Karen Lupka recognized Franklin when he came into her restaurant, and she told him that people along the New York and Pennsylvania border were praying that he would come. Franklin did not commit. But four years later when his staff received an invitation from another Binghamton resident, he did not hesitate to accept, even though Binghamton is smaller than the typical Festival city.
“People are praying up there,” he told his staff.
“How do you know?” he was asked.
“A waitress told me.”
The prayer movement in Binghamton began 17 years ago when a member of Pastor Doug Hill’s church asked another member to mentor him in his spiritual journey. The member responded: “I don’t know how to disciple you, but I can pray with you.”
So, one morning a week, the two men met for prayer in a parking lot on their way to work. A few weeks later, Hill joined them, and the three men decided to pray for revival in their region. Before long, John Hawco, a minister from a nearby community, moved to Binghamton and joined the threesome. Their main concern: Broome County–four towns situated around the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers.
The towns, part of the Southern Tier of New York State, had fallen on hard economic times as corporate giants IBM and Endicott Johnson Shoes moved their headquarters to larger cities. The four men prayed that God would make Himself known to hurting men and women who were left jobless, with no idea how they would support their families; that God would break churches from their infighting and legalism, so they could minister to Christians during this difficult time and point non-Christians to Christ.
“Our hearts were for revival,” Hill says. “We needed revival.”
As more pastors joined the prayer group, God began to heal their own hearts. Some had been through difficult church situations. Some had left their churches and started Bible studies in their homes.
“I went to Korea for two years to pastor a church there,” Hill says. “Then I called John [Hawco] and he brought me on board with him at Union Center Christian Church.”
After a few years, the ministers added an annual retreat. About 25 pastors would put aside their personal agendas and come together for the sole purpose of praying for revival. Six years ago the pastors held a prayer summit: four full days of prayer that resulted in a tighter bond, a stronger determination to seek renewal. Then came quarterly concerts of prayer, where churches from all over the county would come together to pray.
“People were just weeping for revival,” Hawco says.
In June 2006, just after Franklin Graham accepted the invitation to come to Binghamton, heavy rains flooded the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers. Three people died. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and hundreds more were damaged. Churches pulled together to help their neighbors, and a move of God erupted in the Southern Tier.
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team arrived to counsel those who were hurting, and 90 people accepted Christ.
“People started laying aside their minor differences and saying, ‘Lord, can You help us?’” says Uldarico Rex Dumdum, a member of the pastor’s prayer group.
“Samaritan’s Purse-Canada came in and helped us repair over 400 homes,” says John O’Neil, president and CEO of Lourdes Hospital and chairman of the NYPENN Franklin Graham Festival. “We collected in excess of five tons of food to be given out to food banks.”
Keeping that same momentum, almost 400 churches came together to prepare for the NYPENN Festival. More than 5,000 people took the Christian Life and Witness classes to learn how to counsel their loved ones whom they believed God would call to Himself at the Festival. More than 27,000 people packed the Binghamton University Arena June 8-10, spilling into overflow venues for the Festival services. On Sunday, crowds were lined up at 2:30 p.m. for the 6 p.m. service. More than 1,400 people committed their lives to Christ during the three-day event, and roughly 1,300 made commitments in the months leading up to the event.
“It all goes to show that this valley is searching and starving for God’s Word and for revival,” O’Neil says. “A lot of people here know about God, but not a lot of people know God. My hope is that our community will realize that if we will allow God’s plan to work, our community will truly prosper.”
The Light has broken through the clouds in the Greater Binghamton region, says Esther Terry, the Festival’s prayer chair. “And it is a miracle. The desire for prayer and evangelism has grown in our churches over the last year and as a result, there is definitely a move of God in our community”–a move that would not have happened 17 years ago.
“The change in the community over the last several years is like seeing something that didn’t exist being created,” Hill says. “It’s like we were dead men standing up and walking around.”
One year before the Festival, Christians prayed for God to remove the flood waters that had so devastated the county, O’Neil said on the last day of the Festival. And while the waters started to recede, a flood of hope was born.
“A flood that today has brought more than 2,000 lives to the Lord Jesus Christ,” O’Neil said. But God is not through with the Binghamton region, he added.
“Seventeen years of prayer; six years ago, the humble boldness of a brave waitress; 14 months of preparation; three days of worship; and it all starts tomorrow. Tomorrow, we start a new community.”