Unethical politics, broken families, racial tension, a shortage of affordable housing, illegal and prescription drug abuse, prostitution, pornography, homelessness, alcoholism.
This same list of problems infects many large cities in America, but unfortunately, this specific list of problems belongs to Knoxville, Tennessee, a beautiful, mid-sized city located in what many call “The Bible Belt.”
Although Knoxville is largely Christian, its religion has not spared the city from serious problems. With a metropolitan population of nearly 700,000 people, Knoxville is the third-largest city in the state. Half of all single mothers in the area live below the poverty line. And every night, hundreds of homeless people can be found on the streets of the city with no place to go.
Each year more than 17,000 calls are received reporting domestic abuse in the Knoxville area. Despite the presence of hundreds of churches, many live in darkness. But Christ-followers in Knoxville are ready to bring these problems out into the light–and bring hope to those who suffer from poverty, addiction, depression or despair.
That is why more than 30 organizations and 478 churches of different denominations have united to bring the East Tennessee Franklin Graham Festival to Knoxville this weekend, April 25–27. The Festival is unifying the area with the same vision: to bring the joy of Jesus Christ to any lost in darkness.
Many in Eastern Tennessee are tired of having a religious community that is not connecting its beliefs to action. Churches have seen the need to unite across denominational lines and bring change to the community. Through the Festival, churches also hope to reach out to the nearby University of Tennessee at Knoxville, which is home to more than 26,000 students.
In cooperation with the Knoxville area Rescue Mission, Festival volunteers on the Love in Action Committee have collected materials for hundreds of hygiene kits that will be distributed to those in needs in Knoxville. Each kit contains toothbrushes, tubes of toothpaste, a toothbrush holder, deodorant, a washcloth, shampoo, soap, wipes, lotion, and socks.
But Festival organizers do not only want to help the immediate, physical problems of homelessness, poverty, and general depression in Knoxville; they are looking to bring about eternal, lasting change.
Already that process has begun. Leading up to the Festival, more than 12,200 people attended Christian Life and Witness courses to be trained in the basics of the Christian faith. And in February, more than 4,700 attended the “Rock the City” student event to raise awareness among the younger generation and invite people to the Festival. The Festival’s purpose is to bring people into a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ.
Festival events will be held at the Thompson-Boling Arena on the campus of University of Tennessee at Knoxville:
Friday, April 25, 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, April 26, 10:00 a.m. (“Xtreme Kidz–LIVE”)
Saturday, April 26, 6:47 p.m.
Sunday, April 27, 4:00 p.m.
(Doors open 90 minutes before each event begins)
A 1,500-person choir will sing each night along with guitarist Dennis Agajanian and The Tommy Coomes Band. Friday night’s event will feature Israel Houghton and New Breed as well as award-winning bluegrass artists Austin’s Bridge.
Saturday morning’s Xtreme Kidz event will showcase stunt-masters Chaos on Wheels and artists God Rocks and Emcee Little Tommy. Saturday night’ s student event welcomes rock artists Toby Mac and Group 1 Crew.
Well-known musicians Michael W. Smith, Phil Stacey, and Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder will perform on Sunday. Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea, longtime ministry partners with Billy Graham, also will sing on Sunday. All are welcome, and admission is free.
The prayer of the community is that thousands will receive everlasting hope at the Festival and will be given a chance to begin their lives anew.