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FBC Opelika youth pastor uses fake snow as outreach effortcomment (0)

January 14, 2010

By Jeremy Henderson

You can’t rightly call Alan Jones, youth minister at First Baptist Church, Opelika, an iconoclast. But since moving to Auburn in 2006, he certainly has made a habit of going against the grain.

Despite living a mile away from Jordan­-Hare Stadium, Jones and his family pull for the University of Alabama on Saturdays.

Even more out of place than the crimson license plate in the driveway?

The white snow — 8 feet high in some spots — in his back yard. 

“Well I’ve just always kind of liked snow,” Jones said. “I grew up in Birmingham and I would always anticipate snow and the weather man would say it would but no, it wouldn’t happen.”

But for more than a year, Jones has been his own weatherman, blanketing about a quarter of an acre of his yard and his neighbors’ (members of Parkway Baptist in Auburn) with homemade snow when conditions — such as recent single-digit temperatures in Lee County — are just right.

The process takes 35 to 40 hours.

According to Jones, the principle and mechanics behind his do-it-yourself snow machine, which he was able to assemble with instructions from snow-enthusiast Web sites, are similar to industrial-sized snow-machines used by ski resorts since the ’70s.

“Over the last year I’ve been collecting [parts and equipment] off of eBay and craigslist,” he said. “I just decided, ‘hey, I’m going to tinker with this as a hobby.’”

A hobby with a holy purpose; Jones uses the snow — and especially the 30-yard sled course he built with his three sons — not only as a youth group activity but as a witnessing tool.

“I sent out a text to 250 people on Sunday, inviting them to come over, and 60 of my kids were there all day,” Jones said. “That’s one good thing about it — it helps me get to know my kids but I also give out a newsletter to tons of the neighborhood people who just show up. It talks about how we did it but also talks about the pristine snow and uses it as a gospel presentation.”

On Jan. 6, the crowd that showed was typical. “When I got home from work today there were six cars out in front of the house with six moms and nine kids.”

He didn’t know any of them; they’d simply heard about the snow word of mouth.  He smiled, pointed them toward the sleds and handed them a newsletter with the verse from Isaiah. His wife, Lisa, made them hot chocolate.

“We’ve been through three gallons of the powder mix in a week,” Jones said. “That’s part of the ministry. She makes hot chocolate for anyone who stops by.”

Like the Mexican woman, in town visiting family, who stopped by unannounced the previous night. Jones didn’t mind; it was her first time to see snow.

“Yeah,” Jones said, “it’s an ongoing event.”

One he plans to continue in the future. “It’s just such a good ministry tool,” he said, grabbing his shovel.

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