In September of 2008 I move to the USA. I wanted to be involved in a Church-Plant and see what was involved in launching a church from scratch. I stepped into a church that was 14 months old and was 150 people, this was the second year (I believe) that the event was taking place. We were engaging with shops and businesses to help drive interest and we were co-ordinating with local authorities to use the parking lot at Fry’s.
Honestly I didn’t have high hopes, I had never seen a successful community outreach project and was convinced at some stage there was going to be a poorly rehearsed Christian Band and a Terribly misplaced Christian Speaker. As the event drew closer we had businesses rally to the vision and we had teams of people lining up to volunteer. Police were co-ordinated and we had a great location in the parking lot at a strip-mall. I was stunned at the gravity of the undertaking, we were pausing small groups, rallying volunteers and talking about pausing a Sunday service to make it happen.
It wasn’t an ‘evangelistic’ event, in the sense of there was no gospel talk planned or Christian themed segment. I was confused, can you put on a community event without preaching Jesus and claim it was a church event….you can’t do that right?! Jesus frowns of that stuff?!
Plus it was on Satan’s birthday right? Halloween is the day when Satan gets to have fun, I’m pretty sure Hezekiah chapter 4 speaks on looking down on the Pagans at their Fall Festival Events and refuse to engage. Needless to say I felt conflicted and confused.
Mat, who organized the event, told me it was a message to the community;
“We love you, and if life ever becomes unbearable or tough we are there to help.”
Our goal was to remind the community that we are here, we love you and we are available if you need us. We had a team of people who loved Jesus and were ready and willing to communicate the gospel given the opportunity, but the focus was love on a community.
At this point I should note, 2008 property prices in Maricopa had dropped by 77%. The $402,000 home that we rented short-sold for $92,000 and on our street alone we had 20 foreclosures. Statistically Maricopa was the second worst town in all of America affected by the property crisis. People were leaving in droves, entire streets were vacant and the city’s infrastructure ground to a halt. Maricopa went from boom to bust and there was a negativity in town because people lost everything.
In 2008 we had 6000 people come to that event, the following year we doubled that number. We have been over 12,000 people since 2009 and each year I am stunned at the communities involvement in an event that COC puts on. In just over a month we do it all over again, Trick or Treat is on October 31st from 4-8pm and I can’t wait to see what happens.
So has there been any life-change? Sure there has, we’ve had families join COC because of the event and families leave (on account of Satan’s birthday). The best moment, is the new family to the area who right now are on life’s plan B and looking for some love who encounter Jesus on ‘the Devil’s day’ and are radically transformed. We’ve had a bunch of those and this year we look forward to a bunch more!