The annual Wow Jam/Charlotte Christian festival returns Wednesday for four days of prayer and free, family-focused fun.
Besides inspirational messages, the event brings communities together for upbeat music, food, haircuts and manicures, games and activities for children and shoes for school.
About 9,000 people are expected as the event moves to a different neighborhood each day.
“This is one week in the year when the church goes to the people instead of the people being invited to the church,” said Michelle Hoverson, associate pastor of Missions and Outreach at Cornelius' Grace Covenant Church and coordinator of Wow Jam/Charlotte.
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Winning Our World International is an urban outreach ministry of Stephen and Linda Tavani. The singer/songwriter duo has led more than 300 Wow Jam festivals in more than 40 cities.
Their ministry has induced more than 364,000 people to come forward in a gesture of commitment to Christ.
Wow Jam first came to Charlotte in 2003. Volunteers, most affiliated with local churches, served 4,094 meals and gave away 2,046 boxes of groceries. They also repaired 436 bicycles and gave 332 haircuts.
Other programs included career counseling and health-and-wellness consultations. Samaritan's Feet gave away 1,000 pairs of shoes.
“We wanted to provide a ministry vehicle where suburban churches could partner with inner-city churches to reach hurting people in the city, whether that's physically, economically, spiritually or all of the above,” Hoverson said.
This year, 47 churches of various denominations and 700 volunteers have signed on to support the event.
Volunteers are scheduled to arrive just hours before each event to set up about 50 “blessing tents,” where services and giveaways are available. Children or parents can drop off bikes for repair starting at 3 p.m. each day. Volunteers work until all the repairs are completed.
Later in the day, the focus shifts to the stage.
“We're meeting practical needs for the first half of the Wow Jam, then we're meeting spiritual needs with a message of hope,” Hoverson said. “God has a destiny for each individual, regardless of their economic circumstances or what their neighborhood looks like. If they connect with him, the plan will be revealed.”
The event culminates with baptisms on Sunday. Buses leave each festival location around 2:30 p.m. and are scheduled to arrive at the Lake Norman YMCA in Cornelius in time for a baptism ceremony at 3 p.m. and a picnic.
“There are a lot of people in our inner-city neighborhoods who have never seen Lake Norman,” Hoverson said. “They bring their families. It's a really special day for them.”
About 135 people were baptized last year at the event. It's the result of the power of churches working in partnership, Hoverson said.
“We want to bring some strength to those inner-city churches that are trying to do their best in marginalized communities,” she said. “They need help. Wow Jam strengthens local churches that are working at this every day but need some resources.”