Thousands gather for music and fun at Southern California's evangelistic outreach


SAN DIEGO, Calif. — An estimated 50,000 people descended on Mission Bay Park Sept. 11 to celebrate Jesus and a five-month Season of Service as part of CityFest.

The day also focused on Argentine-born evangelist Luis Palau proclaiming the Gospel in a clear presentation to the thousands gathered at the park.

"Today was a celebration on so many levels—the churches working with and through the city on acts of service; thousands of volunteers working tirelessly to make it happen; a great day of music and good news for San Diego," said Craig Chastain, media and public relations director for the Luis Palau Association, which sponsored the festival. "It was an unforgettable season and a fabulous day."

Thousands of hours were invested in the CityFest event, which transformed more than half a mile of a green belt into an outreach block party. Over the course of several days the passive park was converted into a mini-tent city, complete with food courts, bathrooms and sponsor booths. In all, more than 15,000 volunteers served the public through security, shuttles, crowd control, and disabled and interpreting services.

Even the one element out of their control—the weather—showed up to the party with the unseasonable gray blanket parting by late morning to greet visitors with a warm fall sun and a persistent breeze.

"We couldn't have had a better weather day," Chastain said. "It was a typical gorgeous San Diego day."

That breeze added a tricky equation to the action sports demonstrations when the athletes had to spontaneously compensate for the wind as they entertained wide-eyed spectators, young and old, with their airborne toys—skateboards, bikes and motocross cycles.

The children had their age-appropriate fun zone where they mingled with VeggieTales characters and heard the gospel message through ventriloquist Mark Thompson, who used his furry friends to entertain. At one point, Quackers the duck evoked peals of laughter from the children as he tried to snack on Thompson's microphone. In between stage shows, the children enjoyed inflatables, bouncers and craft projects. Both children and adults boasted painted cheeks.

The early afternoon entertainment catered to San Diego's large Hispanic population with music by Latin acts Tercer Cielo and Marisol, whose angelic voice kissed the crowd, some lounging on quilts under pop-up tents. While determined foodies waited in snaking food court lines, a child livened up the atmosphere by launching bubbles with a portable machine. Above the Jumbotron, the American flag snapped in the wind.

Palau, on his first of two visits to the stage, shared the gospel message in Spanish, extolling the promises of Jesus and encouraging non-believers to turn their hearts to the Lord.

"I enjoyed that even though I didn't understand it," said English-speaker Shablay Samuda, of Spring Valley, who came to CityFest with a contingent from her church, Liberty Temple Full Gospel Church in San Diego.

"Its excellent," she said of the event. "There are a lot more people than I thought. I think it's wonderful. I enjoyed seeing the prayer tents and the people going in to receive prayer, and all the families coming out."

Tausha Scarlett of Rancho Bernardo brought her children to the event, but after waiting 90 minutes for the shuttle, arrived too late for the Family Fun Zone. She didn't let the disappointment interfere with a good time, though.

"I think it's a great atmosphere," she said.

Ana Salazar of San Diego brought her three children, who all seemed to enjoy the offerings, especially 11-year-old Celeste,

"I liked making the friendship bracelets," she said.

Her brother Joe, 5, said he liked the Veggie Tales although he didn't get a chance to meet them in the Family Zone.

As the afternoon began giving way to evening, musicians Phil Wickham, Kirk Franklin and Dave Lubben got the audience on their feet as they bobbed to the various beats.

With the crowd warmed up, Palau returned to the stage, giving a brief tribute to those who were killed on Sept. 11 and reminding the crowd about the fragility of life and the key to eternal life. His son, Andrew, who shared his testimony earlier in the afternoon returned to the stage to accentuate the gospel message just shared by his father.

The celebration winded down to a close as the Newsboys presented pulsating praises to the Lord, a fine exclamation point to a brilliant day.

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