Winds pushed smoke eastward from British Columbia resulting from 300 devastating wildfires and then settled over Calgary and all the way to areas north of Edmonton. Blue skies turned a dusky grey as the smoke hovered close to the ground, precipitating air quality warnings from Alberta’s chief medical officer.
But people made their way to WinSport Canada’s Canada Olympic Park, the sprawling site that staged luge, bobsledding and ski jumping events at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. On Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010, it served as the venue for the second stop of the Rock the River Tour West, a series of outdoor evangelistic youth concerts sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and designed to reach another generation for Jesus Christ. The final leg of this summer’s concert tour will be this Saturday afternoon in Edmonton.
For seven hours to the thumping beat of hard-driving music, students celebrated as they headbanged, pumped their fists, jumped up and down and sang the songs of Skillet, Flyleaf, LeCrae, and Canada’s own Hawk Nelson, Starfield and downhere.
When Franklin Graham walked on stage four times throughout the day and asked the youth-oriented crowd to quiet and to think seriously about life, both here and eternal, they hushed and listened attentively to the Good News of Jesus Christ.
By day’s end, 590 people made either first-time commitments to Jesus Christ or rededications of faith to Him.
Personal Expressions of Praise
“I have a sense of being overwhelmed and sheer joy,” said George Ridley, pastor of South Calgary Community Church and chairman of the local committee.
“Just watching the hundreds of young people coming forward was an amazing site after a year of work and preparation,” Ridley added. “To see that taking place was incredible. I join so many others in praising God for all that’s He’s doing here and throughout our city and region.”
Jason Dunn, lead vocalist for Hawk Nelson, who played just prior to Graham’s first Gospel message, said the band was glad to be a part of this year’s Tour in their own country. After autographing various guitars, T-shirts and other Rock the River memorabilia, Dunn said there is nothing more motivating than watching kids come forward to the front and give their lives to Christ.
“When we see kids wearing our shirts who maybe came just to see us play all of a sudden giving their lives to Christ, it’s the most amazing feeling,” Dunn said, “I’ve got chills right now thinking about it.”
Stories of Life Change
Peppering his presentations with his own conversion testimony at the age of 22, Graham explained that Jesus Christ is the “Way, the Truth and the Life” and that no one comes to the Father except through Him.
“The Lord Jesus Christ is the only Person in history who died on a wooden cross for the sins of the world and who can save you from eternal separation from God,” Graham told the crowd.
He further proclaimed: “God wants to forgive you He wants to cleanse you. He wants to take that guilt and shame that’s in your life, and He wants to set you free.”
But Graham cautioned those onsite and those watching live via the Internet on Ransom.tv that the only way they could receive eternal forgiveness and enjoy a personal relationship with God was to personally confess that they were a sinner, tell Him they were sorry and then turn from their sins and receive Christ into their heart and life by faith.
Hundreds did just that.
- Jamie, 16, and Madalyn, 13, walked forward together when Franklin invited people to come make a decision for Christ. Both were crying and hugging each other. They had both been to church before and knew many Bible stories about Jesus but had never given their hearts to Him. After grasping the depth of God’s love for them and that their sins could be forgiven, Jamie and Madalyn committed their lives to the Savior.
- Grant Weber, a local youth pastor serving as a Rock the River counselor, hadn’t yet been given a chance to talk with anyone and was feeling a little dejected. So when he noticed that one of his students from his youth group had gone forward, he started walking over to talk with him about the commitment he had made. All of a sudden, Jared, who had come to the event by himself, stepped in front of Grant and asked, “I want to know more about Jesus, can you talk with me?” Grant replied sure and the two talked quite a while. Jared said he had made a commitment quite some time ago but acknowledged that he been “slacking off” and had not been attending church very consistently. So Jared re-surrendered his life to the Lord and said he wanted now to follow Christ with his whole heart.
- Jessica grew up in a home where her mother believed that Jesus was only a great teacher. Jessica, however, believed that Christ is the Son of God and had given her life to Him. During Rock the River, the 19-year-old rededicated her life to the Lord. Beverly, a volunteer counselor, encouraged Jessica to take the Gospel of John included in the counseling packet given to her and share it with her Mom. Jessica said she was excited about praying for her mother, witnessing to her and seeing her come to faith.
- Chantel, 23, has been struggling at home, so she recently asked her good friend Sydney if she could stay with her. Sydney agreed. The two decided to attend Rock the River to learn more about Jesus. As they listened to Franklin, they discovered that God loved them and sent Christ on a rescue mission to die on the cross for their sins. Chantel especially wrestled with whether if she deserved the love of Christ and eternal life He offered to her. Both Chantel and Sydney came forward to ask Christ into their hearts, voicing joy that their sins had been washed as white as a Canadian snowfall. They left knowing that they can know God personally through Christ and enjoy an enduring relationship with Him every day.
Richard Greene is an Assistant Editor for Decision Magazine