BMX tricks, rock, salvation

Winnipeg Free Press
October 22, 2006
Carol Sanders

People who have had abortions, homosexual relationships, affairs or any kind of a void in their lives were called to the altar Saturday night at the MTS Centre where an overflow crowd of 13,980 people gathered for the Franklin Graham Festival.

"You may be in your 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s or 70s -- maybe you're a teenager -- it's not too late," Rev. Franklin Graham urged the crowd at the climax of the evening, the call to come forward, accept Jesus and get saved. "Come on."

The second night of the festival was dedicated to those under 25, featuring BMX bicycle trick riders and Christian rock bands Tree63 and Newsboys. The festival and its musical acts were such a big draw that close to 700 people were directed to "overflow" -- Calvary Temple downtown.

The man with top billing was the son of Rev. Billy Graham. He carried on his father's mission to bring people to Jesus Christ. "Going to church is not going to save you," he said. "Your parents cannot make that choice for you... If you come and stand before this platform, God will set you free."

"If you're here and guilty of abortion... God loves you, will forgive you, set you free and cleanse you of your shame."

He said to the roaring cheers of the crowd that those guilty of adultery, sex outside of marriage and homosexuals should answer the call.

"God will forgive you, take the guilt and shame out of your life."

Close to 500 people answered the call, crowding the floor of the MTS Centre in front of the stage. They were met by "counsellors" -- some of the 1,000 volunteers from more than 200 churches who've helped organize the weekend-long event.

Volunteer Camillia Layne, 17, said the opening prayer at Student Night.

"It's a huge deal. I've waited for this a long time," she said. Camillia grew up in a Christian home, but when she started Grade 7, she said religion felt more like an "obligation of life" than faith. She started hanging around with kids who were drinking and doing drugs and she didn't care about school anymore. Camillia said she's not sure what happened but she had a change of heart. She said something came over her and she just started to take her faith to heart and "take it seriously."

"Now I go to church as my own choice. I want to go. God's changed my life."
Camillia said she has new friends -- Christians and non-Christians -- who have similar values. The Grade 12 student plans to go to university and earn a business and information technology degree.

Dick Stephens, 60, was at the festival as a believer.

"I'm here because I'm excited to see God work," said the soft-spoken environmental consultant. "God's a God that changes people." He attends Grant Memorial Baptist Church, where there are 1,400 or so people on a Sunday morning. Last night he said he was glad to see close to 15,000 people together worshipping and hearing "God's message of love."

For Stephens, that message is a very personal one. He was saved in more ways than one when he was 33. He was a heavy drinker. "I just sort of partied my way through university," he said. At 22, his father died. "We weren't very close, but he was my rock."

Stephens started having crippling anxiety attacks and a psychiatrist was barely helping him keep at bay between weekly appointments.

Stephens tried to have a normal life with a good job and he got married. The anxiety attacks didn't go away until after his wife joined a Christian women's group and they met other couples with faith, he said. One day he had an epiphany, he said. "I realized how much God loved me and forgave me for all the stuff I had done. I was transformed immediately." His anxiety attacks disappeared.

"God gave me an allergy to alcohol." Now that he's retired, Stephens is helping as a volunteer with his church.

"I don't hit people over the head with my Bible. I try to have a Christian life."

BBB Festival of Hope My Hope with Billy Graham

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada

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