Hospitality and the Gospel at World Ag Expo

When Arnold Schwarzenegger, Partners International, and the Back to God Hour all end up in the same place, it’s got to be news. This unusual convergence happened at the 2006 World Ag Expo, the world’s largest agricultural exposition, held in Tulare, Calif.

Schwarzenegger was there to welcome the visitors to his state, while Partners and the Back to God Hour (BTGH) were there to welcome people from all over the world to a hospitality booth where they could hear about Christ, pray, and pick up devotional materials.

The mission booth, one of 1,600 vendors at the three-day expo, was sponsored by local Christian Reformed churches. Rev. Larry Van Essen, associate pastor of First Visalia CRC, coordinated the booth while volunteers from area churches helped to staff it.

This is the fifth year that CRC churches have sponsored the booth in partnership with Tulare Community Church (RCA) and Grace Community Church of Visalia. Various Christian relief and mission agencies were invited to participate.

 “Our purpose is to have a Christian presence, giving hospitality to those who attend the Expo,” Van Essen explained. “By offering coffee and cookies, we have an opportunity to talk with them about our ministries.”

 “We had a strategic location, right next to the ‘shuttle gate,’ so many people walked past our booth,” noted Jack Strong, BTGH director of advancement.

A Nigerian delegate noticed the display of Today devotionals and commented, “We have those in my country!” An Australian visitor told Strong that he receives Today at home.

Some of the most powerful stories cannot be told: stories from people who live in countries hostile to Christianity who stopped at the booth for prayer or quietly picked up literature.

“We prayed with people, but we don’t know the end result or where their story goes,” reflected Strong.

Van Essen tells of a woman who stopped by last year to complain that the church “speaks pious platitudes but doesn’t do anything to help the world’s poor.” Staff from Partners International described how business mentors partner with people in Third World countries to help create jobs, and a group called Gleanings for the Hungry described their ministry of distributing dried fruit to hungry people around the world.

When the woman heard how Christians are using their gifts to help feed the world, she visibly softened, Van Essen said. “She came back three times to talk to us.”

Strong said it was great to see the partnerships between mission organizations. “We worked right alongside The Bible League. The Gideons (who distributed Bibles from the booth) asked if they could have extra copies of Today and Cada Dia for their local prison ministry.

“Christians-in-Action took whatever Cada Dia booklets were left. They told me they have a hard time getting ‘good solid devotionals’ for their ministries in South America.”

About the Author

Nancy Vander Meer is a staff writer with Back to God Ministries International in Grand Rapids, Mich.