MASSILLON — Pacing on a raised stage, the Rev. Michael Fiedler, an evangelist from West Union, W.Va., exhorted his audience of teens and college students seated below to be "good soldiers for Jesus."
As the massive magenta- and tan-striped tent cast an otherworldly light, the slate-gray sky above threatened to deliver more rain, but didn’t. Thick clouds, however, prevented the sun from breaking through and warming the damp grounds at Massillon Baptist Temple.
Through Friday, the church at 1219 Overlook Ave. SW is hosting what’s being called "an old-fashioned tent revival."
It’s a slice of Americana, a throwback to a different time, said the Rev. Randy Taylor, the keynote speaker who has been a tent evangelist for 43 years.
"It’s America’s beginning," he said. "It’s what we used to look like."
"The tents have a past with us," said the Rev. Cecil Thayer, host pastor. He said the late Rev. Bruce D. Cummons, the ministry’s founder, started Massillon Baptist Temple in 1950 by holding tent services on the property and baptizing converts in the reservoir. Cummons died in 2004.
Noting that the church hasn’t held a tent revival since the 1990s, Thayer said they add something special.
"It’s electric," he said. "It’s out of the norm. It’s the same message, the same service as you would have indoors, but it’s the atmosphere."
Thayer said the heavy rains forced them to cancel Sunday’s service, but 180 people attended Monday’s night service. He said services for children also are available.
Put God first
Taylor, who uses a tractor-trailer to haul the 60-by-120-foot tent, said it seats about 300. After Massillon, the evangelism team is headed to Gainesville, Texas.
"We follow the ‘weather belt,’ but we got more rain than we expected," Taylor said with a laugh.
On Tuesday morning, his booming voice bouncing along the parking lot, Fielder, a member of the evangelism team, challenged 100 students from Massillon Christian School and Massillon Bible College to deepen their commitment to their faith.
A native of Cloverdale the former Army sergeant illustrated his sermon with his military experiences, challenging the teens and 20-somethings to take their Christianity more seriously.
"I love this land, but there are too many people who put this country ahead of God," he said. "We must put God first. Anything else is idolatry."
Fiedler also urged the young adults to apply the Army’s Seven Values to their lives and beliefs: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.
"This is all over this book!" he exclaimed as he waved his Bible. "Are you a good soldier of Jesus Christ? Are you? We’re in a (spiritual) fight, whether you believe it or not."
Fiedler said he served in the Army from 1995 to 2004. One of his assignments was Operation Noble Eagle, which oversaw homeland security following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
‘Are you a POW?’
Lamenting the culture’s discontent, Fiedler stressed that good soldiers focus, because not doing so could result in injury or death. Christians, he said, must do the same.
"You get distracted for a minute, you might die," he told the students. "We are in a fight. We are in a battle with the devil. He’s trying to get you to think about other things."
Saying the Christian’s "weapons" are the Bible and prayer, he called on the youth to put on "the whole armor of God," a reference to St. Paul’s prose in the New Testament book of Ephesians.
"We have to bring every thought into captivity or we’re going to be devoured by the devil," he said. "Are you a good soldier, or are you a ‘POW’ — a prisoner of this world?"
Fiedler said one of the tent revivals’ appeals is that they are old-fashioned, evoking a simpler era.
"It’s almost a novelty," he said. "But people will come to a tent revival that won’t step foot inside of a church."
For more details, go to MassillonBaptistTemple.com.