Following the June 26 baseball game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets at PNC Park, hundreds of fans saw a video never before played above the field in Pittsburgh. The 30-second video was to promote the Three Rivers Festival of Hope with Franklin Graham in mid-August.
“There’s a lot of excitement about the Festival,” event director Sherman Barnette said from Pittsburgh. “Most people in the Christian community (here) say that Pittsburgh needs this Festival. I’ve heard that a lot.”
Pittsburgh is popular for three bodies of water that run through the city: the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers. But as a sports community, there are three other entities that grab Pittsburgh residents’ attention: the Pirates, the Penguins and six-time Super Bowl champions, the Steelers.
It seems that many great things in this proud city come in threes, and this summer’s Festival of Hope is no exception. The three-day event will feature big names in music like Lecrae, Tenth Avenue North, the Charlie Daniels Band, Michael W. Smith, Lacey Sturm and Kari Jobe. Franklin Graham will share the Gospel.
“There is a strong Christian community here,” Barnette said. “At the same time, I think they do struggle with some of the same things other major cities struggle with, … crime, drug abuse and so on.”
Twenty-two years ago, Billy Graham held a Crusade in Pittsburgh, and many people around the city have seen the impact it’s had over the years. Nancy Lee Cochran remembers that Crusade well.
“It was one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever been involved in,” she said. “We knew that Billy would bring an important message, and we prayed that thousands of people would respond.”
That was 1992, when Cochran served on the Crusade’s executive committee. For 13 months, the city prepared for it, getting churches involved, inviting people to the event and training local Christians to counsel those would respond to the Gospel.
When Mr. Graham invited people to come forward and give their lives to Christ, she said, she saw with her own eyes how God spoke to people at that time and place.
“It was an answer to prayer,” she said. “Everything that we had worked for was so that people would come to know Christ in the way that we know Him and love Him. … It was just a time to praise God and to be grateful for the small part we played in the preparation.”
Cochran, a regional director for Scripture Union, an organization that helps people engage in the Bible through evangelism and discipleship programs, is again serving on an executive committee this year, this time for the Festival of Hope. And she’s confident that with the changes she’s seen in Pittsburgh over the past two decades, this event will be just as impactful.
“We have seen many nonprofits working together in ways that were unimaginable 20 years ago,” she said, adding that multiple nonprofits in the area support local churches. She has also seen churches delving deeper into Scripture and more prayer movements popping up in neighborhoods across the city.
“There’s a great hunger for prayer in western Pennsylvania,” she said, “and I believe a lot of that has come out of the 1992 Crusade.”
Pittsburgh isn’t afraid to talk about the One they’re praying to either, evident in the June 26 Pirates game. That’s when the team hosted Faith Night, with fans gathering after the game to hear players and coaches share how their faith has impacted their personal lives, as well as their baseball careers.
Like many major league baseball players, the 25-34 age group makes up the majority of Pittsburgh, yet residents of all ages have grown up in the city and are engrained in the community.
So are the churches, with nearly 500 from 48 denominations involved in the Festival. Many of those churchgoers were among more than 3,000 people who attended BGEA’s recent Christian Life and Witness Course, a class meant to reignite their faith and show them how to share it with others. It was during that course, Barnette said, that the Festival really sparked excitement as people understood what it was all about.
Now, each Tuesday, a number of BGEA staff, local leaders and youth meet on Mount Washington, overlooking the Pittsburgh skyline, to pray for the Festival. Starting Aug. 1, they will meet each day for prayer.
“We pray that God would be glorified,” Cochran said. “And that the general community would want to know more (about Him).”