‘No Shortcuts to God’

By Chantelle Carlson and Karen Taylor-Binnie   •   December 17, 2004

Please pray for the “Ignition” evangelistic outreaches for Atlantic Canada youth—Oct. 7 in Halifax and Oct. 9 in St. John’s—featuring a Gospel message from Will Graham and performances by Tree63, Salvador, and Joy Williams. The following report is from Graham’s youth outreach in Barrie, Ontario, in November 2004.

As the music started, hundreds of high school kids surged onto the floor of the hockey arena in Barrie, ON. Two Christian bands–Tree63 and Kutless–rolled through their music sets as kids pressed closer to the stage. The enthusiasm among them was almost palpable; they were there to worship and to hear the truth.

“It’s not about the music or about being a rock star,” Tree63 lead singer John Ellis told a crowd of 2,500 youth gathered together for Epicentre in November. “We’re all here to hear about Jesus Christ; He is the answer.”

Epicentre was phase three of a four-phase youth initiative spear-headed by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada (BGEAC). The purpose was twofold: to bring unsaved kids to Christ; and to train, motivate and challenge young people to live out their faith and share the Gospel with their friends.

The project was conceived about two years ago by the BGEAC in an effort to engage youth at their level. Phase one launched the vision with a worship night attended by more than 500 high school kids–a record for the Barrie area. Phase two involved four weeks of Christian Life and Witness classes with 330 youth taking part each week. The third phase was the big event with two popular Christian bands and the Gospel message presented by Will Graham, Billy Graham’s grandson and Franklin Graham’s son. The final phase encompassed four weeks of discipleship classes for the more than 300 youth who accepted the invitation to commit their lives to Christ in phase three.

When the call from BGEAC went out many months ago for partner cities with this new youth initiative, the Barrie was the first to answer. “We were impressed with the sincerity and the passion for youth that the Billy Graham association had,” said Charlotte Weenink, chair of the Barrie YouthNet.

“Our goal as youth workers here in this area has always been about evangelism, not entertainment. I want kids to know Christ,” said Weenink, 25, who also works with Youth for Christ.

At Epicentre, Father Mario Salvadori said, “The children in my parish, and all these children here, need to fall in love with Jesus, the Bible and His Holy Spirit. Tonight was a step in the right direction. Often I find with kids that if we change the packaging, but certainly not the product, they respond to Christ.”

“Young people today have so much stress,” said Youth Pastor Jack de Winter. “They come from broken homes and abusive relationships–they are involved in sexual relationships and substance abuse. They need Jesus Christ in their lives. The difference it makes is incredible.”

No Shortcuts
“There are no shortcuts to God,” 29-year-old Will Graham said as he gave the Gospel message following the Epicentre concert. “It is only through the cross of Christ that you can have a relationship with God.

“There is no joy, no peace, no purpose or meaning without Jesus Christ,” Will said. “You can trade in your old life for a new one now.”

Among the more than 300 youth who accepted his invitation to trade in their old life for a new one were a brother and sister who had just lost their father to suicide in the spring and were struggling to cope with their loss and grief.

“Now they have an eternal Father in heaven who will never let them down,” said Greg Armstrong, who counseled the junior high siblings. “I have been praying for these kids for months, and to see them come to Christ is nothing short of a miracle.”

Bev West also witnessed a miracle when a woman came down to the arena floor. The woman was weeping and West asked if he could help. She told West she was from Calgary and had come to Barrie with her two teenage sons for a funeral. When she heard about Epicentre, she decided to bring them in hopes they would be saved. She was crying, West said, because her sons, 19 and 16, didn’t accept the invitation and remained planted in their seats.

“I prayed with her then in the power of the Lord,” West said. “When we opened our eyes and looked up, we could see them making their way down.” He was able to lead them from darkness to light as the mother stood by–still crying, but now with tears of joy.

Service with a Soul
It was just another day at a Barrie hotel where Corinne Pilgrim worked as a housekeeper, but she was soon to discover it would end like no other.

During a break from cleaning rooms, Pilgrim went to the front desk to chat with her co-workers and discovered they had two extra tickets to hear Will Graham at a youth event called Epicentre that night.

“I saw Billy [Graham] 26 years ago in Toronto when I was only 10,” Pilgrim said excitedly. “I knew God wanted me to go to that concert.”

With tickets in hand, she rushed home after her shift and asked her 12-year-old daughter Amy if she would like to go to a Christian youth crusade at the Barrie Molson Centre. To her surprise, Amy said “Yes.”

Pilgrim and her husband and three children had once been regular attendants of The Salvation Army in Toronto, but after moving to Barrie six years ago they had stopped going to church regularly. “I’ve been backsliding something awful,” she said, “and my kids are no better.”

When Will gave the invitation for people to come forward, Pilgrim immediately got up, determined to rededicate herself to the Lord. To her delight, Amy also got up and went down to the stadium floor to ask Jesus Christ into her heart that night. “This is a turning point for our family,” Pilgrim said, wiping tears from her eyes.

A Saviour for All Ages
Hanging out with thousands of screaming youth at a BGEAC Christian rock concert is the last place you might expect a 70-year-old woman to be, but that’s exactly where Evelyn Hufnagel was on November 16.

Armed with earplugs, Hufnagel had put on her best sweater and fashioned her grey hair in a bun in preparation for the evening. She was especially excited to hear Billy’s grandson give the Gospel message. A long-time supporter of Billy Graham, she said she would not have missed it for anything and even served as a supervisory counselor at the event.

The bands were loud and a little shocking, but “surprisingly good,” Hufnagel said. It was Will’s message, however, that she especially liked. “It was simple and to the point. It was the truth, and it was what the young people needed to hear.”

Hufnagel’s 14-year-old grandson, Nathan, was one of the counselors. He said the experience was life-changing. The Christian Life and Witness classes particularly boosted his confidence in sharing his faith.

“The classes helped me for my whole life,” Nathan said. “I’m not afraid to witness to my friends anymore. It’s so awesome.”

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