An Angola, Louisiana prison guard once told Franklin Graham, “There’s nothing like a manhunt.”
Speaking Thursday, to hundreds of church leaders in Pittsburgh, Graham said that statement has always stuck with him. Although the guard was referring to inmates who would try and escape from time to time, Franklin thought of Luke 5.
“It made me think of Peter [and] being fishers of men,” he explained.
“We’ve got an opportunity to let down those nets, don’t we? We’ve got an opportunity to fish for the souls of men,” Graham continued. “And it’s my prayer that we’ll see a great harvest. That we’ll see the nets so full that they’re about to break.”
The Three Rivers Festival of Hope with Franklin Graham will be held August 15-17 at the CONSOL Energy Center in downtown Pittsburgh. The night before Thursday’s launch event, thousands of fans filed into the venue for a hockey game. Franklin feels having an evangelistic event in such “neutral territory” can be beneficial to reaching the lost.
“A lot of people who come by here will never set foot in your church. [But] they’ve been to a ball game or a concert, and they know where the exits are,” Franklin Graham joked.
Billy Graham last held a Crusade in Pittsburgh in 1993 and preached from what he called “the most familiar passage in all the Bible” – John 3:16. More than two decades later, the younger Graham is looking forward to returning with the same message.
“It’s offensive when you tell someone they’re a sinner… that God gave His son to die for their sins. But it’s true!” he said. “Jesus came from Heaven on a rescue mission.”
“When I come in August, I’m not coming with any message other than the Gospel. And each night, I’m going to present the Gospel as plainly and simply as I know how and give people an opportunity to respond,” he added.
For 18 months, a “Steering Team” of local pastors and other leaders worked to organize the Three Rivers Festival. Rev. Ted Kerr, who leads the group, has been impressed at the unity across church denominations in the city.
“There’s a thirsting in this city to come together as one body of Christ [to be] a witness for our community,” he said. “They will know us by how we love each other.”
Also on the team is Larry Deringer, a Pittsburgh resident who was key in getting BGEA back to the city.
In 2012, Deringer was flipping the channels and came across Franklin Graham preaching the Gospel at a “Rock the River” event in Mississippi.
“Larry became very convicted in spirit that with our three rivers [in Pittsburgh], we needed to be hosts of a Festival,” Kerr said.
So, he picked up the phone. Little did Deringer know, a woman living in the city had made a similar inquiry to BGEA just weeks prior. Seeing that as confirmation, he began to scope the city for others who could help him rally support.
At the first interest meeting in August 2012, Kerr joined Derringer, along with Chris Palmer and Chris Patterson, who are now all part of the Steering Committee. Sixty others also attended the meeting and interest has spread by leaps and bounds since.
In the months that followed, the team was faced with three tasks: choosing a venue, designating an executive team to organize the event, and formally inviting Franklin to come preach the Gospel.
“With God’s help and his provision, we were able to do those things,” Kerr said.
Now, Franklin Graham’s challenge to church leaders in the city is simple: “It begins with prayer,” he said. “Everyone here, begin to pray for your unsaved family and friends. We’ve got to pray and then invite them.”
“We’re all busy. We all have our families. We all have our community interests,” Kerr added. “The question is will we answer the call? Will we answer the call when God taps us on the shoulder and says, ‘I want to come to your city,’ “
The overflow of Pittsburgh pastors and others who came to pray with Franklin Graham Thursday was the first step at accepting that call.
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