South Dakota Storming Heaven’s Gates

By   •   September 25, 2021

Friday night was the start of Will Graham’s three-day Black Hills Paha Sapa Celebration in Rapid City, South Dakota—one of his favorite cities in the United States. While more than 1,700 people attended in-person, people across 10 countries watched online.
Rapid City is named for the limestone spring stream that passes through the city. It was founded in 1876 by disheartened prospectors who came to the Black Hills in search of gold. Thousands of bison roam this area.
Dove Awards winner Kari Jobe and her husband, Cody Carnes, kicked off the evening with worship that brought several youth to their knees while others lifted their hands in praise. One song after another shifted the arena into a holy atmosphere and reminded the audience of Scripture’s beautiful truths, that they could “Run to the Father” and of “The Blessing” that God promises.
“This has got to be one of the prettiest places in the whole country,” Will Graham said.
Nearly 150 churches of various denominations have been partnering together ahead of the Celebration, which has been in the works for the past 15 months. Countless prayers have gone ahead of this weekend’s event, bending the Father’s ear to those still wandering from Him. >>Read more from people who were there.
Earlier in the day, thousands attended the annual Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park, located about 40 miles south of Rapid City. Dust flew as a thundering herd of 1,350 bison made their way over the rolling hills, rounded up by some 60 riders.
When The Monument was built in 1977—then known as Rushmore Plaza Civic Center—Elvis Presley was the first guest to perform. More than 40 years later, the venue is about to move into a new space. Will Graham said it’s fitting that the King of Rock and Roll opened the venue, and the King of kings is closing it out.
“What does the world need more than anything else? Jesus is the answer to all the problems of the world,” said lead singer of The Afters, Josh Havens. After nearly a year of canceled shows, he got the crowd to their feet and dancing for Jesus. Havens can still attest, “God is greater than all the struggles of the world. … If you’re in this world right now, it’s because God has something for you to do.”
Just 40 minutes from Rapid City is Mount Rushmore, completed in 1941 to represent historical events. President George Washington represents the birth of the United States; primary Declaration of Independence author Thomas Jefferson represents the growth of the U.S.; Teddy Roosevelt, president during rapid economic growth, represents the development of the U.S.; and President Abraham Lincoln, who kept the nation together during the Civil War, represents the nation's preservation.
Nine Native American tribes are spread out across South Dakota, with Native Americans making up about one-tenth of Rapid City’s population. Native American Benjamin Beautiful Bald Eagle (right) was a counselor at Friday’s event with his wife, Kara. He prayed with a man who rededicated his life to Christ. “He was going through some struggles in his life tonight, and he needed that hope that [Will Graham] was talking about … to pursue something that is going to be eternal.”
Northern Plains Indians and indigenous people consider this protruding rock, known as The Devil's Tower, to be sacred. It is also a popular attraction for rock climbing enthusiasts, who cling to its parallel cracks as they make their way to the top.
Hands shot up as people worshipped freely and without abandon. Prior to Will Graham's sermon, Jeff and Sandy Marlette, who helped plan the Celebration, appealed to the crowd to listen closely to the Gospel message which can change their lives. “The thing about salvation is it costs you exactly the same as what it cost you to get in here today," Jeff said. "It is absolutely free."
Speaking from Psalm 107, Will Graham talked about finding one’s purpose. “There’s some of you here tonight who are at a point of desperation in your life. [God] will deliver you out of your distress.”
Noah Frank (middle) said he became a counselor at the Celebration because he wants to “spread the love of Jesus” and show others who He is. “I want to make sure heaven is crowded,” the 14-year-old said. His buddy and fellow counselor, T.J. Woosley, added, “I want people to know no matter our age, no matter how young we are, we can still share God’s Word.” And sure enough, most people who came forward to make a decision for Christ during the event were youth, just like these young men.
“You are handmade by God,” Will Graham told the people gathered.
Will Graham speaks to crowds in a down-to-earth kind of way, often sharing humorous stories. But in a city full of casinos, he also communicated the seriousness of responding to the Gospel: “Don’t gamble with this decision.” And many did come forward, choosing God over any personal desires or liberties. >>You can say yes to God, too.
“You’ve clapped and you’ve hollered. But that doesn’t get you into heaven,” Will Graham said at the conclusion of the evening. “You have to surrender. All He’s doing is waiting for you to cry out.”