'We were known as hippie lovers': Celebrate Jesus Parade a vision from '70s street ministry

Friday, March 22, 2013
Laura Nichols spoke last week to the Holiday Island Rotary Club about the vision she had 35 years ago, of people of all creeds and colors coming together to praise God, which she compares to a drip candle made of different colors of wax.

EUREKA SPRINGS -- In the late 1970s, Laura Nichols was at a prayer meeting in a house on Pine Street. The prayer meeting was part of the street ministry that she and her husband started for people who had come to Eureka Springs in search of a different lifestyle. As she prayed, Nichols had a vision of people of all faiths, creeds and colors gathered on the hills of Eureka Springs, praising the Lord and exalting his name.

On the Saturday before Easter, Laura Nichols' vision will come true.

Nichols is the guiding light of the "Celebrate Jesus" Parade, which will fill the streets of Eureka Springs the Saturday before Easter. Like street ministry that invoked the vision, the parade is an act of faith.

"I can hardly wait to see what the Lord is going to bring here," she said.

Laura and her husband, Dale, came to Eureka Springs in 1971 when he was called to serve a church here. The hippie movement was in full swing, she said, and many people in town didn't want them. But she and Dale were concerned about the crash houses, the drugs and the condition of small children they saw on the streets. A proposed rock festival further incensed some of Dale's parishioners, but the Nichols bought New Testaments and handed them out at the festival. When Dale resigned his job, they prayed about what to do next. The answer came: start a street ministry.

"We were known as hippie lovers," Laura said.

The Nichols opened a coffee house and held prayer meetings and Bible studies in a burned-out storefront on Spring Street, then met in the house on Pine Street. They called their ministry "The Fold" because it reached out to people who had lost their way.

"They were searching for answers in all kinds of religions," Laura said. "It was really the Lord they were looking for."

Laura had accepted Jesus in Valley Falls, Kan., when she was 12 years old. As she grew older, she prayed for God to send her a Christian husband. Dale showed up to work there one summer when he was in seminary. They married and had three children. After starting the street ministry, they worked three jobs to support their family, including working in the Passion Play and owning a toy store. The prayer meetings never drew a large number of people, she said, but it was what God called them to do.

"We stepped out in faith," Laura said.

The years passed, but the vision of people gathered on the hillside, which was in brilliant color, stayed in Laura's mind. It also tugged at her heart. In January, she was attending a Bible study at her church, and read about God laying it on Nehemiah's heart to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Concerned that the country's spiritual foundation was crumbling, Laura felt that somebody needed to do something.

"I thought, 'Why me?'" she said. "I'm 74 years old."

But she went and spoke to the Western Carroll County Ministerial Association. The ministers voted unanimously to sponsor the parade on the Saturday before Easter. It was her pastor at Holiday Island Community Church, John Wallace, who came up with the name, "Celebrate Jesus." HICC is one of 15 organizations that are building a float for the parade, Laura said. Her vision also included people singing, so she sent out a call for musicians to perform in Basin Park before and after the parade.

"So many people wanted to sing, we had to turn them away," she said.

When the Nichols started the street ministry, it was a big step for Dale to let the spirit of God speak through him instead of giving a prepared sermon, Laura said. But the spirit always came through.

"You've got to trust God," she said. "That's how it should be in all the times in our lives."

The Celebrate Jesus Parade is Saturday, March 30, starting in front of the library on Spring Street at 11:30 a.m. and going to to the courthouse. Live music in Basin Park before and after the parade. A Prayer Walk along the parade route is scheduled for March 23 to prepare for the parade. For more information, go to facebook.com/CelebrateJesusParade or call 479-253-8925. Sponsored by the Western Carroll County Ministerial Association.

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