To city officials, the sight of packet-clutching, name-tag-wearing visitors shuffling between downtown hotels and Bartle Hall evokes the sweet sound of cash registers ringing. But to Kansas City residents, the flocks of out-of-towners often raises the question: "Who are you people?"
Despite the plastic sunglasses and hipster fashions, this week's crowd wasn't in town for an American Apparel conference but OneThing08, hosted by the International House of Prayer. While countless Christians likely tuned in online, thousands traveled to the hometown of IHOP preacher Mike Bickle for the four-day event. Among them was a young trio from Minneapolis, who said Jesus Christ inspired them to attend this lesson on the end of the world.
Names: (from left) Jake Engen, Jake Oie, Emily Geffert
What brought them here: "Jesus Christ," Engen said simply. The three students, each Christian, attend the same school in Minneapolis and drove down for the full conference.
Join the crowd: The hall was overflowing with an estimated crowd of 15,000. The overhwelmingly young audience, wearing Urban Outfitters' styles and T-shirts with slogans like "Born to Pray," came from across the country.
Perpetual praise: The conference has revolved around worship, Oie said, starting daily at 9 a.m. and wrapping up after 10 p.m. Over lunch, the young trio were perched next to an electrical outlet in the main hallway, using their own hotpot to boil water for their Ramen noodle cups. By 1:45 p.m., the corridor was cramped with young people in red wristbands flocking to the next song-and-prayer session.
The end is near: The main topic of discussion, Engen said, has been the Book of Revelations and God's plan for the quickly approaching end of the world. Earlier in the morning, late risers could keep track of the missed session on Twitter. "Mike is quizzing us on the end times," it read at 10:30 a.m. A few hours later, it updated with "End Times 'cheat-sheet' available."
The high note: Geffert was psyched to see Merchant Band, a local Christian rock outfit. That wasn't the only musical action, though. Outside, a lunchtime drum circle sprang up in Barney Allis Plaza. A hip-hop artist led a dancing, scarf-waving group in a call and response. "Jesus Christ, set me free, Holy Spirit, call on me," the group chanted.
Take-home message: Geffert said the conference has amped up her sense of urgency about God's return to Earth. "Just learning how soon Revelation is going to come to pass and how severe it will be," she said with unflinching serenity. So, uh, when will that be, exactly? "Mike Bickle says the next 20 years will be significant," she said with the same unblanched certainty. "I think that's true."
No time for sightseeing: The Minneapolis students said they hadn't had time to explore the city. But they have been inspired by the IHOP crowd and interested in visiting the group's prayer room in south Kansas City. Unless, of course, the end of the world comes sooner than expected. -- Carolyn Szczepanski