Preaching Account from SuperBown XL in Detroit, MI
Saturday morning, February 5, 2006 armed with 2,000 tracts, a Gospel banner, obedient lives and much prayer, we headed out to preach at the Detroit Winter Fest, a special Super Bowl event designed especially for families. We had worked together on the tract that spoke especially to “sports fans.” It describes how an athlete, “Joe”, became a sports fan and player, and then a drunkard, fornicator and sinner, to finally becoming a born-again Christian who worships only the One True God and forsakes all others (including sports). [Contact us if you would like a copy of the athlete who comes to Christ tract.]
We noticed right away on our arrival at the Winter Fest that amidst the ice-skating pond, toboggan run and loud rock music, this family event was well-equipped with another important “family” commodity: beer. Beer tents surrounded our preaching spot, and go-karts full of kegs of beer were brought in at regular intervals to keep the supply from dwindling. Practically everyone passing by had a beer in their hands. The 35 degree weather and pouring rain did not seem to deter these zealous “family” sports fans—even those with young children and babies—and there was a steady stream of people passing by at all times. Eight to twelve other preachers were also ministering in the vicinity with Gospel signs, and it made for a strong presence of the Gospel. It “just so happened” that the news tent was directly in front of the preachers’ spot and, being that the weather was so inclement, they were forced to take their live news footage of the event from the confines of the tent with several Gospel signs as a backdrop. This made them more than a little uncomfortable. Security and police officers tried to move us several times, but they couldn’t seem to agree amongst themselves where we could be and what was “legal”, so for a few hours we were able to preach and pass out tracts unhindered. The rain fell in torrents, and we were quickly wet through to the skin. It actually seemed a blessing when it finally started snowing, as it was at least a little drier.
We preached and passed out tracts for about 3 hours before retreating inside for a short “warm up” lunch break. When we came back to our preaching spot, the remaining 5 or 6 other preachers were being escorted off the premises by the police. We had been given some free hand-warmers as we passed by one of the local booths, and so Giampaolo was able to give the preachers hand-warmers for their pockets as they were being escorted away. They quietly encouraged Giampaolo to go back and preach some more, since he had not specifically been told to leave. This we did, and we were able to preach for about another hour unhindered, while security was busy escorting the others off the premises. However, when they discovered us, they were far from happy—though the crowds passing by us were not visibly riled, nor were there any disturbances. We actually had more people than usual thank us for giving them a tract—and of the 1,000 or so tracts we passed out, we only saw 2 on the ground. (That is very unusual, to have so few.)
Nevertheless, one security officer, a “church-goer”, was rough with Giampaolo. He stood on Giampaolo’s feet and tried to shove him around, insisting that he needed a permit to be there. Giampaolo rebuked the religious security officer for trying to hinder the Gospel of Jesus Christ and continued to preach (no one else who was there needed a permit). When the police arrived, they told us that we couldn’t be there, and they threatened to arrest us. It seemed to change with whim where we could and couldn’t be, and what we could and couldn’t have and do: one officer said we couldn’t pass out tracts, another said we couldn’t have a banner, one security officer said that we had to stand on the street, another person said we had to stay on the sidewalk … and some insisted that we just couldn’t be there in any way, shape or form at all. At any rate, this officer finally decided that if we took the banner down we could stay, and so Giampaolo agreed to do so. As he started taking it down, however, another irate Super Bowl event organizer got very aggressive and started grabbing the sign, trying to rip it out of Giampaolo’s hands. Giampaolo has a wonderful measure from the Lord of a calm spirit, and he doesn’t get flustered easily. He held on to the sign, asking the security officer why he was trying to take it since Giampaolo was taking it down of his own accord. Finally, Giampaolo let the security officer wrestle it from him, but he turned to the police officer for help as the security guard ran away with it. “Hey! He just stole my banner! Aren’t you going to do anything?” The police officer just turned away, as if it was none of his concern.
The news was broadcasting live at that time, and so Jackie went over to inform them that they were threatening us with arrest for preaching the Gospel and that they had stolen our sign. But alas, this sort of news did not support their purposes and they made sure to turn the camera away. At this point, the crowd became very rowdy. In an effort to keep the truth from being aired, the newsmen would not take footage with us standing there. The crowd started shouting that many of them went to church on Sundays and so they didn’t need to hear any Gospel preaching. They shouted that right now they just wanted to be on TV … and “to worship the NFL” (yes, that is a direct quote—from more than one person.) They truly wanted “no other gods” before the NFL god. We told them that if Jesus was to come to their event, they would throw Him out also, and admonished them strongly that you cannot worship sports and God.
Darkness was coming on, and a day of heavy drinking seemed to be taking effect on the people. Giampaolo decided that it was time for us to leave. He wanted to retrieve our Gospel sign, however, before we left. We asked several police officers, but they were unconcerned and said they had no idea what happened to it. We finally found one sympathetic (though lethargic) police officer who was at least willing to make a call on his radio, and we were able to testify to him for about a half-hour as we stood there waiting to hear where we could pick up the sign. He told us that he was raised Catholic and he admitted that they were not allowing our constitutional right of free speech, but he then added that the Detroit police think themselves to be above the constitution. When Jackie mentioned our freedoms being limited like in Russia, he agreed and said, “You can just look at us like the KGB, because that it really how the police in Detroit are.” His admonition to us was: don’t come to preach in Detroit—they’re likely to throw you in jail or in the mental institution. He was mildly apologetic for the rough and unreasonable treatment we were receiving, but he was also quick to clarify that he was not going to do anything about it. “I have a wife and two children to support,” he said. “If I was to take a stand, I could lose my job. And I am not willing for that.” We admonished him that his attitude was no different than that of Pontius Pilot when Jesus stood before him. Pontius Pilot knew that Jesus had done no wrong, and he even washed his hands to “be innocent of this man’s blood.” But he refused to take a stand because he did not want to face the consequences of going against the crowd. Yet God still held him accountable. The police officer was under obvious conviction, but he was unable to help us retrieve our sign before being called to another matter.
We had started to walk in the direction of our vehicle when we crossed paths with the first Super Bowl security officer who had stood on Giampaolo’s feet. He was actually, as it turned out, the event operators’ manager. We told him that one of his workers had stolen our sign. It seemed the Lord had changed his demeanor some, and he actually went to retrieve our sign for us. He handed it back to us on the edge of the premises, and we were able to leave with only a slightly-damaged sign.
While we have no report of thousands of converts—in fact, we do not know of one as a direct result of our preaching that day—we are confident that we were about the Lord’s business. And He has promised that His Word will not return void without accomplishing what He has in store for it (Isaiah 55). We are merely workers in the harvest field of our God, and we thank Him for the great privilege it is to work for Him and with Him, and to preach His Word while there is yet time.
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, Who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing and His kingdom, I give you this charge: ‘Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:1-5).