Four great bands and an inspiring message from Will Graham, the grandson of Billy and son of Franklin, are sure to ignite the crowd.
6:30 p.m. – Go Fish, Aaron Shust, Building 429 and Tree63 have finished their sound checks, so there is a momentary pause in the action. But the pause is a pregnant one, filled with prayer and last-minute, behind-the-scenes preparation.
I have found shelter from the sweltering sun in the audio tent, otherwise known as “Stage Left: Monitor World.” The gracious sound guys are no strangers to the Graham Association, having worked Crusades and Festivals for many years. They all say, in unision, “We love it!”
7:30 p.m. – We have officially kicked off! And yes, I now am on the field. A strong breeze is kindly cooling us as MC Mark Christian introduces Brian Jacobs, pastor of Metroplex Family Church, one of the Celebration leaders. Brian has been a friend of the Billy Graham Association for more than 20 years. “A very special thing has happened here,” he has just announced. “All the funds for the Celebration have already been raised! There will be no offering taken tonight.”
7:45 p.m. – Three crazy, fun guys known as Go Fish have taken the stage. Jamie Statema, Jason Folkmann and Andy Selness are arguably one of the most unique groups in the music industry. Not only do they make music for children and families, but they create amazing sounds with just their voices and percussion. Go Fish will be singing tomorrow at KidzFest too.
For children, Go Fish may be their first real concert experience, complete with lights, backdrops and fog machines. “There’s a misconception out there of what children’s music has to be,” says Sellness. “Quite honestly, it doesn’t have to be simple. You don’t have to dumb down music for kids. Because of that, parents really enjoy this music as well.”
8 p.m. – Aaron Shust has brought the crowd to cheers and tears. “My Savior” is echoing throughout the stadium, touching the hearts of teens and adults alike. Shust was named the songwriter of the year at the GMA Dove Awards of 2007, and his song “My Savior My God” was named song of the year.
His new hit, “Give Me Words to Speak” was born out of an episode of writer’s block: “That day, I couldn’t find any words of inspiration,” he recalls. “I sort of threw my hands up in the air and asked God, ‘Give me words to speak,’ because I can’t think of anything worth saying.”
8:15 p.m. – Building 429 is rockin’ the stands! This Texas group is striking a huge chord with the mostly young crowd, asking them to “go crazy right now!!” The band is playing older hits “Glory Defined” along with newer songs like “Power of Your Name.” Everyone is, naturally, singing along with “Singing Over Me” while “Incredible” is a nod to the band’s rock ‘n’ roll roots. Building 429 has great energy and stage presence. These guys do Texas proud!
8:25 p.m. – Crystal Woodman Miller, a survivor of the 1999 Columbine High School tragedy in Colorado is sharing how she hid from teenage shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold beneath a table in the school’s library. “At age 16, as I was watching my life flash before my eyes and my hopes for the future vanish. … I cried out to God: ‘If you’re real, get me out of here alive. Give me a second chance.'” She said the gunmen then ran out of ammunition, and “I did get that second chance.”
8:40 p.m. – Tree 63 is helping the audience turn toward heaven. Powerful worship with a rock edge defines this South African group that has performed at every Will Graham Celebration. Tree63’s recording of Matt Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name” helped to spark the song’s popularity. It has been named as the number three Praise and Worship song of all time.
9 p.m. – Announcing he is a huge Dallas Cowboys fan, Will Graham already is winning souls! As he greeted the crowd, Will joked, “This is every guy’s dream – to be under the lights on a Friday night in Texas.” All jokes aside, Will seems to have a natural gift for building rapport with a wide variety of people and tearing down defenses. His honesty about admitting his own sin is resonating with the crowd.
Touching on common problems and fears, Will is explaining how lost we are without Jesus – and that Jesus alone is the answer. More than 2,400 people are listening attentively as Will preaches from the Gospel of Luke. “We are all prisoners like Barabbas, but you can be set free. All you have to do to open the cell door is to come to Jesus.”
“I want you to experience God’s forgiveness by coming forward. I am not talking about making a commitment. You can commit yourself and uncommit yourself to many things. Instead, tonight, I am talking about surrendering.”
Close to 110 people responded to the invitation.