BRINGS FORTH FRUIT IN OTTAWA
Part 2: The Five Mission Services
To foot of page links
By Tony Copple
Part 2: The Five Mission Services To foot of page links
By Tony Copple
By 7:00 pm the Corel Centre was substantially full, all the way up to the roof. In the throng I was unsuccessful meeting up with a new internet friend, Suzie, who flew in from Detroit for the events. The sense of expectancy was all around in the good-natured crowd. This is where a smaller crowd comes regularly to see the Ottawa Senators. Today they had come to see a 79 year old Southern ‘preacher man,’ who walks with some difficulty. The programme started exactly on time with the choir singing "All Hail the Power." There were 12 items, including Cliff Barrows’ greeting, tenor Ben Heppner’s three operatic arias, several contributions from the enthusiastic 2,700-person choir, and George Beverly Shea’s song, before Billy Graham took the podium. This audience had already shown that it wanted to applaud at every opportunity, and now they rose en-masse to give him a huge welcome, which he humbly passed off as applause for Bev Shea!
He spoke for about 40 minutes, on the timeless and undiluted message of the fall into sin, from Eden to the cross, and the redemption freely offered through Jesus’ assumption of our guilt, and his paying the price, so that we have the choice not to be condemned for our sin. Central to it all was the message that "God Loves You." There is no compromise in this message: "I am the Lord. I change not." God came into the Garden of Eden asking "Adam, where are you?" He knew all along where he was, but he wanted Adam to realize what he had done. Where are you? Simply put. Graham asked each of us sitting in the arena: "where are you on your journey of faith?" God wants you to be forgiven. Salvation is a free gift, given by grace. To those who know they have it, it is their most valued possession. You cannot have peace without his salvation.
Graham never raised his voice. There was no intellectual wizardry, and nothing remotely designed to stimulate mass audience reaction. So much so that I, sitting that night with the press and surrounded by television crews, wondered if many would be motivated to come forward at the end. The message was simple and clear. He referred to Earl McRae’s article in the Sun and even answered some of McRae’s questions.
Graham has what no other international figure in the church has today: he has his audience’s unconditional respect. To his most uncompromising demands, his audience responded with applause! It seemed to me that the people were saying "It’s about time we heard the true ‘tough’ story, the possibility of hell, the passion, and we are not getting it today," certainly not from many United Church pulpits. This message is far removed from postmodern practice of settling belief by group consensus (see David Fisher’s article "Worldviews" in June 1998 Fellowship Magazine, and thus contrasts with the approach taken in "Reconciling and Making New." At last, someone is telling us what we truly can believe, with authority that is surely learned from the close influence of God himself.
He told us of his own conversion, a simple commitment as a teenager at an evangelistic meeting, and that he did not experience any great revelation at the time. But from then on, the most amazing things happened in his life, and have continued to the present. To him, the place where it all began is now hallowed ground.
When the invitation was given, that moment which takes courage to get out of comfort zones and publicly state to 18,000 people that this matters, something happened that I can only rationalize as being the work of the Holy Spirit. There was no hysteria; the people just came, quietly, and they came, and seemed never to stop. The choir sang "Just as I am." On the floor it became crowded with little space to turn around. Graham waited till most were on the floor, then talked to them about the joy of a life filled with the presence of Jesus. He said they should do four things: read the Bible, pray, witness to others, and become involved in a church. Cliff Barrows then gave the benediction. Then supervisors directed councellors, and counsellors led people to accept Jesus into their lives, and gave them the package of discipleship materials to nourish the first stage of their faith. Out of a total of 20,000 attendees (2,000 in the overflow area) 1,400 responded. For an accurate review of the night, see the excellent article by Donna Casey of the Ottawa Sun: "Held in the Arms of the Lord," which can be found on the web site www.ncf.carleton.ca/~aj624/bgraham.html, along with a wide selection of press coverage.
For good reporting on the next four meetings, I recommend a visit to the web site given above, since, as Graham said on the final night, the press was excellent, and much of what was written is accessible there. The media are not normally known for spending many column inches on good news. Most of us are usually disappointed by the accuracy of reporting of events that we have personally witnessed. In this case, the prominent sensitive and accurate reporting of both the Ottawa Sun and the Ottawa Citizen undoubtedly encouraged many people to come.
Friday EveningOn the Friday, the Montreal Jubilation Choir generated a spontaneous high energy burst that invigorated the whole evening, and when Susan Aglukark sang Amazing Grace, unaccompanied in Innuktituk, it seemed as if the power and the glory were in evidence responding from every nook of the building to one human voice. Graham began in the sculpted pose of Rodin’s ‘Thinker’ as he spoke on Spiritual Warfare - and how there's a ‘battle of the mind’ going on. It's a battle for our minds between the devil and God. "As a man thinks, so is he," he quoted from scripture (Prov. 23:7). And he tells us that we're all sinners and he's a sinner, too. He speaks with complete confidence and candour rather than as a thundering prophet: that anyone whose mind is harboring jealous, angry thoughts or complaints that everyone else is wrong is actually allowing the devil to win the spiritual battle. People are powerless without God, and he spoke reverently about the peace, joy and satisfaction that indwells those who accept Jesus as their saviour. At the end of the evening, people came to pledge their lives to God in even greater number than the night before.
Kidz GigIn some respects, my favourite meeting was the Saturday morning "Kidz Gig." A full house of children were gustily entertained by Psalty the Singing Songbook, in a rollicking, yet sensitive introduction to faith. A huge children’s choir sang with enthusiasm. I made a personal decision to counsel rather than supervise, and removed my supervisor badge, sending up one more prayer that God would be at my side when I counselled one of these little ones. When Psalty gave the call, a deluge descended down the isles. I noticed a young girl with an adult, not yet teamed to a counsellor, and when the time came I introduced myself to them. I’ll call the young girl Rebecca. She was open and expectant. I asked her the first question on the special children’s folder Trusting Jesus: "Have you come to begin a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ?
"Yes," said Rebecca. We then read together the five steps of how to join God’s family - What is God’s Plan? (Peace and life). What has caused the trouble? (Sin). What is God’s cure? (The cross). What must you do? (Receive Jesus). Then she prayed after me "Dear Lord Jesus, Thank you for loving me. I believe you died for me on the cross. I am sorry for my sins. I ask you to give me a new life and make me a part of God’s family. Please help me to love and obey you. In Jesus’ name. Amen." She then received a booklet containing the gospel story in pictures, and lastly I filled in a card with her details, including her category of "acceptance of Christ," and gave her my name and phone number.
I have never done this before for a child. I get goose bumps remembering those sublime moments. Of course, my part was small. I’ll guarantee that in another environment the possibility of these same words having an impact would be slim. There was a special dimension present that gave huge force to the message and clearly impacted Rebecca as well. Leading a child to the Lord requires no great skill with the Holy Spirit so strongly in attendance. The other crucial element is the experience the Billy Graham organization has developed in preparing suitable materials, and training counsellors to use them. I felt spiritually close to Rebecca and also sensed the Spirit’s presence not only with us, but throughout that arena filled with young ones seeking him. The process held no embarrassment on either side and seemed the most natural thing in the world to be doing.
1,600 young children gave their hearts to the Lord. Perhaps this is group with the most enduring potential of the mission. I felt that every moment of preparation had been worthily used in the service of the Lord, and I walked on air for several hours. And this was only the start of the day! As I left at 1:00 pm, there were already a hundred lined up for the evening’s meeting six hours later. This was to be ‘youth night’ headlined by Jars of Clay and Michael W. Smith.
Youth NightI had new friends, Laurie-Ann Zachar and (Pastor) Ron Piggott, seminary students at Tyndale College, who had just arrived at my home that morning from Toronto for the mission, and whom I had met via the Internet. We arrived in good time, and joined the long, good-natured line. By 6:00 we had obtained excellent seats directly opposite the stage. The time passed quickly, with stadium waves and good fellowship. When Jars of Clay opened the evening, all those within the Corel Centre, (and the thousands in the overflow area) thoroughly enjoyed their excellent set. Michael W. Smith also won hearts for the Lord with his fine worship music. If, reader, you are unaware of the role played by those in contemporary Christian music in promoting the faith, you are missing much. This is a fact not lost on the Billy Graham Association.
Michael W. Smith
In a masterly stroke of production, Michael brought on his friend Billy Graham without a break from the music set. We then heard one of the most directed and compelling messages of the mission. It is to their credit that the Graham Organization has created a format that juxtaposed these two contrasts: rock music and serious evangelism, in an unexpected synergy. As on every other night, there was no fire nor brimstone. The passion was there, the conviction and utter dedication. But there was no loudness. In the strangest way (and credit to the audio production) it was the very softness that reached everybody, and focussed their attention. It’s an exaggeration to say that you could hear a pin drop, but 18,500 listened intently partly because the volume seemed to be set lower than is usual, (and much lower than the bands had played!) And it worked so well.
Graham's message to youth was about the spiritual hunger that the world is experiencing today, which is more intense than any time he has ever seen it in his lifetime. Said Graham, "Our souls need to breathe and grow. Why do school children shoot each other? Why are so many teens committing suicide today?" He pointed us in the direction of the Bible . . . God's inspired word that says we're all sinners and we all stand in judgment before God. (Romans 3 ;23) "We're alienated from God". He said: "You're here tonight to say "yes" to Jesus; you haven't come to say "yes" to Billy Graham. I don't have any extra power. Let Jesus rule in your heart and he can help you overcome your sinful nature." This is simple truth, yet a profoundly powerful message. I'm still glowing in the aftermath.
I went down to the floor and found a young man in a wheelchair. I guessed (rightly as it turned out) that he had MS. A lady was with him, helping him who spoke only French. After the benediction we introduced each other (I’ll call him Pierre), and I asked him the first question on the "My Commitment " folder: "Have you come forward to personally accept Jesus as his Lord and saviour?" He said that he had already done this. So together we selected from the choices on the folder, that he had come to "demonstrate his faith." We went through the sequence of "how to receive Christ" which is similar to the one on the children’s material that I had used with Rebecca, followed by the page for one who is already committed, and at the end we prayed the prayer of commitment together. By now, we had a bond that would not easily be broken, and his with God was re-sealed. I gave him the excellent "Living in Christ" booklet, containing a complete John’s Gospel with reading plan, and a faith primer, and he signed and dated his commitment. The package also contains an audio-taped message. I am used to giving pastoral care to MS patients and I believe Pierre felt comfortable, although before we had spoken he appeared slightly apprehensive. This a new experience for every inquirer. As we filled in his card, it transpired that he was in church several times a week and ran the PA system in his church. As I guided Pierre to an exit point and the wheelchair ushers, I was delighted when he told me the lady who had been with him was his fiancée, but she had had to leave because she was not too well. For me, being present for one of the 2,000 who came forward that night, was again a blessing. I had not felt nervous, for I had known for sure that the will of God was with me, and would sustain me as I ministered.
Ron sent me his e-mail newsletter about his experience of this night: "Since it was ‘youth night,’ the meeting began with a concert. Jars of Clay were first, then Michael W. Smith. By the time Michael finished, the presence of the Holy Spirit was strong throughout the Corel Centre. I was very blessed by the music. Billy Graham spoke for 22 minutes addressing the youth in particular. Then he gave the altar call. It was awesome seeing thousands come to the Lord. Something very special happened to me at altar time. My personal relationship with God has been growing so much over the past year and a half, and in particular the past month; it is amazing. During the altar time the Holy Spirit put a message in my heart that I will be doing evangelistic preaching like Billy Graham when I am done with Bible College and Seminary. It humbled me. I was very moved and shed a few tears."
Some time later, after my nightly stint in the congenial atmosphere of the war room, I went home feeling that this had been a truly great day in my life.
Next day was a congregating of the clans in the Copple home. My Toronto visitors Laurie-Ann and Ron and I went to Parkdale United in the morning to see Rev. Dr. Andrew Stirling’s good-bye service before his move to T. Eaton Memorial in Toronto. Waiting for us was Suzie and her daughter Robbie! I had forgotten that I’d told Suzie we would be there. Having arrived from Detroit Thursday afternoon, she had attended all the meetings so far. After a generous UC lunch we all returned to my home in Kanata, where we joined by Barbara, a friend I invited that afternoon, and Al, a veteran of the 1995 Toronto mission, a friend of Laurie-Ann’s. The friendships we forged that weekend added a dimension of shared discovery to the mission experience, and will endure.
After Tracy Dahl and Amy Grant had captivated our hearts with their all-too short sets, Graham came to the podium for the last time, and, as on every previous night, to a standing ovation. He told us that he already felt homesick for Ottawa, and was generous in his praise for the press and their positive coverage. He had been told to expect just a small amount of coverage (holding up a thumb and forefinger just an inch apart). Instead there were several prominent pieces every day in both papers. I sensed an outpouring of love for this man from the audience. He took advantage of the crowd’s warmth to cover the really key issues without compromise.
Night after night, at the mission in Ottawa this past weekend, Graham hammered home one particular point. "Maybe you've been baptized, and maybe you've already been confirmed. Maybe you even go to church. But, that does not mean that you've accepted Jesus into your heart as your Lord and saviour. Christianity is living 24 hours of every day with Jesus Christ." Can you make that commitment?
For his final sermon, his subject was the second coming of Christ. This is a theme I have not heard recently on a Sunday. How refreshing! How terrifying! How exciting! He took us back in graphic detail to the time of Noah, when something that must have seemed like the end of the world took place. He mentioned that there are 320 references to the second coming of Christ in the Bible. He showed us the fate of those who laughed at Noah, who was building a ship in the desert. When will the second coming be? For you, it will likely be the moment you die, said Graham. Are you ready for that? God told us to prepare for it. To be ready; you must invite Jesus to come into your heart. Then, when you die, an angel will take you by the hand and lead you into the presence of God.
For the last time I sadly took the long walk down from section 301 to the floor. By the time of Cliff Barrows’ benediction, I found myself behind a middle aged man, Jim, and his wife, holding each other tightly in a supportive embrace. After a lady counsellor had introduced herself to his wife, Jim told me that his church attendance had fallen off recently, but they had decided to come to the mission (twice) as a positive step towards getting back to where they wanted to be. Again we followed the script, and the words of the Lord spoke to us, as they were doing for two thousand others. It is not a complex process, leading people (back) to the Lord in the environment of the mission. It is the natural outcome of every moment of the prodigious efforts of the past two years.
The day after the mission I noticed that the official mission web site had changed to follow-up mode. The complete sequence on making a commitment is up there at www.billygraham.on.ca/follow02.html. If you never quite came round to walking out on that floor, you are invited to follow the same process at home. I recommend ideally that you ask a Christian friend who did the course to be there with you.
That step of faithTo understand the importance of the work done in Ottawa this week, I believe you must first have been saved yourself. If you were born deaf, what appreciation could you have for a symphony? Until you have given your heart to the Lord and accepted him as your personal saviour, none of this can make a lot of sense. It’s a Catch 22 situation. The first time has to be done on faith. You have to step out into the unknown. The people who came to Ottawa from the Billy Graham Association and gave so much of themselves have all given their lives to the Lord, either within a mass evangelism framework or in a more individual circumstance. Most of those who became counsellors would have had a similar experience. For these, and for the Association, witnessing to others becomes more and more a natural part of life, that they might also enjoy the new life that has nothing to do with material matters and everything to do with a kind of heaven here on earth. Witnessing can mean anything from street evangelism to living a life that shines.
In the pages of the press we see journalists attempting to understand what has been going on in the Corel Centre. Some of them describe what they see as a phenomenon, but don’t know why it’s happening. Sally Gunther from the Kanata Kourier-Standard, in a moving column entitled "On the verge of believing . . . will I, won’t I?" - ends with the sentence "Was it the Spirit of God? I don’t know. I just know I felt good."
I have no doubt that some of those who took that walk to the floor, and were counselled, were ordained clergy. Isn’t that essentially what Jesus did when John baptized him in the Jordan? A positive public step re-affirming faith is the purpose of many at the mission. These ministers will experience a new dimension in their faith and new life in their ministry. They will be able to comprehend the joy experienced as a result of this simple act, by many to whom they minister. People will be drawn to their congregations.
The majority of congregations today are not growing, but dying. They need an influx of new Christians, to survive. A sad statistic of the mission is the congregation members there without their pastors. As I have suggested, if they have never walked down that aisle to the counselling floor, they won’t really understand what’s going on here.
Graham’s efforts are clearly directed towards filling the churches; all churches, with faithful servants for the Lord. In his addresses to those who are about to commit themselves to the Lord, he always stresses the importance of regular church attendance and the fellowship of other Christians. The Graham Association works on behalf of every credible denomination to do the vital work that they won’t or can’t do effectively themselves. Only the undiluted story of Christ’s death for our salvation is strong enough to achieve this. I would never have turned from near-atheism to belief in God Almighty for a psychological resurrection. You would expect every church in the land to openly support this work.
I have had the joy of initial follow up with Pierre, Jim and Rebecca. I spoke first with Rebecca’s mom, so that she would know the reason for the call. These calls had warmth, yet were serious They built on the relationship which had been created so suddenly with divine assistance. I intend to maintain contact as a friend who is there for them at any time. I think it will be a lot of fun and rewarding.
Some will ask: why hasn’t Billy Graham updated his message? Why all this talk of redemption, the cross, and sin, with Jesus as the only way to salvation? The answer is that God never changes, and today’s fashion will become tomorrow’s absurdity. The people responded to the Word of God from the Bible. Modern distortions and accommodations, be they in the name of understandability or inclusivity are just that: distortions. When I discussed sin and the cross with Rebecca, she understood. Psalty had explained it in simple but not simplified terms. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has been the premier Christian converting force in the world for more than a generation. Having seen again at close quarters the quality and faith of the people involved, I believe it has a bright future.
End note: Attendance at the Mission averaged 23,500 with total attendance of 106,000. The spiritual impact of the mission was very significant as 9,165 people responded to Dr. Graham's invitation to commit their lives to Jesus Christ. 48% of these were under 25 years of age. Please pray for the follow-up ministry to those who responded during the Mission.
Acknowledgements: Firstly many thanks to Gail Reid, Managing Editor of Fellowship Magazine who asked me to write the article and edited it down for publication in the September 1998 edition (I really like her version). I thank Suzie Martin, of Cross Lutheran Church, Clinton Township, Michigan for permission to include her moving descriptions of several of Billy Graham’s sermons. Thanks are also due to Dewi Williams for scanning in my photos. Most of all I thank Laurie-Ann Zachar, 3rd year Master of Divinity student at Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, for her encouragement and syntactical optimization throughout this project. In fact Laurie-Ann and I, who had never met until the Mission, and hitherto had communicated by e-mail only, in connection with the Moderator Site, developed a friendship that blossomed. She is pictured twice in the photos above, with (Pastor) Ron Piggott.