Over three days in November, more than 27,000 people attended the Ark-La-Tex Festival 2005 With Franklin Graham, in the Shreveport-Bossier City area of Louisiana. During the meetings, more than 1,200 walked to the front of the arena in response to the invitation—the great majority to give their hearts to Jesus Christ. And the Festival’s impact reached far beyond the meetings at Century-Tel Arena.
Inolia Johnson steps toward the car as it creeps through the grocery store parking lot, subwoofer throbbing.
“Hey, Darlin’!” she calls. The young man in the car turns down the stereo and rolls down his window as Johnson approaches.
“May I give you one of these?” asks Johnson, a grandmother of six and director of evangelism at Galilee Baptist Church. She holds out an invitation to the Ark-La-Tex 2005 Festival With Franklin Graham. Johnson explains about the Festival, then adds, “It’ll be loud there, too–but it’ll be all for the Lord!”
As the young man drives away, subwoofer throbbing once again, Johnson turns her attention to more passersby in the Super 1 Foods parking lot. “I really relate to young people,” she says later. “I want to catch them and not let them go to hell.”
A Friends and Family Plan
Christians throughout Shreveport and Bossier City–and in the surrounding area, which includes parts of Arkansas and Texas–were demonstrating the same kind of passion as Johnson. Throughout the Ark-La-Tex region, Christians participated in Operation Andrew: they spent months praying for friends and family members, and building relationships with them, in preparation for inviting them to the Nov. 11-13 Festival. Through that process, and through the Festival’s Christian Life and Witness classes, some Christians began to lead people to Christ even before the Festival meetings at Bossier City’s Century-Tel Center.
Judy Lim, a pastor’s wife, has led people to Christ through the years, but her experience in September was special. She attended the classes in preparation for serving as a Festival counselor, and during the third class, as always, the participants were given an assignment: Go through the “Steps to Peace With God” booklet with someone. The next day, as Lim went for a walk with her 7-year-old son, Nathanael, she thought, “Why not go through this with Nathanael?” She went through the booklet’s points with him. Then she asked, “Would you like to ask Jesus to come into your heart?”
Nathanael made a decision for eternity. The two found an empty bench at a tennis court and prayed.
“His daddy and I pray over all our children every night, that God would help them to grow spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally,” Lim said. “But it is neat to see that take place, to actually see them coming alive spiritually.”
Even as that young boy was touched by the Franklin Graham Festival, some people in the area remembered Billy Graham’s Shreveport Crusade in April 1951–an event that continues to bear fruit today.
Bettye Ann McQueen was a senior at Byrd High School when Mr. Graham came to town. McQueen attended church regularly and sang in her church’s youth choir, so she decided to sing in the Crusade choir. But during the Crusade, she realized she had never committed her life to Christ.
“I was embarrassed to be in the choir when God was leading me to make a decision,” McQueen said. “I was thinking, ‘All my friends think I’m a Christian. I can’t do it. God, You’ll have to call me by name.’”
McQueen recalls that Mr. Graham addressed people in the crowd who were holding back from making a decision. He pointed to a section of seats and said, “There is a John.” He pointed to another section and said, “There is a Mary.”
And then he called the name Betty (or, in McQueen’s case, Bettye). “The Lord used it,” McQueen says, “and I made my way down.”
She attended college and seminary, taught school for two years and then spent 31 years as a missionary in Nigeria, working with university students in a predominantly Muslim area.
Now retired, she is back in Shreveport and served as a Festival counselor, coming full circle spiritually as she helped people at another BGEA Crusade in her home city, 54 years after the first one.
Taking It to the Streets
The hip-hop trio Priesthood shifts seamlessly between laid-back R&B harmonies and rap as they lift up the Name of Jesus at the Barton Drive Manor public housing project. A couple of dozen people, many wrapped in sweaters or jackets, have gathered on the lawn of the Project office, attracted by the music and by the news that an event associated with the Franklin Graham Festival is being held here.
The pulsing music draws children from nearby houses. A pickup truck stops, and two men get out and listen. Across the street, teenagers stay within hearing range, but they won’t come close.
Manuel Carrizalez, an evangelist from Bakersfield, Calif., takes the microphone: “Attention residents–people in houses, apartments, wherever you are–I want to call you out here. Calling all kids, moms, dads. If you can hear my voice, we have come with the message that Jesus Christ loves you.”
Carrizalez convinces six children to come forward and play a game. That attracts more kids to the front, and Carrizalez shares the message of Christ. “Listen to me, kids,” he says. “None of you here was made to be a drug addict. None of you was made to be a gang member. God loves you, and you’re special to God.” Virtually all of the kids at the front indicate that they want to receive Christ, and Carrizalez leads them in a prayer of commitment. He prays for the people–the children, grandmothers, mothers and fathers–and invites them to attend the Festival. In the deepening dusk, the kids gather in a large huddle with Carrizalez as he encourages them once more to live for Jesus Christ.
In addition to neighborhood outreaches like this, Carrizalez and Priesthood ministered in two prisons and in several schools, both public and private. More than 60 people in the prisons alone committed their lives to Christ.
The Festival also reached out to the many people who came to Shreveport in the aftermath of hurricanes in the Gulf Coast region.
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, which began deploying chaplains to the region Aug. 30, the day after Hurricane Katrina, continued to visit evacuees in the area. They offered prayer and encouragement, and they distributed Bibles, Decision magazine and Festival invitations. They helped 399 people make commitments to Christ.
Celebrating God’s Grace
The Festival was a celebration of God’s grace. Songs from such diverse musical guests as Charlie Daniels, Salvador, the Katinas and Nicole C. Mullen pointed to Jesus, and videotaped testimonies from local residents told how God’s grace has changed their lives.
Franklin Graham instructed, explained, reasoned with and challenged the people to put their trust in Christ. On Sunday evening, Franklin told the story of Zacchaeus, a dishonest and despised tax collector who climbed a tree to see Jesus and then, after meeting Him face to face, turned from his sinful ways and paid back those he had cheated.
Franklin said, “Something was missing in Zacchaeus’ life, and he knew it. Something was wrong. And … tonight, deep down inside, you know that something is missing in your life. … a relationship with God’s Son, Jesus Christ. What is preventing you from coming to Jesus Christ tonight? What is holding you back?”
When Franklin invited people to come forward and accept Christ, one young man in the upper section of the arena decided that nothing would hold him back. He took a fast–though risky–path to the floor. According to an usher, the man, his face moist with tears, stood abruptly, jumped over the guardrail, hung for a moment from a concrete ledge, dropped onto a stairway handrail and then down to the stairs themselves. In moments, the man was on the arena floor, where a counselor met him and prayed with him.
Among others who responded during the Festival were a 16-year-old girl and her father who came forward together to accept Christ. They, along with the rest of their family, were displaced from New Orleans’ Ninth Ward by Hurricane Katrina.
The girl, who only a few weeks earlier had lost her earthly home, said, “I want to be sure where I’ll spend eternity.”
On Saturday evening, Franklin began his message by asking, “Is your name written in the Lamb’s book of life?” He explained that everyone who becomes a follower of Christ has his or her name written in that book.
The message struck a responsive chord in many, as more than 320 people came forward. Among them was a freshman at Centenary College. He had come with a group invited by a friend who works with athletes on campus. That friend described what happened at the invitation:
“All of a sudden, I heard him start sniffling. He got up in front of everyone and started walking down. He’s a big, tall basketball player. I asked him about it later, and he said, ‘I was battling myself. I knew I wasn’t a Christian; my name wasn’t in that book.’ And then a girl to my left, also a basketball player, started to cry. She asked me, ‘Do I have to go down?’ I said, ‘Well, you don’t have to, but I’ll go with you.’ So we walked down.” Afterward, the group went to the friend’s house for pizza to celebrate new life in Christ.
On the Festival’s closing night, executive chair Kelvin Cochran praised God for what He had done through the Festival. Cochran said to the crowd at Century-Tel Arena, “Thanks to all of you, the Body of Christ of Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, who have been praying for many years that a mighty move of God would converge upon our region. It is a certainty that He has answered our prayers in a mighty way.”