Sixteen-year-old friends Connor Lurz and Deron Graf had never met the two guys they talked to Sunday night, but now they can call those two strangers their brothers.
The teens from Sturgis, South Dakota, served as counselors during the final night of the Black Hills Paha Sapa Celebration with Will Graham. It was student night, and toward the end of the evening, the concrete floor of the venue was sacred ground, full of young people—and older—who were responding to the pull of Christ’s love.
In recent weeks, Lurz and Graf were nervous to invite people to the Celebration. What if they said no? It was a big step for the high school friends, but they did it anyway, then showed up to see what would happen.
By the time Will Graham gave a Gospel message, both Lurz and Graf were standing alongside two boys their age for the most important moment of their lives. The teen boys who had come forward did so to commit their lives to Christ.
“They were our age, so it was easy to relate. It was a lot easier than if I was talking to someone older,” Lurz said.
Sunday marked the first time either Lurz or Graf had led someone to Jesus. All around them were others also making a bold move—deciding to follow Christ.
One girl wheeled forward with one knee on a scooter to keep off her bandaged leg. Another woman made her way to the front leaning on a cane. There was even a service dog in the mix—a curly haired poodle following one attendee holding its leash.
Will Graham had just shared a Bible story familiar to many, but one that speaks so well, in particular, to a young crowd.
“He had desires and dreams. He wanted to accomplish. He wanted to experience life to the fullest,” Will Graham said about the young son in the story. But the son couldn’t do that under his father’s control; he wanted freedom.
Perhaps those in the audience felt the same way, Graham said, like their parents are such a drag and holding them back from what they really want to do.
But Graham warned that thinking only of themselves and chasing temporary pleasures—all the while ignoring God—will lead them down a scary path.
“We think that we can have a better life apart from God, but we cannot. That’s Satan’s lie,” he said. Satan wants us to believe sin is the greatest thing in life, he continued, “but it’s gonna cost you. … That’s the part Satan doesn’t tell you about.”
The Prodigal Son left his father’s home in nice robes, loaded with money, only to waste it all. He eventually sold himself into slavery, reduced to feeding pigs and longing for their scraps.
But he didn’t stay there. He humbled himself and returned home to his father, who ran to his son and joyfully welcomed him back with open arms.
“God is running after you tonight. … He’s waiting for you to come home,” Graham told those listening. He invited anyone desiring a relationship with God to come forward so they could get a few free resources to help them grow in their faith.
It didn’t take long for people to fill the space in front of the stage, including the young men Lurz and Graf counseled. The two friends from Sturgis plan to follow up with them by phone in a couple of weeks.
“I think I’ll be more comfortable [talking to people about Jesus] next time now that I’ve done it and now I know how to do it,” Lurz said.
Graf said the Christian Life and Witness Course, led by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association ahead of the Celebration, prepared him to clearly explain the Gospel.
“It showed me how to get to the point instead of beating around the bush,” he said.
And when eternity is in the balance, you can’t underestimate the value of being straightforward.
As the Celebration wrapped up after many months of planning, inviting and working in the community, Sunday’s audience had the privilege of seeing God’s kingdom expand before their own eyes. More than 200 people stood in front of the stage following Graham’s Gospel message.
“For those who are standing down here, listen. Look at me right now,” Graham said, looking over the crowd with a smile. “Welcome home.”
Have you strayed from God? He’s waiting to welcome you with open arms.