Michael Tait, Duncan Phillips, Jody Davis and Jeff Frankenstein stood in street clothes, staring at a plasma flat-screen mounted on the side of the stage.
Minutes earlier, the foursome better known as the Newsboys, had electrified and completely engaged the crowd of 11,500 at Lithuania’s Siemens Arena despite the language barrier.
But now, with the sweat wiped from their faces, their four black suit coats tucked away in their back-stage dressing room, the band members just stood there, fixed on the monitor.
Franklin Graham was preaching the Gospel, translated ever so smoothly into Lithuanian and before long, there would be an invitation given to the packed eastern European audience.
“Jesus Christ isn’t dead,” Graham said. “He’s not hanging on a cross. He’s here tonight.”
The Newsboys had just proclaimed the exact same thing, in the form of the song, “God’s Not Dead,” which is also the name of their new worship album that released on Nov. 15.
Coincidence? Happenstance? Doesn’t really matter.
The proof was an overflow crowd, backing up into all four aisles, responding to Graham’s call to receive Christ, with more than 650 recorded decisions for the Lord.
God’s not dead. He’s roaring like a lion.
And the Newsboys are witnesses.
God moves — even in a country with only 3,000 Christians.
“We never get tired of seeing the altar call at the end of the message,” Tait said. “Franklin’s message is simple, direct-to-the-point, Bible-based evangelism at its best.
“To watch the sheep come in, watch them come forward, it’s unbelievable.”
‘We Just Started Bawling’
It’s been over 17 years now since his first BGEA event, but Michael Tait remembers almost every detail of that night.
The Billy Graham Crusade was trying something new in Cleveland in 1994 and Tait’s band dc Talk was asked to be part of the first “Youth Night” in BGEA history.
“First one, 1994 in Cleveland Ohio,” Tait said, without hesitation. “Michael W. Smith and dc Talk.”
While nobody knew how a “Youth Night” would be received, God moved far beyond anyone’s expectations as an announced 65,000 filled Cleveland Stadium and more than 6,500 flooded the outfield to accept Christ.
“We were on stage and Billy calls people forward and we just start bawling,” Tait recalls.
“I can’t talk about it without crying,” said Michael W. Smith, who introduced Mr. Graham that night to a standing ovation.
According to Jeff Anderson, the resident director of the Cleveland Crusade, the fire marshal that night said the actual crowd was more like 80,000, but gave them 65,000 to be safe.
He also recalls the nervousness of BGEA’s first “Youth Night,” the anticipation, anxiety and, of course, the altar call.
“Even before (Mr. Graham) finished the invitation, they started coming. And they just kept coming,” Anderson said. “The stage was at second base and the outfield was so packed, you couldn’t see a blade of grass.
“It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
The Saturday “Youth Night” became an instant staple in the Billy Graham Crusade lineup.
‘Will They Look at Us Like Aliens?’
Over 4,500 miles away and some 23 BGEA events later, Michael Tait — now lead singer for Newsboys after a 10-year solo career with the band Tait — was performing another personal first, playing at an international evangelical event in Lithuania.
Questions of uncertainty bounced around the back of his mind. Most of the crowd speaks either Lithuanian, Russian or Polish — with perhaps a bit of English thrown in.
“Will they jump around? Will they kind of sit still and look at us like aliens?” Tait wondered about the Lithuania crowd. “How will it be?”
The performance was so captivating, couples in their 60s and 70s were up swaying their hands to “He Reigns.” And one of the Lithuania drivers, a middle-aged man who barely spoke a word of English, was asked later what he thought of the Festival.
He responded with just a smile and one word: “Newsboys.”
Yes, the Newsboys were rockin’ the stage, putting on a show you would expect from a band in their 20s with Tait and drummer Duncan Phillips leading the way, performing with energy and enthusiasm rarely seen.
For Phillips, it’s about putting on the best show humanly possible. And connecting with young people.
“I believe He is the only hope for this generation,” said Phillips.
The Billy Graham Effect
You don’t have to follow Phillips’ highly-informative Twitter feed to find out he’s originally from Australia.
But what you may not know is the profound, if not indirect, influence Mr. Graham had on his life.
During his Crusades to Australia in the late 50s and late 60s, Mr. Graham’s messages had a deep impact on Phillips’ parents, who were instrumental in Phillips becoming a Christian.
“It’s an incredible full-circle story,” he said. “I think whenever you do this kind of work, it never returns void. Here we are 50 years later and the work that Billy Graham did has not returned void and has become a blessing to me.
“I hope I can be a part of that in future generations.”
Tait also recalls the impact that both Mr. Graham and his late wife, Ruth Bell Graham, had on his life, personally. One moment that’s seared in his memory came from a visit with the Grahams at their home in Montreat, N.C.
It was a message of encouragement with a little twist.
“Ruth said ‘Michael, honey, you guys are so important because you guys stock the pond so Billy can go fishing,’” Tait said. “I’ll never forget those words. Powerful. Stocking the pond.
“Music is important, but the message of the Gospel is all-important.”
God’s Not Dead
If there’s one question left after listing to last week’s release of the Newsboys’ worship album God’s Not Dead, it has to be this:
Is dc Talk alive?
While it’s only two songs on the disc, dc Talk fans may get goose bumps, or at least find their necks craning ever so slightly, when they hear Kevin Max’s unmistakable vocals chime in from seemingly out of nowhere.
On both the title track and “I Am Second,” you hear Max and Tait mix harmonies that may give you flashbacks to famous dc Talk lines like “Despise my own behavior” from their 1990s hit “In the Light.”
“Magical,” is how Tait described hearing Max’s melodic sound on the album.
“I got chills,” Phillips said hearing Tait and Max together. “I was definitely a closet dc Talk fan.”
But the other 10 songs have the new Newsboys sound written all over it.
The group has found its post-Peter Furler groove with God’s Not Dead, putting its own spin on seven former No. 1 worship hits, including “Mighty to Save,” “Revelation Song,” and “Forever Reign,” as well as five original songs, beginning boldly with “The King is Coming.”
“It’s a proclamation, a statement from us as a band, from us as believers that God’s not dead,” Tait said. “He’s alive and well. He’s more alive than we are as human beings.”