On an afternoon when the Buffalo Bills beat the Cleveland Browns 24-14, a little under 200 miles away on the Lake Erie shore, two former players remained in New York, scoring points of their own for Christ at Rock the Lakes.
Don Beebe, a wide receiver from 1989-94, and Jim Kelly, quarterback from 1986-96, each shared how Jesus changed their lives with the crowd gathered at Coca-Cola Field.
For Kelly, four Super Bowl appearances, a Hall of Fame induction and the adoration of fans was not enough to sustain him in the dark times of life. His only son, Hunter, was diagnosed with Krabbe Disease not long after his birth and would go home to be with the Lord in August of 2005 at the age of 8.
“I got through that in large part because of the support of my wife, Jill,” Kelly told the crowd. “I did not have faith in Christ at the time.”
Although he received the support of a lot of good people, there were times when he cried at his loss—and still does.
“My wife had become a Christian—just listening to her speak all of the time—had a big impact on my decision to accept Jesus,” said Kelly. “I knew that was the path that I wanted to take. The time had come when I knew I had to change and become the father I wanted to be and a husband to my wife.”
We can learn so much about the love of God through the losses we experience, Kelly added. “I learned to praise God in the storm and He showed me how His plan is larger than anything I could have imagined.”
He concluded by encouraging the audience to accept Christ while they are still young: “I regret not making my decision sooner.”
For Beebe, coming back to Buffalo for Rock the Lakes was like coming home “because of you guys,” he told the audience. “But today I want to talk to you about my faith.”
Beebe said that the only thing that keeps him going and helps him to never give up is his relationship with Christ, which began when he was 7.
“Keep strong—prayer changes everything,” he added, sharing how his wife prayed for her parents to get back together for 13 years—and they did.
After listening intently to both Kelly and Beebe, 24-year-old Miguel, who moved to Buffalo from Puerto Rico five years ago, found the courage to give his life to Christ.
Miguel told Mario, the counselor who prayed alongside him, that he only came to Rock the Lakes at his girlfriend’s insistence. “I want to marry her, but she won’t marry a non-Christian,” said Miguel.
For two years he resisted and rejected Christianity. “I was too proud as a man to do this religion thing just because of my girlfriend,” he told Mario. “But I love the Bills and respect Jim Kelly and Don. The things they said helped me realize I could be a Christian, too.”
Normally, said Miguel, he would be planted on a barstool at the Pearl St. Brewery, a few blocks away from Coca-Cola Field. Built in 1841, the bar and the neighborhood around it once was dubbed the “most evil square mile in America.” Home to rum-runners, prostitutes, scalpers and robbers, 70 to 80 percent of crime in the nation occurred in the Buffalo-Erie canal district.
“I actually did a few illegal things there, too,” Miguel told Mario. “I didn’t just drink, ya know? But now I want to clean up my life so I can get married and be a godly father.”
Rock the River, the Canadian cousin of Rock the Lakes, hits Ottawa, Canada this weekend. You can see all the musical guests and hear Franklin Graham preach by logging on here from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. both Sept. 29 and 30. Thousand Foot Krutch, The Afters, Flame, Michael W. Smith, Matt Maher and Lacey from Flyleaf are just some of the artists performing.
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