As a gang member on the streets of Montreal, Daniel Jutras could not have fathomed a night like this.
With the twilight sky still aglow at Britannia Park in Ottawa, Jutras, 39, was brought to tears in the middle of a crowded invitation from Franklin Graham at Rock the River.
But it wasn’t because of Jutras’ conversion experience. That happened three years ago.
Jutras — who spent more than 20 years in Canada’s roughest gangs, including several stints in prison — was moved Saturday night because of the opportunity he had to share Christ with a 12-year-old named Luca.
“It was just the best feeling I’ve ever had,” said Jutras, who now works for a fiber optics company in Ottawa. “I’m so happy for him. You have no idea.
“I could tell it was legit when he was accepting Christ. He was tearing up and that made me tear up.”
Two youth group friends invited Luca to Rock the River, a two-day, music-infused evangelistic Festival. After Christian hip-hop groups Prosper and Flame performed, and Lacey Sturm of Flyleaf gave her testimony, Franklin Graham delivered a powerful Gospel message that hit home with Luca.
“By coming forward, you’re saying ‘I’m a sinner,’ ” Franklin Graham wrapped up the invitation after preaching on the Prodigal Son. “(You’re saying) I’m sorry and I want your forgiveness.”
Luca, with the support of his two friends, maneuvered through a huge throng of people coming forward to give their lives to Jesus. The thousands in attendance cheered after hundreds prayed in unison to start a new life in Christ. Many more, watching the event streamed live around the world, recorded decisions online.
Buried deep in the middle of the crowd, moments after Franklin Graham said “Amen,” Jutras turned and Luca was right there.
Face to face, Jutras knew this was the Holy Spirit’s doing. His heart skipped a beat.
“I was very nervous,” said Jutras. “I didn’t know what I was going to say.”
But the words flowed out naturally. Jutras shared how God rescued him from an awful situation. Since age 12 — the very age Luca is now — Jutras was mired in the Montreal gang scene. Twice he was shot at, including once, point-blank, under his chin. Both times the gun jammed.
He was so far from God, his mother once found out he was arrested by watching CNN.
But it was his mom’s invitation to an Eastern drama called “The Crucifixion” in Ottawa where he and his wife accepted Christ three years ago. The two were so on fire, they drove two hours each way — from Montreal to Ottawa — to attend Living Waters Christian Assembly on Sundays.
“I knew about God and about Jesus,” Jutras said. “But I didn’t know He was real. I would only talk to Him in jail or on the other end of the gun.”
But the thing most resonating with Luca on Saturday evening was when Jutras told him how putting his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ puts him on the same plane in God’s eyes as every other believer.
“He was hanging on pretty much every word I said,” Jutras said. “The same Spirit that lives within me now lives within him. In God’s eyes we’re both equal. We’re all his children. We all have the Spirit of Christ in us.”