In a crowd of more than 6,000 people, how many are struggling? Battling illness? Feeling hopeless?
A walk through the mass of humanity gathered in Chattanooga’s Coolidge Park on Monday night revealed one story of brokenness after another. And yet, a sense of hope and expectation filled the air on this windless, 86-degree evening.
Wendy Harris arrived early to set up a lawn chair in the narrow slice of shade covering the grassy park by the Tennessee River. Harris originally didn’t think she would make it to the first stop of the Decision America Tennessee Tour with Franklin Graham. But her plans changed a few hours earlier when she learned the summer job she was counting on had fallen through.
“Instead of moping and getting mad about it, I figured I’d come out and get a Word and pray about it,” Harris said.
Lately, she’s especially attentive to what God may be prompting her to do. Last fall, “breast cancer took over.” She finished radiation earlier this year and is grateful for her healing—”I know who the real Hero is”—even as medical bills loom.
But Harris wasn’t there on Monday to focus on herself.
“I really want to pray for, definitely Chattanooga, but just America as a whole,” she said, describing the nation as “divided and discouraged.”
“There’s a lot of pessimism in the air,” Harris continued. “We have lost our grip on Who is in control.”
That’s one reason Franklin Graham decided to hold the Tennessee Tour this month. After traveling to all 50 state capitals last year to urge Americans to pray, vote and engage in the political process, he sensed God leading him to go back and share the hope of the Gospel in smaller cities. Chattanooga is the first stop this year, followed by Clarksville, Jackson and Memphis. This October, he plans to hold events across Texas, too.
The model is simple: music, prayer and a short message of Biblical encouragement. On Monday, The Afters handled the music, setting the stage for Franklin to talk about Jesus. He read about a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, whose story is recorded in Mark chapter 10.
“Bartimaeus was hopeless,” Franklin Graham said, until Jesus passed by and changed the story.
The blind man cried out at the top of his lungs, “Jesus, have mercy on me!” Jesus healed him on the spot, saying, “Your faith has made you well.”
Toward the back of the park, a family of four listened to the message, looking for a word of hope. The dad, Ronald, said he “felt led to come” after hearing about the event on the radio. His girlfriend, Crystal, said she was there to get closer to God. They explained that they had recently been evicted from their home and were forced to find temporary housing to keep a roof over their 5- and 8-year-old children. They longed for a more settled, stable life.
“I figured this right here would be something good, something positive,” Ronald said. “Everybody’s looking for something.
“I’m looking for something like a move of God.”
Up at the front of the park, Franklin Graham talked about how he found what he had been looking for when he was 22 years old and made the decision to accept Christ as his Savior. He shared the Gospel—that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life—and only He can save us from our sins.
Bartimaeus put his faith in Jesus and cried out to Him for mercy, and we can do the same.
“Are you willing to call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ?” Franklin asked before leading a prayer of repentance and faith. He invited people to text their commitment to Christ if they prayed to accept Him. Nearly 200 people texted and received Biblical follow-up info in return. They also had the option to text a trained chat coach about spiritual questions or prayer requests.
Franklin closed his message with these words: “If you don’t remember anything else tonight, remember God loves you.”
It was a welcome message for so many, including Wendy Harris.
“I think there’s a reason why you have all of these people coming out on a Monday evening,” she said. “I think people are thirsty for a Word. People are hungry, spiritually and physically. People are ill, physically and spiritually.”
The hope is that those who gathered at the park on Monday night—down on the ground and high above on the pedestrian bridge—took their burdens to Jesus, who heard every prayer.
“We know there’s power in prayer and especially in numbers of people,” Harris said. “We know that He hears us.”