Phil Callaway has three teenagers and is editor of Servant magazine at Prairie Bible Institute, a Christian college in Alberta, Canada. Decision asked him to write from this vantage point about why Rock the River comes at a crucial time for Canada’s next generation.
Morgan Lock is discouraged. The normally enthusiastic 10th-grader from Calgary is telling me about her friends in public school. “They’re so messed up,” she says, frowning. “Drugs. Alcohol. You name it. They need Jesus so badly.”
I understand. As the father of three young Canadians, I worry, too. About a generation of people who don’t even know which way to point their hats. Or how high to pull their pants.
Recent studies don’t help. According to data from Project Teen Canada, non-Western religions, such as Islam and Buddhism, are growing at an alarming rate. In fact, more Canadian teens now identify themselves as Muslim than Baptist, Anglican and the mainline United Church of Canada combined. Adherence to other faiths, including Hinduism and Sikhism, has exploded fivefold since the first such survey in 1984, while the number of teens who call themselves Protestant has shrunk by almost two-thirds.* Reginald Bibby, the University of Lethbridge sociologist who heads up Project Teen, says that the 5,500 surveyed are in two distinct camps: those who actively practice their faith, and those who don’t believe in God at all.
As Morgan and I talk, the frown remains on her face—until I mention Rock the River. Surely her friends would listen to a transforming message from Franklin Graham if it were against the backdrop of popular bands like Skillet, Starfield and Thousand Foot Krutch.
With encouragement from her parents and youth pastor, Morgan attended FM419, the high-octane precursor to Rock the River that equips teens with the tools needed to share their faith and counsel peers at three main Rock the River events in Western Canada this August.
The contagious energy of FM419 took Morgan by surprise. Worshiping with 1,200 other teens re-ignited her passion for Christ. “It was awesome learning about evangelism,” she says. “Before this I wasn’t sure what to say. Now, I’m confident to share my faith. When my public school friends ask me now about Jesus, I have answers.”
Organizers like Steve Peterson wondered if Canadian teens would turn out for FM419. “We were blown away by the response. More than 2,000 youth showed up in Calgary and Edmonton. Hundreds of them will be counseling at Rock the River.”
Loreli Hornby volunteers her time by creating buzz about the youth events on Facebook. With her daughter hugging her neck, Hornby is well aware that hope for the next generation is found in the Gospel of Christ. She also knows that only a few blocks away, teens gather in an upscale café to smoke hookah pipes. The large communal water pipes, designed to burn fragrant blends of tobacco mixed with molasses, are all the rage these days in Calgary, a city where identification with atheism is on the rise.
“A year ago I felt a call of God to work with youth,” Hornby says. “I started thinking how awesome it would be to have a Christian rock concert that non-believers would love. When I heard about Rock the River I told our youth pastor I wanted in—any way I could. This music is exactly what Christian parents want their kids listening to. It’s about Jesus.”
During 25 years in youth ministry, Al Mertes has seen it all. “Canadian teens are locked in a dark world filled with cutting, suicide, loneliness and separation from adults who care,” he maintains. As youth ministry professor at Prairie Bible College, Mertes says Rock the River is an evangelistic event that will change lives forever. “The living Christ alone can bring light into the souls of our teenagers. And Rock the River will give Christian youth a chance to share the light of Christ with their lost friends.”
Peterson is still shaking his head, amazed to find these Canadian students as excited about evangelism as they are about the Rock the River event. But shouldn’t they have some practical experience first? “Yes,” Peterson says. “That’s why we get them out serving the community [through community action projects]. In August, those who come forward to receive Christ will be paired with people their own age who have the necessary tools to lead them in that decision.”
Grover Bradford, who counsels youth and their families at Centre Street Church in Calgary, says the teens he sees are trying to figure out why they’re alive. “Many have no father, or they have a dad who’s around but not really there. This is a skeptical, abandoned generation with major trust issues. They’re trying to find community—a place where they fit—but who will lead them to the truth?”
When he heard about Rock the River, Bradford was ecstatic. Music and friendship are important to young people, and this event puts them both together. And as teens choose who they’re going to be and with whom they’ll spend time, Rock the River will help them to see how a relationship with Jesus can shape those choices.
Mertes agrees that the event will be a defining moment for many teens, that even those who question God’s existence will realize how powerful He is and that those who feel unwanted and unloved will encounter God’s unending love for them.
Bradford believes Rock the River will have an effect on Canada for generations. “These new converts will be discipled one-on-one,” he says. “Rock the River is not the climax. It’s the beginning. When these events are over, the hard work really begins.”
Morgan isn’t waiting. She has already begun the work of inviting her friends to Rock the River.
“The hope that some of them will come to know Christ is burning within me,” she says. “I’d love to help them find the hope I have.”
And a smile has crept across Morgan Lock’s face once again.
*Source: Reginald Bibby, The Emerging Millennials: How Canada’s Newest Generation is Responding to Change & Choice (Project Canada Books, 2009).