Rock the River brings music and Christian evangelists to Britannia Park

Louisa Taylor • Ottawa Citizen • September 28, 2012

OTTAWA — There will be rappers and worship singers, hard rockers and Louisiana roots music.

There will be lawn chairs and scores of porta-potties, food vendors and piles of band merchandise. And yes, Mayor Jim Watson will make an appearance — and probably tweet about it after. Sounds like a typical festival in Ottawa, which is what Rock the River is, but with one extra dimension: Christian faith.

Rock the River is a two-day Christian outreach effort through the medium of music. Organized by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada (BGEAC) and a group of local churches, the Britannia Park festival will feature a lineup a lineup of local, national and international artists, all ready to share their music and testify to their belief in Jesus Christ. Instead of a beer tent, the non-alcoholic event will have an area dedicated to welcoming people who want to talk about faith and spirituality.

“People will have an opportunity to respond, to come forward publicly and give their life to Jesus,” said Randy Jost, assistant pastor of worship ministries at the Metropolitan Bible Church, and local chairman of the festival organizing committee. “There will be a place at the front of the stage held open for that, where local counsellors and pastors and people we have trained to counsel at our event are there to answer questions.”

That training is integral to Rock the River, which was founded in 2009 in the United States, and in previous years has been to Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton. At every stop, BGEAC builds partnerships with local churches and leads courses for their congregants.

“We talk to people about how to be a good counsellor on the field that day,” said Dave Ingram, Canadian director of the BGEAC and project director for Rock the River. “We help them to
understand their Christian faith and how to live it out, to be up front with people about who Jesus is and what he means to us. We talk about listening, hearing people’s personal stories and leading them to understand what it means to be a Christian.”

Ingram estimates that 1,400 adults and 500 youth from about 10 churches from Orléans to Kanata have taken the training, which is called Christian Life and Witness. Held either in three weekly sessions or over one weekend, the course teaches the catchphrase, “Live it, share it,” which Ingram says is about knowing what to do when someone asks about your faith, and “being able to share it in a meaningful way, (a) natural way.”

This is the 14th festival for BGEAC but the first year it has come to Ottawa. Jost says the local churches started talking to BGEAC in the fall of 2010, and have been “going full tilt” for the last year to plan this weekend’s event. Funding to stage the festival comes from the BGEAC, the churches, local Christian businesses and the proceeds from an offering during the festival. There will also be substantial volunteer effort going into almost every aspect of the event, from transportation to marshalling to clean up.

Jost says the same kind of training was offered when Billy Graham himself came to Ottawa in 1998, and resulted in a surge of people joining local churches.

“The combination of the training and then the response to the actual event, in terms of people making decisions for Christ, has huge impact on our church,” said Jost, who arranges the music for the 2,500 people who attend services at the Met every Sunday. “We have hundreds of people who have taken the training. It has helped them to live out their faith in a more meaningful way in their neighbourhoods, among colleagues and friends. When it comes to participating as counsellors at rallies, it gives them the confidence to do that. We have dozens of people who
have attended our church regularly since 1998 who came because of Billy Graham’s ministry.”

The festival starts at 4 p.m. Saturday, and will feature local rapper Prosper and American rapper Flame, as well as American worship singer Michael W. Smith and Peterborough, Ont.
rockers Thousand Foot Krutch. “Artists won’t just sing, they’ll share their own personal testimonies about what Jesus means to them.”

Evangelist and missionary Franklin Graham will speak, as his father Billy did in 1998. There will be a tornado simulator, Feel the Fury, by the Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse, which sponsors rapid response teams to help people in the aftermath of trauma or disaster, “to pray for them and give spiritual and emotional help,” said Ingram.

Most of all, there will be music and — organizers hope — thousands of people enjoying it.

“The park people tell us that the space we’ve set out can hold around 8,000 people,” says Ingram. “People will come regardless of the weather, but we are certainly hoping for a nice day.”