“Praise God!” Wrice nearly shouted, his face beaming and his words punctuated by handshakes, hugs and any other body language he could muster.
Wrice, who served as a counselor and usher during the Festival, explained that he and a neighbor are training for a marathon together. But the week of the Festival, Wrice had been occupied with counselor and usher briefings at Scope Arena. His neighbor wondered what was up. Wrice told him about the Festival. Then he asked, “If you were to die today, do you know if you would go to heaven?”
“I don’t really believe in any of it; don’t really understand it,” his neighbor said. But he agreed to let Wrice take him and his son to the Festival. And on May 18, when Franklin Graham invited people to come forward, the neighbor and his son both committed their lives to Jesus Christ.
They were two of hundreds in Virginia’s Hampton Roads area who have committed their lives to Christ through the influence of the Festival. Some found Christ after friends put them on Operation Andrew prayer lists. Others trusted Him after friends attended the Festival’s Christian Life and Witness Course and learned how to share their faith. And more than 600 people made first-time commitments to Christ during the Festival meetings May 18-20.
When did it all start? One could say that it started before the dawn of time, when, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “He chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4, NIV).
But let’s pick it up in 2003, when local pastor Al Peverall met with BGEA leaders during Franklin Graham’s Festival in Roanoke. After that meeting, Peverall called together 30 people for a meeting to discuss the possibility of a Festival in the Hampton Roads area. But Hurricane Isabel cancelled that first meeting.
The rescheduled meeting, a couple of weeks later, drew about 15 people. Over the next two years the group met regularly, steadily growing and including more and more individuals, churches and denominations. In April 2005 a broad coalition invited Franklin Graham to come and hold a Festival in Hampton Roads.
Preparations shifted into high gear last August, when the Festival office opened in Virginia Beach. Informational meetings and rallies followed, and the Festival office distributed more than 33,000 prayer calendars each month.
Then, through Operation Andrew, people listed the names of friends who needed to know Jesus. They began to pray for their friends, nurture those friendships and look for ways to share their faith with and invite their friends to the Festival. God answered many prayers.
Praying for Friends
At age 80, Bill Bone is a new man.
His wife, Luine, has been a believer for many years. Bill just wasn’t interested. But a few months ago he started to realize that he wasn’t living right and that he needed to get his life right with God.
Unknown to Bill, Vada Matherly, a member of Fox Hill Baptist Church in Hampton, wrote his name on her Operation Andrew prayer list. He was one of 22 people on Matherly’s list. She prayed that God would open Bill’s heart.
In February, Bill and Luine’s 59-year-old son passed away. Al Peverall, interim pastor at Fox Hill Baptist, made sure, as always, that he communicated the Gospel during the funeral service. A few days later, he received a check from Bill and Luine. Because he has a policy not to accept such checks, he visited the Bones. He asked Bill and Luine if they would mind his donating the money to the Franklin Graham Festival. They agreed. Then Peverall asked Bill if he had ever committed his life to Christ. “This is something I’ve thought about and wanted to do,” Bill said. His heart was open, and there in his living room he put his faith in Jesus.
Throughout the area, churches saw members energized by Operation Andrew. About 85 members of Princess Anne Plaza Baptist Church filled out cards with more than 380 names, according to Walter Jackson, the church’s Operation Andrew coordinator. He added that the program equipped people with the understanding that it is the job of all Christians, not just pastors, to lead people to Christ.
Prepared to Proclaim
Fred Virtucio, of Virginia Beach, said that a week after the Christian Life and Witness classes ended, his father, who lived in the Philippines, passed away. Fred and his wife, Margie, flew to the Philippines for the funeral.
“The Christian Life and Witness Course really prepared me,” Virtucio said. At the funeral he preached the Gospel to the more than 1,000 who attended, and he gave an invitation that brought many to the front of the church to commit their lives to Jesus Christ.
Jeremiah Weeks, of South Mills, N.C., also attended the classes–in part because he thought that it might lead to a chance to meet Franklin Graham and in part because he thought he might be able to do something for God. “I don’t think we were 20 minutes into the first night, and my heart was pierced,” Weeks said. “God was saying, ‘I’ve got some stuff to work out with you here.'” God convicted Weeks concerning his lack of prayer, and Weeks has responded by rising earlier each day to have a quiet time with God. About a month before the Festival, Weeks was able to lead a co-worker to Christ. He attributes his readiness to the fact that God had spoken to him and re-energized him through the classes.
The Christians who served as Festival counselors were equipped and ready. “For me, it’s like a dream come true,” said Laura Houck. “Being able to lead people to Christ is very exciting.”
Houck’s friend Sheila English added, “I was 40-some years old before I came to Christ. … I know what I’ve gone through in my life, I know what the enemy is doing to others, and I want to win souls for Christ.”
Construction worker David Vercruysse said he had invited lots of co-workers to the Festival. “Anything I can do to steal any of Satan’s sheep is a real reward for me,” he said.
Pastors saw church members grow through their involvement. Jim Wall, pastor at Western Branch Community Church, said 150 people in his congregation were counselors, and for many it was their first time doing anything like this. “We have a lot of infant and early-adolescent Christians, and this is stretching them into new places,” Wall said.
The Simple Message
The Festival meetings May 18-20 were filled with music, testimonies and the Good News of Jesus. Musical guests included Tree63, Martha Munizzi, Third Day, Nicole C. Mullen, Israel and New Breed, The Charlie Daniels Band, and George Huff. Each evening, Franklin Graham preached a simple message about God’s offer of salvation and invited people to turn from their sin and put their trust in Jesus. Hundreds responded: young girls walking hand in hand,
fathers with their arms around their children, mothers holding their children’s hands, soldiers wearing fatigues.
As the arena emptied after the first evening, small groups lingered on the floor to celebrate. “What did you do?” a woman asked a young boy who held the materials he had gotten from a counselor. The boy said he had accepted Christ. “Get out of town, Dude!” the woman said, smiling and giving him a hug. “You’re a King’s kid now.”
The next evening, near the end of Franklin’s invitation, a 12-year-old boy named Taylor turned to his mom, crying, and said, “Mom, will you go with me?” The boy’s father said it reminded him of the night when, as an 8-year-old, he himself had watched Billy Graham give an invitation on TV and had then turned to his own mother and said, “I’d like to do that.” Now with tear-filled eyes he watched as Taylor rededicated his life to Jesus Christ.
Franklin Graham led Taylor and the others in a prayer: “Dear God, I am a sinner. I’m sorry for my sins. Forgive me. I want to turn from my sins. Help me. I invite Jesus to come into my life, to take control from this day forward. And I want to follow Him as my Lord forever. I pray this in the Name of Jesus. Amen.”
Cheers broke out through the arena after the prayer.
Just after the final meeting, Festival executive chairman Paul Van Valin commented, “God has done an amazing thing in our community. … I’ve got a mixture of joy and thanksgiving to God for what He has done. And expectancy. [We're] already beginning to pray for what’s next.”