Rock ā€™nā€™ roll is born again

October 5, 2006
Nicole Lewis

Dozens of hands shoot into the air. Blue and pink cards wave high above the crowd. The lights of the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre brighten as several hundred "counsellors" move in to the crowd. The counsellors are community youth group leaders and pastors who have volunteered to come to the centre tonight and help out anyone who is not yet a born-again Christian. They answer questions and hand out an information package about Jesus and what it means to be born again. Will Graham, the 31-year-old grandson of evangelist Billy Graham, has just finished leading the entire building in a prayer.

"Only God can change your heart. Jesus wants to give you life," Graham says to the nearly full building. He is only one part of an evening of Christian rock music and multimedia presentations working to integrate faith with youth culture.

Saturday's event is phase six of a seven-phase youth training and mentoring process organized by local youth leaders and co-sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada.

Will Graham's talk moves from joking with the crowd about his troubles with the metric system to his core message about accepting Jesus personally.

"Buddha did not die for your sins. Muhammad did not die for your sins," says Graham and refers to several stories from the Bible as well as referencing real-life examples, eliciting cheers from the crowd.

The mixed crowd includes all ages from toddlers to grandparents, but the majority are tweens. A teenage boy sporting a hat that reads "Your Momma's as Big as Jesus" hangs back during the prayer session only to rush forward when the music begins. A young couple holds hands and whispers in the hallway during intermission.

Tree63, a three-piece rock band from Durban, South Africa, are the headliners of the night, closing the show with their own brand of energetic and catchy rock. Two songs into the set, lead singer John Ellis asks the jumping crowd to "Take it easy. We don't need blood."

Reading the lyrics off a screen next to the stage, everyone joins in with Tree63's songs "Blessed Be His Name" and "I Stand for You."

"Music makes a better impact," says one counsellor, who was warned before coming to the event "not to expect a night of hymns."

Opening acts Salvador and Joy Williams are stars in their own right in the Christian rock world.

The 22-year-old Williams took to the stage for a quick set, talking honestly with the crowd and encouraging everyone to sing along. A petite blond, she belts out melodic pop music while bouncing around the stage.

Salvador, from Austin, Texas, offers pop-rock fare that blends traditional Latin percussion elements with trombones and saxophones.

Between bands, short multimedia videos look at some of the other stages of the Epicentre series. The final step, global velocity, is from June 29 to July 11, 2007. Young people will head to the Port of Spain, Trinidad to join local Christians to develop and implement ministries and outreach activities for locals. Earlier stages in the process include downtown and campus prayers as well as weekend workshops on how to follow Christ. Almost all parts of the Epicentre program include music.

"[We] really need Christ in Victoria. There's a lot of apathy," says one counsellor as she takes a break from the crowd of young people in front of the stage. She hopes to get across the message that Christianity can be personal and fun and that it isn't only about rules.

BBB Festival of Hope My Hope with Billy Graham

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada

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