“Who would have thought we could ever partner with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association?” said Steve Moorhouse, pastor at Community Church, in Gunnison, Colo. “They go to L.A. and Kansas City–not to places like this!”
“Places like this” is the Gunnison Valley, on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, home to only 14,000 people. Gunnison, the valley’s largest town, has no shopping malls or movie theaters, and the traffic signals flash yellow after 10 p.m. The focal point of the town is Western State College, with an enrollment of 2,400 students.
Yet for one weekend in October, the Paul Wright Gymnasium at Western State was the setting of an evangelistic Celebration with Ralph Bell. As it turns out, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) does go to “places like this.” Through the years, BGEA Associate Crusades have reached scores of small- and medium-sized towns with the Gospel. This was the kind of revival for which the Body of Christ in the Gunnison Valley has been praying for many years.
A Little Valley With a Big Need
Although the population in the Valley is small, the spiritual need is great. “This is a rugged, isolated area, and it takes a person with a strong, independent spirit to live here,” said Dona Goss, executive chair of the Celebration and Gunnison resident. In fact, the mascot of Western State College is a bearded, leather-clad, rifle-toting mountaineer.
“Here, people rely on themselves, not on God,” Goss said. “There is also a heavy New Age influence, and people believe that worshiping nature is the same as worshiping God. Sometimes you can feel the weight of godlessness like a heavy drape over the area.”
For the past decade, pastors like Moorhouse and other local church leaders have been meeting to share their burden for the Valley. In one meeting last spring, they were kicking around the idea of an old-fashioned tent revival, Goss recalled. “Then someone said, ‘Let’s start at the top. Let’s call the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.’ To tell the truth, I didn’t think they would even talk to us.”
Thanks in part to Ralph Bell’s personal commitment to revival in his home state of Colorado, not only did BGEA talk to the group, but the organization also agreed to help host a three-day Celebration.
“All the pieces quickly started to come together,” said Moorhouse. “Fifteen churches from the three major valley towns–Gunnison, Crested Butte and Lake City–were on board, and almost 500 people went through Christian Life and Witness classes, which prepare people before the event to be effective witnesses.” That was an impressive number, considering that most of the area churches average fewer than 100 members each.
“One of the greatest things about this event was to see all the church members and leaders coming together for one purpose,” Goss said. “Nobody even asked, ‘What church are you with?’”
“Worship” State College
Members of the Gunnison Valley’s Body of Christ include a handful of dedicated students at Western State College, who were instrumental in the success of the Celebration.
“It’s hard to be a Christian at Western State,” said senior Liz Rainey. “There is so much peer pressure here that even Christians get into the party scene.” That scene at Western State is so pervasive that the school has acquired the nickname “Wasted State.”
But God has begun to move at the college. “More and more Christians are enrolling at Western,” said Laine Dobson, an art major. “There’s been a huge growth in the Christian clubs on campus and in the college groups in the churches.”
Despite frequent opposition, these students worked tirelessly, distributing fliers and encouraging non-Christian friends to attend the Celebration, especially the Saturday-evening concert featuring the alternative Christian band Kutless.
Their efforts were rewarded when more than 15 fellow students, some of whom they had been witnessing to for a year, made commitments to Christ. And although many friends who attended the event did not respond to the invitation, the group was not discouraged.
“I invited the whole track team,” said Travis Murray, a senior Spanish major. “Seven or eight guys and a couple of girls came. None of them accepted Christ, but they heard the Message, and they know where we stand. We’re not going to stop witnessing to them–so the effects will just keep going.”
Lauren Kuehster, a sophomore, echoed, “It encouraged me to do even more. It’s like a seed. Once it’s been planted, you have to keep watering it and watering it and watering it.”
Rainey concluded, “Our goal is to turn our school from ‘Wasted State’ into ‘Worship State.’”
A Saturday Night to Remember
For three nights, Ralph Bell proclaimed the Good News of Christ’s salvation. “Jesus Christ is the true Son of God,” he said in the Saturday evening service. “If you want to experience and know for sure that you have eternal life, then I’m going to invite you to leave your seat and come down here and make it certain.”
Before Bell could finish his invitation, people poured out of the gymnasium’s bleachers and made their way to the front of the platform to commit their lives to Christ.
“It was crazy,” said Dobson, a Celebration counselor. “I was only five rows up, and by the time I made my way down to the counseling area, it was already filled with people.” That night 140 people committed their lives to Christ.
When final numbers were tallied, the Celebration saw a total attendance of more than 5,700 people, with 348 people who made commitments to Christ.
“That’s more new Christians than the local churches have baptized in probably the last three years,” said Goss. “Now comes the hard work of follow-up. We want to make sure that not one person who made a commitment to Christ falls through the cracks.”
Fae Davidson, Celebration office manager, added, “This isn’t the end–it’s just the beginning of God’s moving in a new and powerful way in this area. We’ve been singing here at the office: ‘Open the floodgates of heaven. Let it rain; let it rain.’ The gates have been opened–we’re looking for the flood!”