By Sean Barron
Bruce Dole began his Saturday with a walk of biblical proportions or, to put it another way, with a cross to bear.
“There’s a lot of times in your life where you have nowhere else to turn, but you always have God,” said the Salem man, who was part of a six-man contingent that carried a 300-pound wooden cross 18 miles.
Four such teams took turns holding the cross as they walked along state Route 193 from about 3 miles north of Fowler to the Covelli Centre, downtown, the site of the Men’s Rally in the Valley 2013 gathering.
The 18-mile distance was symbolic of Luke 10:30, a New Testament passage that is part of the Good Samaritan parable, which in part describes a man who was robbed and beaten as he walked the 18 miles from Jerusalem to Jericho, then was taken to an inn and cared for.
A smaller group carried a second cross the same distance from Hermitage, Pa., to the center, noted Dole, whose sons, Kyle, 20, and Cody, 24, accompanied him on the arduous trek.
The elder Dole noted that Skip Siefert, a member of Hermitage-based Grace Chapel Community Church, conceptualized the idea.
Thirty-seven vendors, including several ministry tables, made up the seven-hour Christian interdenominational rally, themed “Iron Sharpens Iron” from Proverbs 27:17. The event, in its fourth year, also featured six speakers and numerous praise and worship bands, as well as musicians from area churches.
The rally’s main purposes were to provide the men fellowship with one another while giving them an opportunity to make a commitment to Jesus Christ and be challenged to make positive differences beyond their church walls, noted Walter “Bing” Newton, event coordinator.
An estimated 3,000 people representing 50 to 60 churches and 12 to 15 Christian denominations in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys attended the gathering, noted Bob Weber, Newton’s press secretary.
Many attendees commit themselves throughout the year to supporting Teen Challenge, the Rescue Mission of Warren and many area food banks while performing numerous charitable acts, Weber said.
Kicking off the rally was Joe White, founder and president of Men at the Cross, who spoke about what he feels is the importance of men turning their hearts to God.
White, 64, a former Texas A&M University assistant football coach, sprinkled his presentation with comical anecdotes, but also recalled having grown up with an abusive father. Years later, he was able to reconcile with his father, thanks to God’s guidance, he told his audience.
Over roughly 10 years, White said, he’s counseled many men who have turned to pornography, alcohol, illicit relationships and other vices to fill the voids of their injured hearts. An Air Force pilot became addicted to pornography and went to prison because of an inappropriate relationship with a family member, he said, adding that the former pilot now helps fellow inmates.
“The condition of a man’s heart, according to Scripture, is how a man lives his life and where he spends eternity,” White added.
The other five presenters were the Rev. Ebenezer Appiagyei, pastor of New Hope Free Methodist Church in Warren; the Rev. Juan Rivera, pastor of New Life Church in Poland; Neal Jeffrey, a former Baylor University and San Diego Chargers quarterback and minister of a Dallas church; Bob Pavlich, acting director of operations for Ohio Valley’s Teen Challenge; and Ken Johnson, acting chaplain of the Indianapolis Colts.
The power and love of Christ will give believers a buffer to resist forces that try to destroy them, the Rev. Mr. Appiagyei explained.
People can overcome all of their obstacles if they live by Christ’s promise of never forsaking his followers, he noted.
“You must always realize, God will not abandon you,” Mr. Appiagyei said, adding that prayer is the most powerful gift parents can give their children. “Hope is based on the promise.”
Some prayers go unanswered largely because the speaker’s words and actions are incongruous with each other. For example, some people pray for Youngstown, yet tell others it’s a dangerous place, Mr. Appiagyei continued.
The Rally in the Valley event also featured many tables containing a variety of inspirational books, compact discs, pamphlets and other information and resources.
To make a prayer request or to pray for another person, go to Mahoning Valley Hope Center’s website, www.mvprayer.org