SAN DIEGO, Calif. Carl Smith is beginning to feel a little like a ringmaster as he orchestrates all the preparatory details to raising the Big Top Tent at Memorial Park in Logan Heights.
The tent will arrive Aug. 20 as Smith, a pastor with Teen Challenge, and his crew prepare for their 13th annual community outreach. Teen Challenge is an international ministry that uses the Christian faith as a backdrop in its work with substance abuse rehabilitation. Its clientele are among some of the most street-hardened young people in the community.
"We think of it as we are bringing some hope into an area that really needs it," Smith said. "The whole area has been affected by drug abuse, kids growing up without a father. He may be in jail or he may be in prison. We take the gospel and give it in a fun way, especially for the kids."
Up to 600 people could attend the four-day event, that includes a Bible and bicycle give-aways.
"If they win a bike at our event, it's probably the only way they can get a bike."
The festivities begin 6 p.m. Monday with a Spanish-language service featuring Pastor Carlos Garcia from Calvary Temple in Hillcrest. Smith said their research has shown that between 75 percent and 85 percent of the event's participants are Hispanic.
The outreach is designed to bring the church to the streets of Logan Heights.
"It's actually pretty obvious when they come in the tent, they are not the people who are going to walk into a church on Sunday morning."
As a result, Teen Challenge will give the street-weary community a message of hope that speaks to their own lives, sandwiched between the inner city and the 'burbs.
"The men will share of the hopeless years spent in prison, addiction, and (being) in the grip of death in gangs and drugs," the pastor said. "Jesus has set them free and now these men are serving the Lord and they are examples of Christ's love and grace."
The evangelist said the testimonies help peel away years of suspicion in the community and offer hope that change is possiblea message that is not always well received from outsiders.
"For Teen Challenge to put this event on goes a long way," he said, "All of us have come out of some tragic events in our own lives. We have addictions and other issues.
"Our own testimonies, our own stories of God's delivering power through His Wordis reaching out to others."
Smith speaks from experience and will share his own story.
"Twenty years ago I was wandering the streets, homeless," he said. "I was addicted to heroine. I lost my way for many, many years. From my story hope emerges that God can change their life, too."
On Tuesday evening at 7 p.m., the event switches gears by focusing on the youth, including the prize give-away. That night's message will discuss the evils of drug use and gangs. Augmenting the message will be a troupe from AIM San Diego, which uses the performance arts to communicate the gospel.
On Wednesday, volunteers will distribute free food after a short service set for 10 a.m. That service is in English, with Spanish translation, and will include a gospel message.
"It's a much-needed thing that they can supplement their groceries," he said.
Thursday's program will center on children through a rally at which several bicycles will be given away, and hundreds of Bibles will be handed out.
Before the end of the event, hundreds of local residents will have been prayed over by Teen Challenge staff, including some traveling from Inland Empire.
"We are looking for God to move in a great way this year," Smith said.
The park is located at Ocean View and 30th Street.
For more information, call (619) 265-0337.
For the first time in several years a ministry sponsor who provided a trailer full of food will not be able to participate this year. As a result, ministry officials are still seeking donations of food, bicycles and new or gently worn Bibles in English or Spanish.