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Northport’s PraiseFest Ministries takes outreach to high seas with missions cruise comment (0)

February 1, 2007

By Jeremy D. Henderson

Tuscaloosa’s best-kept secrets might be all about football firings and hirings. But neighboring Northport’s best-kept secret just might be Praise-Fest Ministries — and the national acclaim the growing organization has received.

PraiseFest Founder and President Matthew Dunaway would certainly like to think so.

Dunaway, who also serves as minister to families at Lord of the Harvest Baptist Church, Northport, in Tuscaloosa Baptist Association, has shared the vision of his organization with the cream of the crop of America’s Christian culture makers and is eager to share it with his fellow Alabama Baptists.

"We try to work like a hub for Christians and ministries to work together," he said. PraiseFest started in 2003 by helping churches put on outreach concert events and has grown to include its newest ministry — Cruise with a Cause.

Both the concerts and the cruise focus on partnerships with numerous specialized ministries from First Priority of America to The Way of the Master (Kirk Cameron’s ministry). They also involve individuals like professional wrestler Sting, who serves on the ministry’s board of directors. Well-known author and speaker Josh McDowell is also a PraiseFest board adviser.

"We would love the churches in the state to latch on to this because this is an Alabama product … it is making a big impact," said Jeff Atkins, PraiseFest’s director of operations and member of North River Church, Tuscaloosa, in Tuscaloosa Association.

The desire of the organization’s leadership was to create an "ongoing evangelistic mission designed to point people all over the world to Christ by working with local churches and other ministries," he added.

After holding several years’ worth of outreach concerts in Alabama, PraiseFest’s first venture into the world came in May 2006 with the inaugural Cruise with a Cause, which, by all indications, has been the group’s most effective outreach project.

The cruise played host to 2,300 people from every state but North Dakota and Hawaii and at least 35 different denominations.

Of those, Dunaway said 1,600 were on their first international missions trip.

"Yes, we’re combining a vacation and mission trip together, but this is a bona fide mission trip," Atkins said.

In fact, the cruise culminated in a gospel siege of Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama, a crusade that granted full evangelistic access to every public school on the island — nearly 10,000 students.

The school witnessing efforts, combined with a four-hour stadium crusade broadcast to the entire Bahamas via the national television service, resulted in approximately 1,700 decisions for Christ.

Dunaway said PraiseFest’s efforts in the Bahamas have been verified by Sons of Salvation, an evangelistic partner of Praise-Fest with a well-rooted Bahamian outreach campaign, to have a 60 percent "sticking rate." It’s a term often used in event-evangelism circles to indicate the number of new Christians who follow their conversion with discipleship and church attendance.

In addition to its evangelistic success, PraiseFest is growing to be a familiar public face. Cruise with a Cause has already been featured in a Time magazine article on the faith-based travel industry. It’s also appeared on Trinity Broadcasting Network’s MTV-styled network JCTV as a camera crew was sent aboard the luxury liner to film the week’s events for a reality show. A second season is already in the works.

In addition, Dunaway and company have recently negotiated a promotional partnership with Vacation.com, which, according to its Web site, is North America’s largest vacation selling network.

"They told us they’d never had a relationship with any Christian travel organization," Atkins said.

The second Cruise with a Cause, with efforts planned for the Bahamian capital of Nassau, will be June 4–8.

For more information, visit www.praisefestministries.com.

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