by Karen L. Willoughby
GALVESTON, Texas (BP) — As soon as Alisa Copeland arrived at the Lone Star Rally anxious about sharing her faith among throngs of bikers, she texted her 12-year-old daughter Alexis.
“I’m so nervous,” Copeland wrote to her evangelistically inclined daughter.
“You’ve got this, Mom,” Alexis replied. “You’ll do great!”
Copeland, a member of Bay Area First Baptist Church in League City, Texas, decided to participate because her older daughter had become an active witness for her faith and her younger daughter Jackelyn was learning to do the same.Copeland was one of 44 Southern Baptists who together led 399 people at the Lone Star Rally to professions of faith in Jesus Christ during their inaugural Mission Lone Star outreach.
But Copeland had never done so.
“I wanted to be a good example to my daughters and to my pre-teen girls class at church,” she said. “We’re learning to share the Gospel at church and when I read about [Mission Lone Star] in the church bulletin, I thought, ‘Here’s a chance to practice.’ I thought it would be a cool place to do that.
“I’m not the typical church person,” Copeland told Baptist Press. “I’ve got really red hair and I’m never going to grow out of character T-shirts — Ninja Turtles, Batman, Transformers — and my backpack has ‘Batmom’ on it; that’s my nickname.”
The biker rally, she thought, would be “the perfect place to be a unique person.”
Copeland was reared in a mainline Christian home, but when her parents divorced, she lost traction with home and church, looking elsewhere for happiness.
“But when I had kids, I didn’t want them growing up like me, so empty-feeling my whole life,” Copeland said. So she would take them to church and sit in the car or help in a Sunday School class to avoid Sunday worship.
Life changed when Copeland turned 35. She chanced upon a friend while grocery shopping — a friend who challenged her to give her life to Christ. Copeland didn’t know if it was the answer, fearful of walking toward the huge entrance doors of a church, so she started watching church on television.
“That’s when things started making sense,” Copeland said. “Alexis would come home from school and talk about being saved, and I didn’t know what she was talking about. That was another thing pointing me to Jesus.”
Her breakthrough came a few weeks later. “It was a lesson on forgiveness,” Copeland said. “Since I had made so many wrong choices I didn’t think I could be of service. [The TV preacher] talked about being washed clean, being new. It spoke to me. I can use my past; I am not my past. I sinned because I knew no better. I didn’t have Jesus.”
Her children were attending Bay Area Christian School, a K-12 ministry of Bay Area First Baptist Church, about a mile from their home. After a time at another church she had started attending after a women’s event there, Copeland — at her daughters’ request — led her family to go to Bay Area First Baptist.
Fast-forward seven years, and Copeland was among about 1,000 members of the church to start training in personal evangelism in October. The second week, an item about Mission Lone Star was in the church bulletin.
“I knew I could be relatable to that crowd of people,” she said. “And they’re coming to you! You don’t have to go to [the local grocery store] and say, ‘Hey, do you know Jesus?’ They’d probably throw something at you, but here, they come to you.”
Copeland trained by watching online videos at the www.missionlonestar.com website, writing out and practicing her three-minute story, which evangelist Ronnie Hill tweaked when she attended training for Mission Lone Star volunteers.
She worked the morning shift Thursday and Friday during the rally the first weekend in November. “I saw some skimpily-dressed ladies, and many more with plenty on,” she said. “It wasn’t as scary as people make it out to be. Overall it’s a better atmosphere than Mardi Gras.”
Her assignment was to tell her story under a tent-like overhang, but sometimes Copeland also worked as a “catcher,” a person inviting passersby into the tent.
“I’d say, ‘Hey, do you want a souvenir?’ People have to slow down to get the token,” the first-time evangelist said of item that invited them to register for a daily $1,000 drawing if they would listen to a three-minute testimony by one of the volunteers.
“The amazing thing for me was, if I ended up talking with a Christian, they’d love on you,” Copeland noted. “So many of them said, ‘Give [the token] to somebody else’…. We weren’t just ministering to people who needed Jesus but people who needed to be reminded of Jesus … and were convicted by seeing us reaching people.”
Mission Lone Star, coordinated by Jim Hamilton, executive director of the Golden Triangle Baptist Network in Beaumont, Texas, involved eight Baptist associations and the Baptist General Convention of Texas, plus other volunteers from across the nation.
It was based on the intentional evangelism ministry at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which Hamilton started in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 2006 when he was executive director of the Dakota Baptist Convention.
Copeland described some of the people she talked with, including a mother and daughter who were fleeing the woman’s husband. “They were too scared to even go to church,” Copeland said. “They were Hispanic, so we had some communication issues, but they said they needed Jesus’ protection. They made a profession of faith, hugged me and walked away. And when I saw them again, they had big smiles. They weren’t afraid anymore.
“Another lady came in with a beer, then said, ‘No, I can’t. I can’t even be in here.’ I told her that having a beer isn’t sin; drunkenness is a sin, that anything you put ahead of Christ is a sin, even your phone. She made a profession of faith and when I asked her if she had ever done this before she said no, that she didn’t think she could.”
Another woman “just started bawling,” Copeland said. Her concern was for her 35-year-old son who was far from God. “I told her, ‘It’s got to start with you.’ … I was able to direct her to a church in the town she’s from. I said, ‘I know people there.’ … I think I was meant to be there just for her if nothing else.”
Copeland said she plans to participate in Mission Lone Star again next year, and to bring more members of Bay Area First Baptist with her.
“Fear should not be an issue,” she said. “It was a lot easier than I expected, and it came more natural as the day went on.”