bulletins.

On Wednesday evening, under an immense yellow-and-white striped tent on the grounds of Antrim Brethren in Christ Church, about 4,000 people found out who Wingfield is.

Nearly an hour before the scheduled start, hundreds of people milled around the tent, and a steady stream of cars turned in from U.S. 11 between Greencastle and Marion, Pa.

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A white-haired, distinguished-looking man, Wingfield walked around the grounds greeting early arrivals. Wingfield said his hope for the event is that the prayer Jesus prayed 2,000 years ago, as recorded in John 17 in the New Testament, would be answered: "That they also may be one in us: That the world may believe that thou hast sent me."

Wingfield added that the cooperation of the nearly 250 local churches that worked to make the event possible was "fabulous. It couldn't have been any better."

Later, dressed unpretentiously in beige slacks and a long-sleeved blue shirt, Wingfield took the stage and preached. "Everyone came here with some concept of who God is," he said. "You are not some accident. You were preordained by God to be here. God has a banquet prepared and he wants you to be part of it. God's favorite word is 'Come.'"

A combination of entertainment and evangelism, the five-night Cumberland Valley Steve Wingfield Encounter has a budget of $200,000 and features well-known acts such as Petra, Randy Travis and the Encounter Power Team.

Several audience members stood and clapped during the warmup acts while lyrics flashed on two large screens at the front of the tent.

Media liaison Fred Baye of New York said that the highest attendance would probably be Friday night, when country singer Randy Travis performs. Seven months went into preparing for the Encounter, Baye said, with the cooperation of a cross-section of local churches.

An evangelist for 18 years, Wingfield goes only where he is invited by the local churches.

"The city picks him, he doesn't pick the city," Baye said, "the same as Billy Graham."

Baye added that the Steve Wingfield Evangelistic Association, based in Harrisonburg, Va., works with churches to reach out to spiritual seekers, with an emphasis on reaching young people.

"The whole roster of talent is intended for young people," he said.

The ministry trained 240 local people to work in the sharing-your-faith aspect of the Encounter.

While only a sprinkle of rain fell Wednesday evening, Baye said he is "praying Hurricane Ivan doesn't get up here by Sunday. The tent is secure, but we have a plan of action in case there are high winds."

Melissa Grove, a member of New Guilford Brethren in Christ Church in Fayetteville, Pa., attended with her daughters Christina, 3 months, and Jessica, 6.

"We heard a lot about it through church and other people, and thought we'd come and see what it's like," she said.

Petra, a Grammy- and Dove-award winning pioneer Christian rock band with a 30-year career, performed Wednesday night.

For more information, go to www.stevewingfield.org.

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