Alive and well at the Kansas State Fair, religious faith of all kinds
By Karen Gangwere - The Hutchinson News
The Kansas State Fair isn't all food, fun, and flights of terror. Various religious denominations have long been represented at the Kansas get-together.
Some churches staked their claims years ago to sell their trademark pizza, tacos and sour-cream raisin pie along the midway.
Others have been content to ply their wares at various booths dotted throughout the main fair buildings.
Since 1975, the Baha'i community of Hutchinson has offered weary fairgoers a free drink of ice water and a comfortable place to sit in the Commercial Building.
Volunteer Jean Gould of Halstead said the presence of the Baha'is at the fair serves two purposes.
"It's a chance to be of service and proclaim the faith," she said. "Like every faith, we are encouraged to teach the faith. Baha'i faith is our life. It's something we love to talk to people about. We're not allowed to proselytize."
Visitors to the Baha'i booth may also pick up brochures, cards and coloring books or charge the batteries on their wheelchairs.
On hot afternoons, "people tend to make a beeline for the water," Gould said. Many fill up their own water bottles before moving along.
"Some people of strong Christian faith want to compare tenants and talk about their own faith, and that's OK," Gould said. "I tell them Baha'i is an independent world faith, just like Christianity, Buddhism, Muslim and Judaism."
Around the corner in the Commercial Building are the Methodists, also offering free ice water.
"The main idea is to give people information about the United Methodist Church," said Cheryl Baumeister of Wichita. "I've been a member for 10 years, and there are still things I'm learning about."
Volunteers at the UMC booth hope to steer interested people to a home church and acquaint them with the Methodist Church's service organizations, retreat camps and ministries.
"People that do stop by here have a Methodist connection," Baumeister said. "They want to know what church we're from, if we know anybody in common."
The Christian Churches of Kansas, whose booth is in the Industrial Building, are concerned about what people believe.
For about 12 years, the organization, sponsored by Crossroads Christian Church of Hutchinson, has polled fairgoers about current topics, tallied the results and published them in The Hutchinson News at the conclusion of the fair.
This year's topic is evolution and the Bible. Fair visitors are also invited to register for a drawing for T-shirts and a "VeggieTales" videotape.
Husband-and-wife team Walt and Grace Crist take time to visit with people who stop to pick up brochures.
"The people who are 25 and younger are more apt to talk to you," Walt Crist said. "Some of the older people just about break their neck to look the other way."
Volunteers at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America booth a few aisles away also want to get the word of God out to people.
Virtually everything at the Evangelical Lutheran Church booth - including an 83-minute "Jesus video," a Spanish Bible and the American Bible Society's edition of the New Testament - is free.
The Rev. Robert Albin, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, said younger people pick up the literature and keep walking. Other people, he said, stop to visit.
Women, especially, express their concerns for their children and grandchildren, Albin said. One woman, who was not yet baptized, asked for general information, he said.
That's their main purpose, Albin said - to provide information.
"I suppose mainly we're letting people know we're here," he said. "We're interested in spreading the gospel and making Christ known."
That's the very specific goal of Amazing Grace Mission, situated along the outer wall of the grandstand.
The ministry, based in Dayton, Tenn., has been represented at the Kansas State Fair since 1991. Longtime fair visitors will easily recognize the small "smiley face" booklets and the booth's graphic painting of the end of the world.
Affiliated with independent, fundamental Baptist churches, the 14-year-old organization spreads the word exclusively through state and county fairs and trade shows.
Visitors are invited to talk about their salvation.
"We ask them if they're going to heaven," said Wanda Reynolds of Tulsa, Okla. "It's not what church you go to, but what you have done about the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross that day, where you spend eternity."
Reynolds and her husband, Elbert Reynolds, have volunteered at the fair booth for five years, working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. The Rev. Kurt Kennedy, pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in Hutchinson, also volunteers his time.
"The people who stop by are curious," Kennedy said. "They want to know what the picture means."
Reynolds explains it simply.
"The picture is an artist's representation," Reynolds said. "The fire represents the hell of what will be without God. When you die, your soul or spirit will live in hell."
A large white flag with a blue Star of David also hangs from the booth's back wall.
"That's to show that there is salvation for Jews as well as Gentiles," Reynolds said. "Jews can become completed Jews just as Christians can be born again."
©Copyright 2000, The Hutchinson News