September 29, 2012
Ottawa, ON — More than 9,500 singing, fist-pumping people enjoyed one Christian band after another Saturday on the first day of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada’s weekend-long Rock the River event at Britannia Park, along the Ottawa River.
The free outdoor concert under scattered clouds featured rock bands Thousand Food Krutch, The Afters, and The Almost, plus Lacey Sturm from Flyleaf, and hip-hop artists Flame and Prosper. The five-hour event also featured a passionate message from Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham association, and eldest son of evangelist Billy Graham who preached here in 1998.
Before singing, Sturm recalled how life had become so painful for her a few years ago that she wanted to commit suicide, and secretly made plans to do so the very next day. Her grandmother sensed something was wrong, and insisted on taking Sturm to a church. Shortly after they arrived, the pastor told the congregation there was someone among them seriously considering suicide.
“That the pastor somehow knew that (with her revealing anything) – it made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck,” Sturm said Saturday. “He told everyone there: ‘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 share her suicidal intentions with anyone, as she was leaving the church, an old 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 said: “It was like the God of the universe showed up at that moment.”
While Sturm recalled on Saturday the instant she asked God to lead her life, Graham walked on stage, stood beside her and told the silent crowd: “If you don’t know the Jesus Christ that Lacey is talking about, if you’ve never had that kind of relationship with God, you can have it today.”
In response to Graham’s invitation, a steady stream of young people and adults came forward to welcome Jesus Christ into their lives for the first time, or to re-dedicate their lives to Him. Each person making a commitment was counseled by a trained volunteer and given the opportunity to be connected with and supported by a local church.
Among them was Mike, a 15-year-old who, like Sturm years ago, has been considering suicide.
“I was in a hard place and my friend thought this (Rock the River) would help me,” Mike said, after committing his life to Christ. “I just felt a little pull to go forward. (Now) I’m happy and relieved, like I’m not carrying pressure anymore. I’ve put it down and Jesus has picked it up.”
Rock the River continues Sunday from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. with Christian musicians Michael W. Smith, Sebastian Demrey, Canton Jones, L’Angelus, Matt Maher, The Afters, and Lacey Sturm, plus another heart-felt message from Graham, inviting listeners to commit their lives to Christ.
Graham is also president of Samaritan’s Purse, the international relief and development agency providing aid in almost 100 countries. Its programs include Operation Christmas Child, which gives millions of donated gift-filled shoe boxes yearly to needy children in the developing world.
Samaritan’s Purse brought its “Feel the Fury” exhibit to Rock the River – enabling visitors to experience the destructive power of a tornado, and learn how Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association help victims of tornadoes and other disasters recover from the turmoil. More than 1,050 people toured the exhibit on Saturday, with more expected on Sunday.
“It was very scary (going through Feel the Fury),” said Samuel Foster, 11, from Smith Falls, Ontario. “I really feel bad now for people who have suffered through something like this.”
Rock the River Ottawa is a year-long initiative involving the Billy Graham Evangelistic 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 this weekend.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, in its mission to reach Canadians for Christ, has partnered with churches to organize other year-long Rock the River ministries in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg. The association has also organized similar initiatives in the U.S., including last summer in Rochester and Buffalo, New York; and Green Bay, Wisconsin.