Suddenly Courtney spotted a red, green and white shirt. One of her friends was coming down the aisle! “Thank You, Lord,” she prayed. She counseled a teen-aged girl, then she went to stand near her friend as he spoke with a counselor. “You did it,” she said when he finished. “I’m so proud of you.”
Later, on the phone, Courtney’s friend told her he wanted to start attending youth meetings at her church. “I’m so glad you talked me into coming to the Festival,” he said. By the next week, he was already sharing his faith with a classmate.
In the weeks leading up to the April 25-27 East Tennessee Festival With Franklin Graham, many Christians around Knoxville recalled the 1970 East Tennessee Billy Graham Crusade. Several Festival committee members received Christ during that 10-day event, held at the Bob Neyland Stadium, just a few yards from where the Franklin Graham Festival was held on the University of Tennessee campus.
Some volunteers recalled Crusades in other cities. “When I lived in Singapore [in 1978], Billy Graham came, and my three sons went forward to give their lives to the Lord,” Mary Guilliams said.
In 1953, when Tom Johnson was a high school sophomore, a friend invited him to Billy Graham’s Pittsburgh Crusade, and Johnson received Christ. Fifty years later, in 2003, Johnson served as an usher and counselor at Billy Graham’s San Diego Crusade. At the East Tennessee Franklin Graham Festival, he assisted local pastor Brad Brinson with the counseling and follow-up committee.
“I was amazed at how it is continuing,” Johnson said. “Billy Graham started years ago, and here is Franklin Graham doing the same thing, and doing it well.”
Counselor Patti Bounds knows firsthand the difference the Festival can make. She received Christ at the 1970 Crusade, when she was a student at the University of Tennessee. “Decisions that are made this weekend will impact families for generations,” she said. “It has impacted my four kids and the way I raised them; it is impacting who they are marrying. It is ongoing, because it is forever.”
Christians throughout the Knoxville area were praying for their neighbors. Mark Bradley knocked on doors and invited people to the Festival.
“This is my neighborhood,” he said. “These are my people. I was praying for each person in each one of those houses we visited. It’s so cool, this feeling the Holy Spirit has put in my heart about my neighborhood. We’ve also committed to doing a neighborhood discovery group.”
Prayer groups made the Festival a priority. Christians celebrated the National Day of Prayer a week early so a citywide prayer meeting could include prayer for the Festival. Among the hundreds who attended was James Simpkins, a senior at nearby Johnson Bible College. After the event, James said, “My prayer for Knoxville is for unity”–something the Festival fostered as 478 churches worked together to share the Good News of Christ with the people of Eastern Tennessee.
Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale, both of whom are vocal about their faith, brought greetings on the first night of the Festival.
“Government is not the answer to society’s problems,” Ragsdale said. “Jesus is.”
When Franklin Graham took the microphone Friday night, he got right down to business: “Tonight I want to ask each of you here, Are you going to heaven? Are you sure?” he asked. “We live in the South, where it is culturally accepted to go to church, and many people go, believing that they are saved, that they are forgiven, that they are going to heaven. But something is missing. They don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Tonight I want to give everyone here an opportunity to have your sins forgiven, to be ready to stand before a holy God, knowing He will accept and receive you into His presence for eternity–not because of anything you have done, but because of what the Lord Jesus Christ did 2,000 years ago. He took your sins and went to the cross. He died and shed His blood on a Roman cross for your sins, and on the third day God raised Him to life.”
The following morning, thousands of children watched a program with BMX bicycle team Chaos on Wheels, Canadian music group God Rocks and children’s entertainer Little Tommy. At the invitation to receive Christ, children came forward, many wearing bright clothing and bright smiles–and some dealing with situations no child should ever have to face. A 10-year-old girl told counselor Misty Ingram that she had been sexually abused by her mother and now lives with her grandmother. Misty prayed with the girl as she accepted Christ, then she took her to one of the specially trained counselors standing by to deal with serious issues.
That evening, some 1,500 young people received floor passes to student night, and thousands of others filled the stands for a concert with Group 1 Crew and TobyMac. Sometimes jumping, sometimes capturing video with cell phones, sometimes raising their hands in worship, young people crowded in front of the platform. In the midst of the throbbing music, many young people, like Courtney West, were praying. It was that night that her friend came forward and committed his life to Christ.
After three short days, the Festival came to a close, and many people lingered awhile even as workers began to dismantle sound and lighting equipment. On the arena floor, counseling supervisor Ben Chambers carried a response card that a counselor had filled out after praying with a 10-year-old girl who had just received Christ.
Chambers stared at the card, not quite ready to turn it in. “This is my daughter’s card,” he said. “This is her third [Festival meeting]. She came both times yesterday and again today.” His voice broke. “And she gave her life to Christ tonight,” he said.
More than 1,200 people responded to the invitations to receive Christ at the Festival. Some already knew the Gospel but had never responded to Christ personally; others had never been inside a church.
Among those who prayed to receive Christ were nine people brought to the Festival by Water Angels, a homeless ministry located not far from the arena. Director Stephanie Mitchum reported: “One girl, who had 666 tattooed on her forehead, prayed to receive Christ. She has been a devil worshiper, but now she has turned her life over to Christ. One man who received Christ is a crack addict and drug dealer. He has been trying to kick this habit in his own power but has been failing every time. He has now checked himself into the mission rehab program. It was awesome to see who came and who [the Festival] touched. God showed up in a powerful and moving way.”