September 30, 2012
Rock the River faithful ignore steady rain Sunday to push two-day event’s attendance past 15,000
Christian music and outreach weekend at Ottawa’s Britannia Park
Ottawa, ON – Steady rain failed to dampen the enthusiasm of more than 5,700 people who cheered, waved their hands in the air, and sang along Sunday on the final day of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada’s two-day Rock the River music and evangelism event at Ottawa’s Britannia Park. Total Saturday-and-Sunday attendance reached 15,275.
Another 15,000 people in 70 countries worldwide watched on streaming video through the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s ransom.tv website.
The free outdoor concerts – under mostly sunny skies Saturday and often heavy rain Sunday – lasted from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. each day. They featured rock bands Thousand Food Krutch, The Afters, The Almost, plus Flyleaf vocalist Lacey Sturm, Michael W. Smith, Sebastian Demrey, Canton Jones, L’Angelus, Matt Maher, and hip-hop artists Flame and Prosper.
The weekend also featured passionate messages from Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham association, and eldest son of evangelist Billy Graham who preached here in 1998.
“God made you and loves you,” Franklin Graham said Sunday, looking out at a sea of people hunkered down under raincoats, umbrellas, and sheets of plastic. “No other person in history ever claimed to die in your place to take (the punishment for) your sins. Are you willing to believe in Him? Are you willing to trust Him? I’m not talking about a religion; I’m talking about a relationship.”
Graham invited his audience to come forward and publicly commit their lives to Jesus Christ. In response, a steady stream of people walked across the soggy grass toward the stage. Each person making a faith commitment was counseled by a trained volunteer and given the opportunity to be connected with and supported by a local church.
Among them was Bailey, a 15-year-old who came to Rock the River because “my mom dragged me.” The Grade 10 student said “I felt like there was a whole in my heart” before Graham began to speak. When he offered her a new life, one with Jesus Christ as its focal point, Bailey said yes.
“I want to praise God for the rest of my life,” Bailey said later. “I’m excited. I’m also scared because it’s a big commitment.”
Flyleaf’s Sturm told the crowd Saturday her life had become so confusing a few years ago that she was making plans to commit suicide. Her grandmother sensed something was wrong, and insisted on taking Sturm to church. Shortly after they arrived, the pastor told the congregation there was someone among them considering suicide.
“That the pastor knew that (without her saying anything to him) – it made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck,” Sturm said. “He told everyone, ‘God has seen how you cry yourself to sleep at night. God wants to take that pain out of your heart.’”
Although Sturm refused to reveal her suicidal intentions, as she was leaving the church, a man stepped forward and asked if he could pray for her.
“I don’t believe in it, but you can try,” she responded. Then, as the man prayed, seeking peace for her troubled heart, Sturm says: “It was like the God of the universe showed up at that moment.”
Rock the River Ottawa has been a year-long initiative involving the Billy Graham association and 178 churches in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. They have partnered to provide extensive training and prayer to help thousands of Christians grow in their faith, and gain the confidence and skills to share their faith with others – including by inviting them to Britannia Park on Sept. 29 or 30.
“If this weekend had been rained out or snowed out before anyone even went on stage, the value of it would have still been incredible,” said Randy Jost, of the local Rock the River organizing committee. “The training that thousands of Christians (in the Ottawa-Gatineau region) have received – it’s taught us how right and do-able it is for people to share their Christian faith.”
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, in its mission to reach Canadians for Christ, has partnered with local churches to organize other year-long Rock the River ministries in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg. The association has also organized similar ministries in the U.S., including in Rochester and Buffalo, New York; and Green Bay, Wisconsin, last summer.
Rock the River Ottawa also featured the “Feel the Fury” exhibit that enables visitors to experience the destructive power of a tornado, and learn how the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse (the international relief and development organization that Franklin Graham also leads) help victims of tornadoes and other disasters recover from the turmoil.
“It was very scary,” said Samuel Foster, 11, from Smith Falls, Ontario, after experiencing the tornado simulator. “I really feel bad for people who’ve suffered through something like this.”
“I knew Samaritan’s Purse for its Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes,” added Veronica Horsey, also of Smith Falls, “but I didn’t know they helped people after disasters.”