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OTTUMWA — It’s not that First Church of the Open Bible had a bad spot for their community Fourth of July celebration last year. The field by the former Target building had plenty of space and the event drew well.

But the site isn’t the most visible in town. By setting up at the Jimmy Jones Shelter this year, Travis Peel hoped the greater visibility would boost the outreach effort.

“Last year we did over 600 hot dogs,” he said. “I think this year, being over here, we’re going to be able to serve more people.”

The park is the hub for Ottumwa’s Fourth of July activities. As dusk approaches, it will fill with thousands of people there to get a good look at the city’s fireworks display. That’s the kind of crowd Peel hoped to reach.

Calling the Family Festival a church event is a bit misleading. Peel said a lot of churches miss the point. They have events and serve their congregations. But to him, the church needs to be in the community, making connections and being there for people whether or not they’re members.

If that means setting up games in the middle of a field while the summer sun beats down, so be it. Church members had some help. A traveling drama team of young adults was in town to lend a hand.

Dillon Heiserman said the group performs skits and short pieces to share a Christian message. For him, it’s a calling.

“God just told me to do it, and I’ve always loved to travel,” he said.

Heiserman has been with the group for five years. That’s a significant commitment of time and energy, but he said it’s well worth it. He gets something out of volunteering, and the knowledge that he can help make a difference in the places they visit keeps him going.

Other members had a different job that was, if not easier, at least cooler. Tables in the shelter house groaned under massed bags of chips and treats. Several slow cookers stood by to help keep food warm once the grilling began, and cases of water and soda covered a good portion of the stage at the east end.

No one would mistake the shelter’s shade for air conditioning, but with a breeze blowing through it wasn’t nearly as hot as the direct sun. But whatever discomfort was involved was secondary to making sure the festival met its goals.

“With our church we want to be, as our shirt says, building disciples, building his kingdom,” he said.

— Matt Milner can be reached at mmilner@ottumwacourier.com and followed @mwmilner

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Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.