Takin’ It to the Streets

By   •   June 15, 2012

Although the man was murdered Saturday night, candles tucked inside Hennessy bottles and Virgin Mary votive jars still flickered yesterday near the corner of Main and King streets in downtown Rochester, marking the spot where he died.

The Freedom Way district—a thoroughfare between woman suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony’s homestead and the church where abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ press once stood—is a tough part of town. 

Men sit on stoops drinking malt liquor from paper bags in the middle of the afternoon and the smells of stale urine, frying fish and marijuana smoke combine to assault the nostrils.

The scream of police sirens periodically drowns out conversations.

But that doesn’t stop Barry McClenaghan and Matt Quirk from canvassing the streets nearby, inviting everyone they meet to this weekend’s Rock the Lakes Festival. The two men stop, shake hands, listen to stories, hand out tracts, and talk about Jesus with each person who crosses their path.

“This isn’t easy,” said McClenaghan, “but people need the Lord. We are on a rescue mission.”

Although they sometimes encounter cursing and rejection—and one man pulled a switchblade on McClenaghan recently—the men believe their lives are not their own.

“Jesus bought us with a price,” said McClenaghan.

“Being a soldier for Christ is what it’s all about,” said Quirk.

Still, many they meet are receptive and want to hear about Jesus. The invitations to Rock the Lakes are gladly received, after a few details are explained. “Is Billy Graham a country singer?” one man asks. “What does it mean to be born again?” puzzles a young girl.

McClenaghan, Quirk and three or four other men are part of the Calvary Chapel Webster street ministry team. The volunteers go out each week to various parts of Rochester to share the Gospel and the love of Christ. They’ve been passing out Rock the Lakes fliers since late April.

“We go where the Holy Spirit leads us, no matter the season,” said McClenaghan. 

“People in the city seem to be more open than those in the suburbs—they are used to be approached,” added Quirk, who worked on a street ministry team during Billy Graham’s final New York City Crusade.

He thinks the suburbs are harder because people are busy with their kids’ soccer games and earning money. “Maybe there is a greater openness to the Gospel in inner city areas because of the sex and drugs and violence.”

After seeing the power of a personal invitation while in New York City, he now gladly approaches residents in this area of Rochester: “I saw what it was like to invite people personally to a crusade and watch them accept Christ. It is nice to have that one-on-one interaction.”

Quirk also attended the 1988 Billy Graham Crusade in Rochester. “I was already saved then,” he explained, “but I remember each moment clearly, so I am looking forward to this weekend.”

McClenaghan and Quirk are confident that anyone they invite to the Festival will hear the Gospel. “You know the Lord is going to work,” said Quirk. “We know that Franklin Graham will share Christ.”

“And we pray for every person we invite,” said McClenaghan. “We don’t want this to be a futile exercise.”

Considering the street ministry to be a calling, McClenaghan is passionate about saving souls: “I was a preacher’s kid who led a sheltered life. But as I got older and went into the Air Force, I strayed and did some things I’m not proud of.”

During a trip to Israel, the Lord laid John 15:16 on his heart: You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you to bear much fruit.

“I have felt called to evangelize since then,” said McClenaghan. “I want my life to be a testimony.”

Not long ago, he paused to talk to a man outside a bar who admitted he was “tripping” (on LSD). In his genuine and humble way, McClenaghan talked about a “real trip” the man could take with Jesus. Soon he broke through the psychedelic haze and touched the man’s heart.

Perhaps as many as 15 people per month come to Christ through the Calvary Chapel street ministry.

“We know God can reach many more this weekend when Franklin Graham confronts people with the Gospel,” said Quirk. “He can use large events or small meetings. There are many ways to evangelize and we welcome them all and pray for revival in Rochester.”

As the men walk off, the sounds of an old Doobie Brothers song serendipitously blares from a passing car:

Take this message to my brother
You will find him everywhere
Wherever people live together
Tied in poverty’s despair
…Takin’ it to the streets.

Rock the Lakes, a two-day Crusade, focuses on the youth Saturday with performances by the Newsboys, The Almost, Trip Lee, Lacey from Flyleaf and Flame. Sunday’s lineup—which is geared toward families—includes Michael W. Smith, the Newsboys, Canton Jones, Lacey from Flyleaf and L’Angelus.

Franklin Graham will share the Gospel both evenings and each night will be webcast on RockTheLakes.Live.com beginning at 4 p.m. ET.

Photos by Andy McMillan:

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