For many teenagers, summer is a time for beach trips, matinee movies and pulling weeds. Wait, what was that last one?
You read it right—pulling weeds. Well, at least if you’re Allison Ramirez.
Thirteen-year-old Ramirez spent Thursday with her hands in the dirt, pulling pesky weeds, planting flowers and spreading mulch around a church in her hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
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“Some of the people driving past were just like, ‘Thank you. Thank you for making the city pretty,’” she said.
Ramirez was one of about 180 volunteers, including many youth like herself, who beautified Pittsburgh’s North Side this week in preparation for the Franklin Graham Festival of Hope in Steel City just a few weeks away. For years, these community action projects have been a staple for Festival preparation as locals rally together to serve those around them and get the word out about the upcoming event.
“We’re called to be like Jesus,” Ramirez said, and “Jesus came to serve.”
Some of Thursday’s volunteers spent the day painting, cleaning up neighborhoods or putting on entertainment for the kids in Pittsburgh’s West Park. There was music, dancing and puppet shows. School supplies were collected for underprivileged children in the area. And a long line of people formed to get a free meal, put together by a group of smiling volunteers in lime green T-shirts.
There was a great response throughout the community, Festival of Hope associate Mark Lingle said, and “the food was a big, big deal.”
The park where people congregated is near Light of Life Rescue Mission and Urban Impact, both which helped coordinate the community action projects. People served by both ministries—along with other passersby—were happy to receive a free meal and enjoy Thursday’s activities. Altogether, more than 1,200 people were fed.
Local organizations also got in on it, with about 40 groups setting up booths in the park with information, freebies and health assessments. Even the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium were represented.
But one of the most exciting things that happened wasn’t in a big park; it was on individual doorsteps.
Several volunteers took beautiful flowers door to door with invitations to attend next month’s Festival. Residents were thrilled and even shared what’s going on in their lives when volunteers asked if they could pray for them.
That opened more doors for volunteers to share their faith.
“People’s hearts were really open and tender to share the Gospel,” Justin Hoover said. Hoover is a BGEA associate who trains people in Festival cities to properly counsel and follow up with those who accept Christ or have questions at the Festival. But the one-on-one connection has already begun. Some of Thursday’s volunteers said simply delivering flowers door to door was the best evangelistic opportunity they’ve ever had.
And that’s not all. Hoover himself shared the Gospel with at least 10 people in West Park.
“A lot of people are brokenhearted,” he said. He had a particularly memorable moment with a homeless man who was “on his knees crying out to the Lord to repent.”
The Gospel message was also delivered by Pastor Ed Glover, president and founder of Urban Impact, a local community outreach. He shared the Gospel and his own testimony and a couple of people decided to give their lives to Christ.
Ramirez, who has grown up in Pittsburgh, said “we need a lot of Jesus over here.” She may only be 13, but she’s fully aware of some of the personal hardships her city faces.
Yet she’s hopeful that the Aug. 15-17 Festival will be a catalyst for change around the city. She wants to see more people following Christ’s example by helping those around them and “trying to change the world” one community at a time.
Pittsburgh’s Festival of Hope will feature performances by Michael W. Smith, Kari Jobe, Lecrae, Tenth Avenue North, Tedashii and the Charlie Daniels Band. See who else will be there.