By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
MANCHESTER — To say The Jesus Tent was a popular site during Bonnaroo is an understatement. About 13-17,000 Bonnaroovians visited the tent for its 24/7 offer of shade cooled by fans, snacks, water, smartphone charging stations, WiFi, and conversation.
In other words, The Jesus Tent was a peaceful oasis in the midst of Bonnaroo, a camping music festival drawing about 80,000 folks to a 700-acre farm here June 11-14.
While at The Jesus Tent, many folks had life-changing conversations, explained several Baptist volunteers. Though many visitors held the popular belief that all paths or religions lead to God, they were open to conversation, reported the volunteers.
The huge response to The Jesus Tent makes this the largest evangelistic event of the Tennessee Baptist Convention and possibly of other denominations in Tennessee, reported David Evans, evangelism specialist of the TBC.
Jake Dorak, this year’s director of the ministry, said, “The nations are coming to us and we have an obligation to tell them about Jesus.” He is associate pastor of missions and evangelism, First Baptist Church, Manchester.
So many Bonnaroovians visited, he said, because of what was offered free of charge in contrast to the expensive vendors at Bonnaroo offering food and even showers, but also because the tent was open 24/7. Many concerts are offered at night and into the morning, and fans often stay up to attend them, Dorak explained.
Making the 24/7 schedule possible were 13 students of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, based in Wake Forest, N.C., and five members of a Tennessee summer missions traveling team coordinated by TBC staff, noted Dorak. These young people worked the night shifts.
A total of about 150 Baptists served as volunteers at The Jesus Tent.
Volunteer Brady Wood, pastor, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, Hixson, served for the first time. He noted that Baptists go on missions trips outside of Middle Tennessee to do what they can do at Bonnaroo.
He met people at the tent from Texas, New Hampshire, Iowa, Kentucky, and Ohio.
Wood also liked the name of the ministry, adding that it harkened back to the Jesus Freaks of decades ago.
“In the culture, the world we’re living in, we don’t have time to be subtle,” said Wood.
Donna Berg, a volunteer from Northside Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, can serve because she is a school teacher on break during the summer. She has served in the ministry for about eight years.
This year she met three young men from Denmark. Bonnaroovians visited The Jesus Tent from many countries including New Zealand, Denmark, Italy, Israel, Germany, Kashmer, Vietnam, Fiji, Australia, and New Zealand. This was reported on a map in the tent on which visitors could mark their home.
Berg remarked that she is surprised at how receptive the folks here are, even inviting her into their tents as she has walked through the camping areas. She added that she is glad the young people can come to the tent if they need a “safe spot.”
Jason Ramsey, pastor, Center Grove Baptist Church, Tullahoma, and two young men from his church served as volunteers for the first time.
Ramsey said Baptists here are meeting physical needs first and then offering spiritual help just like Jesus did most of the time.
“The churches getting together is what’s real neat,” he added.
Cookie Baker of Alabama, formerly of Manchester, traveled back to Manchester to serve. She has been a volunteer for eight years.
Serving at Bonnaroo and in disaster relief are her ministries, said Baker.
A new feature of the ministry this year was use of social media including Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook “to continue the conversation after Bonnaroo,” said Dorak. He started sending out and posting messages in March and ramped it up during the event.
“This is contagious,” observed Evans. “This is on-the-job training in evangelism.”
Dorak added, “This is servant evangelism that anybody can do.”
Evans noted that the servant evangelism practiced at The Jesus Tent “is reproducible with any church of any size.”
Finally he and Dorak credited the many local Baptists who made the ministry possible. They reported that Baptist volunteers who served June 8-14 ranged from 92-year-old Tom Womack of Highland Baptist Church, Tullahoma, to several 18-year-olds.
Duck River Baptist Association, based in Tullahoma, led by Mark Puckett, director of missions, directed the ministry for many years and continued most of its work this year including coordinating transportation for volunteers.
Sponsors were the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions ($10,000), Duck River Association ($3,500), First Baptist Church, Manchester, ($1,000), and other churches and individuals.