Heritage Baptist Church shares its message of sin, salvation with the masses

You can’t miss them.

From 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. every other Thursday during the warmer months, a large group of members of Heritage Baptist Church, 4340 W. Sixth St., spend an hour at downtown Lawrence intersections preaching the Gospel to anyone who will listen  and even to those who won’t.

It’s a distinctive group of men, women and children, well-scrubbed and neatly attired in shirts and ties or modest dresses. They stand out in a college town where Birkenstocks, cargo shorts and backward ballcaps are more the norm.

A succession of men, perspiring in the heat, stand atop concrete planters and preach a message of sin and salvation straight from the Bible. Their voices can be heard ringing up and down the streets.

Meanwhile, members of the group hand out religious tracts to passers-by  “You Must Be Born Again,” “Four Steps Between Heaven and Hell”  while others hold aloft signs bearing verses from Scripture.

The group periodically gathers to sing traditional hymns, accompanied by accordion and trumpet  songs like “Amazing Grace” and “Saved by the Blood.”

Welcome to the street ministry of Heritage Baptist, a project that began last summer that typically attracts 50 to 60 members of the church who are eager to share their message of faith.

“I think it’s been great. We’ve seen folks saved out on the street. That’s when someone comes to a realization of the need for salvation,” said the Rev. Scott Hanks, pastor of Heritage Baptist.

“Last Thursday night, we had seven profess faith in Christ  that was a little high. Usually we have about three who will pray right there with us. Most of the time, you give out a lot of Gospel tracts, and at least they’ve heard the message.”

Met with scorn

The response the group gets ranges from hostile to indifferent to the occasional sheepish acknowledgment with a discreet nod of the head or slight smile.

Some people do stop and pray, or accept a tract. Others try to engage members of the group in theological arguments.

A man and woman on a red motorcycle, waiting for a stoplight to change at the intersection of Ninth and Massachusetts streets, revved the engine louder and louder, trying to drown out the words of a man preaching.

When the light turned green, the couple roared around the corner, the woman flashing a crude hand gesture.

Cars filled with young people cruised by the group, craning their necks, looking bemused and yelling things out the windows.

Their comments were not charitable. Nor printable.

Does this kind of response discourage the group?

“You kind of expect some of that. Obviously, you don’t enjoy it. But you expect it. If someone’s really loud, we’ll stop until they’ve gone, and then pick it up again,” Hanks said.

Planting a seed

Maybe the responses to the street ministry come about because the vision of salvation shared by Heritage Baptist members largely goes against the grain today, or that the main drag of a college town is a uniquely unresponsive audience to hear their back-to-the-basics message.

Hanks acknowledges as much.

“If what we’re telling them is the truth  and I believe that the Bible is true  it’s going to be offensive because it doesn’t match their way of thinking. But the truth is usually what is offensive,” he said.

Daniel Duda, 19, has belonged to Heritage Baptist for about three years and often joins the group going to witness downtown.

It isn’t an easy job, according to Duda, who hopes to attend Kansas University as a freshman in the fall.

“Sometimes we’ll have a bad night  people will yell and cuss at us. We do have down days, but we try not to let it discourage us. If only one person accepts Christ, we feel it was all worth it,” he said.

Might the street ministry’s approach actually alienate some people, rather than drawing them to God? Duda’s thought about that.

“I sometimes wonder: Are we leaving a bad impression, or are we planting a seed?,” Duda said. “At least I know, by their response, that they’re listening.”