The weather was hot, the music was loud, but the message was clear and to the point for the thousands of teenagers who gathered on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge Saturday, July 18.
BATON ROUGE – The weather was hot, the music was loud, but the message was clear and to the point for the thousands of teenagers who gathered on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge Saturday, July 18.
A crowd of 11,000 [officially 10,998] packed the grounds on the levee lots at LSU for an evangelistic summer concert series featuring seven hours of Christian rock and hip-hop music plus brief challenging messages by skateboarding minister Jonny Nelson of JSAW [Jesus, Snow, Asphalt and Walter], Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and Franklin Graham. Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, was the catalyst behind this four-city tour.
It was an exciting kickoff to this brand new evangelistic summer concert series.
“It was totally awesome,” Junior Castillo, festival organizer for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association wrote. “We believe many seeds of gospel truth were sown and that the harvest will come in on every wave … day after day, week after week until Jesus returns and for eternity.”
“The best is yet to come and God is blessing Baton Rouge and all of this area,” Castillo said, “because of the Word of God going forth.”
It was an event that not only offered young people a chance to have fun, but for some of them it proved to be a life-changing experience.
Organizers reported there were 270 professions of faith – 193 first commitments to Christ, 17 assurances, 46 rededications, two inquiries, and 12 others. Overall, the final reports states there were 557 decisions total.
“Considering this was the first time this has ever been tried, I thought the turnout, and the number of decisions was simply tremendous,” Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge Director of Missions Roddy Conerly said. “I was not only impressed with the large turnout but I was also very impressed with Franklin Graham’s people. They seemed to have everything covered, and what wasn’t covered they adapted quickly to make sure it was.”
Since January, Conerly has worked closely with Castillo and his staff in mobilizing more than 200 Baton Rouge-area churches and more than 1,000 volunteers to help stage the $1 million event, the first of four planned this year.
“The partnerships with the churches, the vendors, the mayor, the governor,” Castillo said, “everything has been over the top.”
And those partnerships came to fruition July 18.
While the bands were warming up and throughout the day, Jonny Nelson of JSAW –Jesus, Snow, Asphalt and Water – a ministry aimed at young people who share his love of skateboarding, snowboarding and wakeboarding, displayed his prowess with a skateboard as he shared his message with teens.
“Our goal with Rock the River is to reach out to teens,” Nelson said. “We skate a little and preach a little. Our blend of extreme sports and heartfelt ministry hopefully has impacted a lot of teens already, and I’m hoping that impact will be further magnified as we entertain and challenge teens at Rock the River.”
The day-long concert featuring seven hours of Christian rock and hip-hop music plus brief, challenging messages by Franklin Graham had such bands such as Canton Jones, Superchick, Dennis Agajanian, Da T.R.U.T.H., RED, Hawk Nelson, Mary Mary and Flyleaf.
“Do you know why Flyleaf and these other great bands are here? They want you to know God loves you,” Graham told the crowd on Saturday.
Graham, who spoke four times during the event, said, “You can have a new life, a new beginning. That’s right you’ve got to be willing … now, listen to me … you’ve got to be willing today to tell God you are sorry. You’ve got to be willing today to accept by faith into your heart and life that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior.
“God didn’t send Mohammed or Buddha to save us from our sins, He sent His only son, Jesus Christ, to save us from our sins, and he loves you,” Graham told the crowd. “God loves you and will forgive you of your sins if you only pray and ask him to.
“Kids trust God as your Lord and Savior,” Graham said. “This is a great, great day here in Baton Rouge. God has truly blessed this even and we are seeing live changed. That’s what Rock the River is all about.”
“He [Franklin Graham] reminds me a lot of his dad [Billy Graham],” Conerly said. “He spoke four times. His message was short and very clear, yet I noticed the crowd just hung on his words.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who held the crowd’s attention, as he paid a surprised visit to the event and received a warm welcome from the youthful gathering.
“You don’t have to be Franklin Graham … you don’t have to be the governor of Louisiana to know God loves you and His Son died on the cross for you. Our God is an awesome God, isn’t he?”
The crowd cheered and roared in agreement.
“I welcome you not only as governor but as a brother in Christ,” Jindal replied. “And I’m honored that Franklin Graham is kicking off his tour here in Baton Rouge. God bless all of you.”
Jindal, though, wasn’t the only politician to make an appearance at the event.
Mayor-President Kip Holden also welcomed the crowd and declared Saturday “Rock the River Day” in East Baton Rouge Parish. At an early morning breakfast for members of the clergy and tour supporters, Holden said, “It’s going to take the power of prayer to overcome the obstacles that we’re facing today.”
He also presented Graham with a key to the city and made him the honorary mayor of Baton Rouge.
The tour now heads to St. Louis [Aug. 2] followed by Davenport, Iowa [Aug. 8] and Minneapolis/St. Paul [Aug. 16].