Wingfield crusade winds down in Franklin County, Pa.

September 20, 2004|by DON AINES

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - As the sun was setting Sunday and people were moving in under the white-and-yellow-striped tent, evangelist Steve Wingfield was working the crowd, shaking hands and greeting some of the few thousand people attending the last night of his crusade in the Cumberland Valley.

Among them were a few teenagers dressed head-to-toe in black Goth chic, not the sort of people some might expect to see at a Christian revival meeting.

"You can be any style and still be a Christian," said Travis Plume of Waynesboro, Pa.

"We try to maximize our commonality and minimize our differences" within the Christian community, Wingfield said backstage a few minutes before greeting Plume and his friends.


With a lineup that featured performers from several musical genres over the five days, the Cumberland Valley Steve Wingfield Encounter drew a diverse cross-section of people. From Goths and couples pushing children in strollers to senior citizens and the Hispanic community, Wingfield was both preaching to the choir and to those he hoped would hear the message of Jesus Christ.

"We have chosen not to make a big deal of the numbers" of people who accepted Christ into their lives or recommitted themselves to Christ, Wingfield said backstage. At least 200 had come forward over the previous nights, but he suspected as many or more made the commitment in their hearts.

"Judging from the number of people who come down after he speaks, he's reaching people," said Derek Mowen, a junior at Greencastle-Antrim High School.

"I've been to every one of them except Thursday night and I loved them. It's awesome," said Ali Burgess of Greencastle, a sophomore at Shalom Christian Academy. "I just love the music and my friends are here and I'm a Christian."

Encounter Director Paul Ferris estimated the event drew 24,000 people, despite tornado warnings Friday night when Grammy-winning country artist Randy Travis performed. Ferris estimated about 2,600 people were on hand in the gymnasium, sanctuary and other rooms of the nearby Antrim Brethren in Christ Church to hear Travis and Wingfield despite the weather warnings that sent many others home.

"We had lemons and we made lemonade," Wingfield said of the weather, which included high winds Saturday when events were aimed primarily at an audience of children and adolescents.

"This is the largest event I can remember in almost 30 years," said Ed Smith of Mercersburg, Pa., who was handing out fliers for the Pennsylvania State Sunday School Convention, an educational program being hosted next month in Franklin County. "The most impressive part is, it's interdenominational ... The Wingfield organization appears to reach people at all levels," he said.

"Am I in Pennsylvania? I think I'm in Cuba," Grammy-winning Latin recording artist Jaci Velasquez said Sunday night as she instructed the crowd in the basics of the merengue. She performed a set that mixed Spanish language dance tunes with contemporary Christian music.

"Needless to say, this is not necessarily our type of music," David George of Waynesboro said as he stood outside the tent with his wife, Shirley. He said, however, churches recognize the need to find ways to attract a younger crowd.

"The kids like this and it's wonderful," Shirley George said. "If you don't have something to pull them in and something to hold them, you lose them."

About 200 area churches worked together to bring Wingfield's Harrisonburg, Va.-based ministry to Franklin County, according to Ferris.

"That's a miracle in itself," Wingfield said of getting that many churches together for an event.

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