New Christian festival takes different approach to outreach

James 1:27 beckons the faithful to look after orphans and widows in their distress.

One Marshalltown church committee sees the verse as mantra to reach out to those searching for answers about their faith.

The committee, named the Ebenezers, holds a faith-based outreach program every year titled Mission Marshalltown. Mission Marshalltown touts a canned food drive, prayer walk and other community services.

However, this year the group is bringing something new to the effort.

Tony Willsher, student ministries director at Center Street Baptist Church, said the Emerge festival is a way for local youth leaders to engage the community. However, he said the event is not a typical church function. It’s more a way for church leaders to get to know people than it is a sermon or a way to convert them.

“The church and the community should never be separate,” Willsher said. “We love our community. We love our fellow human beings.”

The Ebenezers will hold the festival from 5 to 8:30 p.m. in the parking lot of the Center Street Baptist Church, 1202 S. Center St. The family outing will feature Christian alternative bands 641 Project and Fortress as well as face painting, games, obstacle course and children’s bouncy castle.

The Ebenezers group gets its name from a stone that signifies the help of God in 1 Samuel.

Steve Brant, youth pastor at Evangelical Free Church, said the event helps give the youth who work it a chance to build relationships as they serve God and the community. He said Emerge, and more broadly, Mission Marshalltown, allows people of different denominations to keep their common beliefs in perspective and not quibble over their differences.

“The real bonus to that is we as church get to work together,” Brant said. “It’s critical. It’s really the thing that makes us function.”

Willsher said the church wants to focus on taking its message to Marshalltown residents instead of acting as though it’s their responsibility to come to the church. Today’s youth perceive faith differently than their parents do. He said the Ebenezers want to do their utmost to accommodate young people in a way to which they can relate.

“Times are changing – this world, this county,” Willsher said. “We have to progress What I expect is for the church to be what it’s supposed to be: a loving, caring entity that can be encouraging to people, and in this case, a community event, just to be around and create memories.”

“The church should emerge from the community,” he later added.

Although the festival is free, organizers are asking that those in attendance bring a canned food item.