By Peter H. Milliken
Music and evangelism came alive here Friday with the appearance of nationally famous gospel singer Janet Paschal at Chaney High School, spurring some attending to express hope for uplifting the city or for a spiritual healing experience.
The River of Life International Crusade Team from California provided other vocalists and the instrumental musicians for the program.
Speakers at the Mahoning Valley Gospel Fest included evangelists Marty Martinez and Nicky Cruz.
“This event is to draw in unbelievers, and it’s an evangelistic outreach to win souls to God,” said Pastor Dwight Dumas, event coordinator and former pastor of Fifth Avenue Community Church in Youngstown and Third Christian Church in Warren.
“We hope that people come together, that they feel a sense of God’s spirit, that they come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior, that believers join together and they feel a sense of togetherness,” he added.
The pastor also said he hopes those affiliated with churches will be motivated “to go back to their local churches and do a better job in the city.”
The program is sponsored by 13 Mahoning Valley churches, representing a variety of denominations.
“There’s a lot of people who are walking around with empty hearts and empty lives, and, of course, God never meant for us to walk through this world without a relationship with him. I’m hoping that people find that relationship with him,” said Pastor Rafael Cruz of Unity Baptist Church in Boardman, one of the sponsoring churches.
“I saw it advertised on TV, and I live in the neighborhood,” said Diann Abraham of Youngstown. “I’m hoping to experience great things here tonight, spiritually,” she said as she arrived at Friday’s program.
“I’m just hoping for better things for our city, and I know that, with God, all things are possible. If this is the beginning of something that’s going to be happening spiritually, I want to be a part of it,” she added.
“We’re attending to get a blessing,” said Thomas Hampton of Youngstown, who was with his wife, Melanie. “I had my blessing about a month ago,” he said, adding that the back pain that plagued him for 15 years went into remission after he attended a local church service.
“I had my hands up, and the anointing of the Lord knocked me off my feet, and I haven’t had any problem with my back since,” he said.
Hampton said his wife has been using a leg brace for the past year. “We’re hoping she receives her blessing,” he added.
“I think it’s awesome for Youngstown,” Melanie Hampton said of the program. “Youngstown needs some uplifting,” she said, adding that she was attending “to get closer to God and see Youngstown come together for something good.”
The free program, being offered in Youngstown for the first time, will be repeated at 7 p.m. today and 4 p.m. Sunday in the high-school auditorium at 731 S. Hazelwood Ave. For those who can’t attend in person, all three programs are being live-streamed on martymartinezmin.org.
Simultaneous interpretation from English to Spanish is being provided over headsets for those who attend and need the translation.
The program is at Chaney because sponsors did not want to appear partial to any particular church, Pastor Dumas said.
At the programs, Hubbard Save-A-Lot is distributing more than $10,000 in grocery vouchers to needy people.
A native of Reidsville, N.C., Paschal has released 16 solo albums, is a four-time winner of the Diamond Award for Best Female Vocalist, and has had multiple Grammy and Dove award nominations.
She was with the crusade team of televangelist Jimmy Swaggart before releasing her first album, titled “I Give You Jesus” on Swaggart’s Shiloh Records label. After her album “Journey of Grace” in 1994, she released an album and book, titled “The Good Road,” three years later.
Having been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, she received a year of treatment and recorded a collection of hymns, titled “Sounds Like Sunday,” as a fundraiser for breast cancer research in 2007. Her song “Another Soldier’s Coming Home” is performed often by the U.S. Army Band.
Her single, “Hide Me Sweet Rock of Ages,” from her 2008 “Treasure” album was first on the Singing News Top 80 chart in August 2009.
She has performed at the Grand Old Opry, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and the Sydney Opera House.
The Puerto Rican-born evangelist Nicky Cruz was a warlord of the Mau-Mau street gang in New York City before converting to Christianity. He was the director of Teen Challenge before founding the Christian evangelist ministry, the Nicky Cruz Outreach.
In 1970, Cruz’s conversion was featured in the movie, “The Cross and the Switchblade.” He also is the author of two autobiographies and several Christian-themed books.