Published Sunday | July 15, 2007
Luis Palau Heartland Festival notes
Motocross riders calling themselves Riders for Christ and stunt bicycle riders entertained fans in two sets of packed temporary bleachers in the Qwest Center Omaha parking lot-turned-festival venue.
Encouraged by a miked emcee, the bicycle riders did handstands on their bikes, bounced on one wheel, spun and performed jumps.
The Riders for Christ followed and dominated the show. After a short prayer, the emcee commanded: "Hey, crank the music up a little bit." The motocross riders then did Evel Knievel-like jumps from one ramp to another, launching high and performing various stunts in midair. Rock and hip hop blared over the speaker system.
About 3,300 local counselors, trained primarily by Luis Palau videos, reported for duty at a long tent Saturday afternoon. Their job was mainly to keep an eye out for people who responded passionately or with questions to the Gospel messages of speakers through the day.
John Schnell of Omaha, who oversaw the counselor program, said the people were trained to assist those who raised their hands during a speaker's presentation. In some cases, those people would seek prayers to have sins forgiven, feel a rededication to their faith or ask to know more about Christ.
Schnell said Palau's presentation would provide the best opportunity for those things to happen, but others gave spiritual talks through the afternoon, too.
Lost kids are found
At the Lost Children tent, children who required the parent-finding services of the volunteers there also received stuffed toys to comfort them. Besides the standard stuffed bears, bunnies and birds, a child could select a stuffed "Jesus Hugs Me" toy. As of midafternoon, two children had used the tent and been reunited with their families.
Attendees could take advantage of health screenings offered by various agencies during the Palau festival. The Nebraska Lions Foundation provided free vision tests, glaucoma screenings and blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and hearing tests.
Jim May of Papillion said he expected 100 to 150 people to use the service at the event Saturday. "That would be a good day," said May, chairman of the foundation's mobile screening unit. "A very good day."
Nearby, the Ronald McDonald Caremobile and One World Community Health Centers teamed up to give out toothbrushes and offer children's dental exams. At midafternoon, there was a lull in the dental van.
"If they knew it was air-conditioned in here, we'd probably have a line out the door," said Suzanne Rogert, development director with the local Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Protest gets heated (I personally didn't see a "heated debate" but I wasn't aware of Peter being there until later in the day. ~ susie)
Much has been made of how well the nondenominational Luis Palau and his local evangelical supporters have gotten along with Omaha Catholics.
And for the most part, they seemed to be getting along just fine Saturday. But the relationship wasn't all sunshine and puppy dogs.
An Omaha man, Peter Smagacz, attracted controversy when he set up a sign that read "Why I Left the Catholic Church" near a festival entrance at 10th and Webster Streets.
Smagacz handed out letters with his personal story and flyers that criticized Catholicism. A priest verbally confronted him, festival organizers complained about Smagacz and a police officer made him move to the west side of 10th Street, where he continued to hand out the literature.
Five young men in black pants with scapulars sticking out of their white polo shirts approached Smagacz on the street corner. They turned out to be Catholic seminarians, who are studying to be priests. They began to pray the rosary around Smagacz.
A festival spokeswoman, Kathy Chastain, was not aware of the incident. She said, "We try our best to be nondenominational, and leave it at that. He (Smagacz) has got his thing. We're not going to go and harass him."
— Christopher Burbach