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Kyle Penney

The stage and lights have been hauled away and traffic is resuming its course through the streets of downtown Tyler. CityFest East Texas is now a part of our history, with more than 20,000 people filling the streets of downtown during the two-day festival Oct. 5 and 6. It featured music, games, food, action sports and a message of hope delivered by Andrew Palau. Few events in the history of our community have garnered as much attention and required as much coordination as CityFest. More than 400 churches in our area joined together to promote the event and provide volunteers to host the family-friendly festival. Yes, you read that correctly. That number is not a misprint. Literally, 405 churches worked together to pull off this massive street festival. So now what?

CityFest was a memorable and inspirational event for tens of thousands of area residents, and a pivotal life event in the spiritual journey for thousands of our friends and neighbors. Sharing the message of the Gospel was clearly the primary purpose of the event. As one of the stunt BMX riders explained on Saturday night, “Doing crazy things on bikes and motorcycles has nothing to do with the Gospel … but it gets your attention so we can share the Gospel.” If you had the opportunity to see the motocross riders jump their bikes to the height of the light poles in the Marvin United Methodist Church parking lot, perform a handstand in midair and land without a scratch, you, too, would want to at least hear what they had to say. CityFest did get the attention of many, but the organizers of the event did not want it to end with a street concert. The real work of CityFest in our community will continue as relationships and inspiration fostered through the event blossom into action throughout our community as part of CityServe.

Event steering committee members Elam Swann, Dr. Michael Tidwell and Rocky Gill explained the night of Oct. 6 that CityServe will continue to focus on six areas of great need in our community: foster care and adoption, combating sexual exploitation, ending homelessness, racial reconciliation, mentoring and behavioral health. Truth be known, many churches in our area have been working to address these issues for years. Many of the core nonprofits in our community were founded by churches many years, decades and generations ago, by people who were inspired by their faith to reach out to their neighbors in need. CityFest serves as a wake-up call that the work is not complete and we need to recommit ourselves as a community to making more progress on these issues. According to the CityServe website, “CityServe is a movement focused on encouraging, equipping, and empowering the Body of Christ to love and serve our region through united, long-term efforts focused on the area’s greatest needs.”

As acknowledged in the description of CityServe, the identified focus areas of the movement will require long-term effort and sustained support. It reminds me of my experience in youth choir many years ago. When a song required a long note to be held, choir members would take turns taking a breath to hold the note. As long as everyone didn’t take a breath at the same time, the note could be sustained without interruption. CityServe will require the same type of sustained effort, with an army of volunteers sharing the load to meet the needs of this generation and the next. For example, regarding the issue of homelessness. It may not be realistic to think we can end homelessness for everyone, forever, but our job is to help those who are homeless today and prepare to help those who find themselves in that predicament tomorrow. If every child looking for a forever family found one today, there would, unfortunately, be another child in need of a family tomorrow.

We live in a broken world where some people make poor choices and others find themselves in need of a helping hand through no fault of their own. The events of CityFest have reminded many of us to share the hope, grace and compassion that stem from our spiritual faith, with others. In the days and weeks ahead, let the renewal of your heart lead you to new opportunities to give your time, talents and treasures to help those around you who are suffering. Supporting the work of local nonprofits through CityServe may be your next best opportunity to give well.

Guest columnist Kyle Penney is president of East Texas Communities Foundation and a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy. Philanthropy builds community and changes lives. ETCF supports philanthropy by providing simple ways for donors to achieve their charitable goals. To learn more about ETCF or to discuss your charitable giving, contact Kyle at 866-533-3823 or email questions or comments to etcf@etcf.org. More information is available at www.etcf.org.

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