Rock the River Headed to Winnipeg’s Forks

By   •   August 10, 2011

It’s an old saying. The three most important things in real estate? Location, location, location.

Billy Graham also has a saying, too. The three most important things in preparing for an evangelistic outreach? “Prayer, prayer, prayer.”

Welcome to Rock the River, a high-octane youth-oriented evangelistic outreach from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, combining one of the best outdoor venues all of Canada has to offer with a committed Canadian prayer ministry.

Rock the River director David Ingram isn’t about to predict the outcome of Sept. 17, but he’s confident of two things: Rock the River will be covered in prayer.

And he couldn’t ask for a better spot than The Forks, smack dab on the Red River.

In fact, the Scotiabank Stage where Franklin Graham will be preaching and bands will be rocking is only a couple hundred yards from the river’s edge.

“When I first went to Winnipeg, right away they said if you’re going to have an event called Rock the River, you have to have it at The Forks,” Ingram said.  “But we can’t expect everything to come together, without covering it in prayer.”

So what exactly is The Forks?

For hundreds of years it’s been the place to meet in Winnipeg, dating back to the 1700s European trading posts.

Today, the Forks is the place in Winnipeg to hang out, known for its hip shopping, restaurants, museums, theatres, hotels, boat rides, walking trails and other recreational activities.

A 30,000-square foot Skatepark, along with the world’s longest ice skating rink (at nearly five miles) bring in outdoor enthusiasts in a town that loves its hockey and is celebrating the return of the Winnipeg Jets from Atlanta.

Annually, nearly 5 million people will visit The Forks, making it the top tourist destination in Winnipeg. In May it was voted Canada’s top public space and it ranks No. 7 for places to visit in all of Canada, according to Forbes Travelers list.

“We’re really excited about this one,” said David Mikitka, ministry developer for BGEA Canada. “It’s a very popular meeting place with significant history. It’s a place where people gather naturally. Up to 10,000 people will gather there on a Saturday.

“And come Sept. 17, the Gospel will be preached to those who came to hear it, but also to those who didn’t come to The Forks that day with that intent in mind. I think there’s potential for a huge walk-up.”

Just outside the 30-day countdown, Rock the River has been busy for months.

The FM419 youth training weekend on May 27-28 was one of the highlights, drawing 480 young people, pastors and lay leaders. Over 70 people made decisions for Christ that weekend, including 25 first-time commitments, as The Almost leader singer Aaron Gillespie led the event’s worship.

The Christian Life and Witness classes were also busy in the month of May, with approximately 300 youth completing the course. Six makeup sessions began Aug. 27. Students and churches can download a CLW reminder postcard here.

On Aug. 3, a night of prayer was held at St. Aidan’s Anglican, a historic church that has been very supportive of the Rock the River outreach event. “It was a beautiful night of worship and prayer,” Mikitka said. “Here is a church embedded in a fairly well-to-do quarter of Winnipeg, but still invested in outreach. I was excited about this.”

The lineup for Rock the River includes Canada’s Thousand Foot Krutch, Winnipeg native Starfield, Fresh IE, The Letter Black and Flame. The event will run from 4 to 9 p.m. and is completely free, but $25 Rock Zone passes can be purchased and includes an exclusive T-Shirt and preferred access close to the stage along with other benefits. One additional Rock Zone wristband will be given with each purchase, to be given to an unchurched friend.

“We’re trying to reach the next generation,” Ingram said. “They’re growing up in a world that’s different from the world I grew up in. Church has become irrelevant.”

Rock the River marks the return of Franklin Graham, who held a Festival in Winnipeg in October of 2006 that drew more than 50,000 to the MTS Center over several days. Graham also preached at three Rock the River West events in 2010 — in Fraser Valley, Calgary and Edmonton — to over 26,000 combined in attendance.

“I was really struck to hear the bands themselves,” Ingram said. “Not just the lyrics talk about Jesus Christ, but the artists themselves also talk about Jesus.”

Kidzfest, aimed at younger children and their parents, will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on Sept. 17, featuring Fiji’s Island Breeze, comedy magician Greg & Oonaugh Wood, Puppets4Him and God Rocks!

Will Graham came to the area for several pre-event speaking engagements, including the Winkler Gospel breakfast, a public event held on Aug. 18 at the Heartland Inn in Winkler, Manatoba.

There is also a daily prayer walk scheduled at The Forks the week leading up to Rock the River, starting on Sept. 10.