Rocking and Reaching Along the Majestic Mississippi

By Richard Greene   •   May 1, 2009

It will be the site for a bold evangelistic concert tour to reach youth with the truth of God’s love and the forgiveness that comes from knowing Jesus Christ.

In four cities along the Mississippi in July and August, the Rock the River Tour will feature high-energy music from Christian artists mixed with compelling Gospel messages presented by Franklin Graham.

The tour opens in Baton Rouge July 18, followed by an Aug. 2 stop in St. Louis, before heading further north Aug. 8 to the Quad Cities region and concluding Aug. 16 in Minneapolis/St. Paul. The Quad Cities region includes Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa; and Moline, East Moline and Rock Island, Ill.

One pastor in Baton Rouge and a director for senior high school students in St. Louis are convinced that Rock the River will make a dramatic and enduring change in their cities, if not beyond.

Kicking Off in Baton Rouge

“I know this is new territory for the Billy Graham ministry, but I think it is a very timely one,” said Bishop Charles Wallace, pastor of Oasis Christian Church in Baton Rouge.

“Our city is open and receptive to Rock the River,” Wallace added. “There’s a lot of excitement about it. We’re getting our youth ready and prepared, and I think that students will come from near and far.”

Some 570 miles north of Baton Rouge, at Central Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, senior high director Jay Westra agreed with Wallace.

“There’s a swirling energy among the youth leaders and pastors I’ve talked with,” Westra noted. “A lot of churches in St. Louis try a similar type of evangelistic outreach on their own, or in conjunction with two or three other churches they have a connection with. But Rock the River is definitely a citywide push that’s able to attract young people, and it’s doing a great job of mobilizing our entire city.”

Both Wallace and Westra said they’re looking forward to how non-Christian teenagers will be able to hear the Good News of God’s grace and unending love as well as how the Bible is applicable to their daily lives.

“We’ve got to meet the needs of people who come to church,” Wallace explained. “In addition to praise and worship and a sermon, our young people need someone to listen to them about the things they’re challenged with on a day-to-day basis.”

Wallace, whose church ministers in the inner city, said that some young people have to take on parenting roles in their homes. They pay the bills and take care of their siblings in addition to going to school.

“Rock the River will provide an atmosphere for them to receive and learn the Word of God and hear it from someone who’s speaking their lingo. It’s just the right effort to help them to feel that somebody really cares about them,” Wallace said.

Excitement in St. Louis

Westra identified with Wallace’s perspective. “What excites people here is that this type of event will awaken kids to how amazing living as a Christian is,” he said.

A lot of students have misconceptions of what it means to be a Christian, Westra pointed out. “They don’t see how Christianity hits real life at their schools, where they live and where they hang out,” he said.

“What we’re praying for is that thousands of young people, and by way of that families, will be enlivened again to seek God in their lives and in their homes,” Westra added. “I’m hoping that Christians will rally together to put their faith into action and invite other students who are far from God and who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ, so they can hear the Gospel.”

Wallace noted that this special outreach has the added potential of galvanizing the Christian community well beyond the summer months.

“As excited as I am about how Rock the River will reach our youth, I’m equally excited that I’m able to work with different pastors from different denominations,” he said.

“I think that as we work together, the Holy Spirit will tear down the walls and that God will melt all of our differences and make us one,” Wallace added. “Then I think we’ll have the opportunity to do something that not only changes our cities but changes our states and eventually helps to change the world.”

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