Coming to Christ in the Tidewater Region

Coming to Christ in the Tidewater Region

In six cities across Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina, Franklin Graham preached the Gospel to crowds totaling more than 35,000. And it was clear that God had prepared hearts to embrace the salvation that comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Following is a glimpse of the mighty way God moved during the God Loves You Tidewater Tour. 

Southern Potomac River Region

The God Loves You Tour kicked off in La Plata, Maryland, a few miles south of Alexandria, Virginia, on a beautiful, breezy spring evening. Many believers who are passionate about people coming to Christ were thrilled that their town was part of the event.

Tour volunteer Tolu Adeleke, from nearby Silver Spring, greeted hundreds of guests as they made their way from the parking lot to the field at the Charles County Fairgrounds. “Knowing that God loves me,” she said, “I want to share with others that God loves them. It’s not just a cliché; God really loves you! The same love that God has shown to us, let’s show and tell others.”

Ron Cooper and his wife, Marty, served on the prayer team, ready to pray with people who responded to the Gospel. “There are people living in quiet desperation,” Ron said before the meeting began. “Some families have some form of dysfunctionality, wishing something better could happen. But they are not certain what to do, and they are searching. I’m believing that some of those families are going to be right here.”

Photo: Logan Ryan/©2023 BGEA
Photo: Logan Ryan/©2023 BGEA

Throughout the God Loves You Tour, the Newsboys, Marcos Witt and Dennis Agajanian provided music that pointed people to Jesus, and Franklin Graham explained the Gospel message clearly and powerfully. 

The Gospel, according to Romans 1:16, is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” God demonstrated that power in La Plata as more than 300 people, from young children to seniors, responded to the invitation following Franklin Graham’s message. As Franklin led in a prayer to receive Christ, a prayer team member heard someone nearby repeating the prayer with great conviction. It was a 7-year-old girl. “I thought, Oh my goodness; that child is serious,” the volunteer said. The girl told her, “I just want to receive Jesus in my heart.” Her parents looked on in joy as she committed her life to Christ.

An 85-year-old woman also prayed to receive Christ. As a prayer team member reiterated the Gospel to her, she said, “I understand; I just needed to surrender.” 

A young boy also put his faith in Jesus Christ. “Did you pray the prayer?” a volunteer asked. “Yes, I did,” he replied. “Do you know that Jesus has saved you from your sins?” “Oh, yes.” “And that you have a new life?” “Yes, I know it—and I like that!” 

Baltimore Region

As the Tour moved north to the Baltimore region, a soaking rain fell nearly all day. The meeting was scheduled to be held in the infield of the Timonium Race Track at the Maryland State Fairgrounds. But because of the rain, it was moved to the covered grandstand overlooking the track.

From the start of his message, Franklin Graham took direct aim at the problem of sin in the world today—and God’s solution. 

“Have you thought about how wicked and how violent our world is becoming?” he asked. “People get shot, stabbed, cursed for just about any excuse. … The reason all these things are happening is because we’ve turned our back on God. 

Photo: Thomas J. Petrino/©2023 BGEA

“We’ve taken God out of our schools; we’ve taken Him out of our government. What hope does this nation have? … Why should God save us from the problems that we’re facing? But I can tell you one thing right now: God loves you. 

“He sent His Son from Heaven to this earth to take your sins. Jesus Christ came from Heaven to this earth to pay the penalty of sin. He took our sins to the cross. He shed His blood on the cross. He died on the cross. He was buried. And on the third day, God raised His Son to life. …

“He loves you, here on this rainy afternoon. He will forgive you and He will set you free. But you’ve got to come to Him by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. You’ve got to be willing to accept what Christ did on that cross. God is offering salvation; it’s a free gift. All you have to do is be willing to accept it by faith. The Bible says, ‘By grace are you saved through faith.’ It’s not of works; you don’t work for your salvation. You can’t pay for your salvation. It’s by faith, believing on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, accepting Him as your Savior.”

Several who responded to the invitation that day said that while Franklin was preaching, they felt compelled to stand, confess their sin and commit their lives to Christ. Several also echoed Franklin’s description of the chaos and sin around us. A woman and her four adult children all received Christ. “I’m afraid of what I see on the news and what we experience. I want to prepare for eternity,” she said. 

Tri-State Region

Christians in the Tri-State Region—where Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania meet—joined eagerly in preparing for the Tour’s stop in Elkton, Maryland. More than 700 people attended Christian Life and Witness classes; more than 300 became members of the prayer team, helping those who would respond to the Gospel invitation. And in the weeks prior to the event, 900 volunteers spread the word and invited people to the event at the Fair Hill Fairgrounds.

More than 9,000 people attended, even though it was a cold, blustery evening. Among them were two elected officials who are serving their communities because Franklin Graham has encouraged believers to prayerfully consider doing so. 

Michael Tait of the Newsboys and Marcos Witt lift up the Word of God as they sing. Photo: Logan Ryan/©2023 BGEA

“Franklin Graham is the only reason I got into politics,” said Al Miller, a member of the Cecil County Council. Miller and his wife, Karen, who had both worked tirelessly to promote the Tour, presented Franklin with an official proclamation from the county, designating May 2 as Franklin Graham Day. 

Travis Marion, the mayor of the town of Rising Sun, ran for office because of a message by Franklin that he saw on BGEA’s website. “One of the first things that I did when I came into office was to bring prayer back,” Marion said. “We ended up starting with prayer at all of our town events. So if you don’t think you can, do it! Get out there and get involved in your community.”

Throughout the crowd that evening were people who long to see others meet Jesus. 

“I want to bring people to Christ; that’s what we’re supposed to do,” said Tracy Sexton, who served on the prayer team. As she waited in the cold for the meeting to begin, she was praying for God to move throughout Cecil County. “We need Him so bad,” she said.

Nearby, Paul Stock was praying, too. “I’m asking the Lord to draw people,” he said. “That His presence would be palpable, that people would sense the love of God that surpasses knowledge.”

Following Franklin’s message, more than 300 people responded to the invitation. 

One man who received Christ said, “I want to change the way my life is going. I want something that will fill me.”

Five people who committed their lives to Christ are currently living at the Sunday Breakfast Mission in Wilmington, Delaware, which brought a group of 15 to the event.

And a mother and her daughter also prayed to receive Christ. “The Lord said, ‘It’s time,’” they explained. “We needed to stand. We’re going to stand together.” 

Eastern Shore Region

Christians who participated in the God Loves You Tour event in Salisbury, Maryland, expressed a longing for people to find new life in Christ—even those who seem uninterested or hostile to the Christian faith.

“It breaks my heart,” said prayer team member Bill Sorber, “because people are dying every day out here, not knowing the Lord.”

Photo: Logan Ryan/©2023 BGEA

Christie Mills echoed that sentiment. “I’ve just been praying that God would open hearts,” she said. “So much is going on here; the people need Jesus so much.”

One of the most noticeable things “going on” was the LGBTQ community’s opposition to the Tour. On April 18, the Salisbury chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) issued a statement condemning Franklin Graham as a “bigoted hate-monger” and denouncing city officials for allowing the event to take place. PFLAG also demanded that the city remove an event advertisement from its Facebook page, which the city did shortly after the statement was issued. 

At a city council meeting, LGBTQ residents angrily voiced their opposition to the Tour. Mayor Jack Heath and two city council members sided with the protesters, condemning the event and Franklin. City leaders also vowed to create a “vetting process” to prevent similar events from being allowed in the future.

In the end, the activists decided not to publicly protest during the event, but Franklin addressed the issue during his message at Salisbury’s TidalHealth Stage: 

“I want to say something to the LGBTQ community: I don’t preach against you, OK? I want you to know that I love you. And I love you enough to tell you the truth—that we’re all sinners. I’m no greater sinner than you are; you’re no greater sinner than I am. We’re all sinners. But you have to repent. That means to turn. You can’t continue to live in your sin; you have to turn from your sin. So, I want to warn people. Tonight, you’ve got an opportunity to turn from your sin and put your faith and trust in God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

At the invitation, some 400 people responded to the invitation, including an off-duty police officer who put his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The officer has been struggling due to the stress and trauma he has experienced on the job. He said that as he listened to Franklin’s Gospel message, he knew he needed Jesus.  

Hampton Roads Region

An 8-year-old girl threaded her way through the crowd with her parents at the Atlantic Union Bank Pavilion in Portsmouth, Virginia. It was the first event like this she had ever attended, and she thought it might get loud, so she wanted to sit farther back, on the lawn behind the amphitheater’s seats. She had no idea that a volunteer prayer team member named Jane was already praying for her, even though Jane didn’t know the girl. Jane was simply praying for whomever she would talk and pray with later that evening.

Jane was one of more than 260 prayer team members in Portsmouth—and one of thousands of Christians who had been praying for the event.

Dennis Agajanian plays his guitar for the crowd in Portsmouth. Photo: Logan Ryan/©2023 BGEA

Local resident Kathleen Marshall was praying. “My prayer is that a revival would break out in a great way—a deep, heartfelt, penetrating revival in the Tidewater area,” she said.

John and Jamie Favazza served on the prayer team, but their involvement started weeks earlier as they passed out invitations, hung posters and encouraged people to attend.

“I’m believing for a mighty harvest of souls tonight,” Jamie said. “That’s all we care about. We’re going to be 62 in September, and we don’t care about vacations, we don’t care about big fancy houses and cars. All we care about is the heart of God: souls. That’s all we care about the rest of our lives.”

The harvest Christians had prayed for came as people put their faith in Jesus Christ following Franklin’s Gospel message. A young boy who had stood and prayed with Franklin told a prayer team member, “I accepted Jesus.” The boy’s grandfather, standing next to him, said, “He’s saved already,” but the boy said, “No, I’m not.” The boy prayed again with the volunteer, then hugged and thanked her for helping him make a firm commitment to Christ.

A woman who rededicated her life to Christ remarked, “There was so much working against me coming here tonight, but I just knew that I had to come. I didn’t want to drive across the bridge, with all the water, but I did it, and I’m so glad I came.”

And that 8-year-old girl sitting on the lawn? At the invitation, she immediately sprang up, her face radiant with joy. She told Jane, the prayer team member: “I really want Jesus to be in my life from now on.”

Albemarle Sound Region

People in the Albemarle Sound Region—the Tour’s final stop—were excited that Franklin Graham was coming to a small town like Edenton, where “no one ever comes,” as one resident said before the meeting.

Christians had been praying and yearning to see lost souls saved ever since they heard about the Tour. Hersey Bazemore said he was serving on the prayer team “because of what God has done for me in my life and what He brought me from. And I’ll tell you, He brought me from a lot of junk into His marvelous light.”

Photo: Thomas J. Petrino/©2023 BGEA

Franklin related the story of Nicodemus—a highly religious and moral man, but a man who didn’t have a relationship with God. “You must be born again,” Jesus told him. 

“Are you born again?” Franklin asked the crowd. “Religion can’t save you. Being good can’t save you. Giving money to the poor can’t save you. Doing good works cannot save you. It’s only Jesus, and He came here for that purpose: to save you. That’s how much He loves you. 

“When He went to the cross, He took your sins. When He died on that cross, God poured on His Son all the sins of the human race. All the sins past, all the sins present, all the sins future—that’s us. God laid on His Son all the sins of the world. 

“Jesus is alive,” Franklin said. “He’s right here at these fairgrounds. And He is willing to come into your heart and forgive you and set you free and give you the new birth experience today. But you’ve got to come to Him in faith, believing on Him. 

“Would you believe on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ? Will you trust Him as your Savior?”

Photo: Logan Ryan/©2023 BGEA

Franklin invited people to stand and pray with him if they were ready to put their faith in Jesus, and hundreds responded to the invitation that evening. 

One man who stood and prayed to receive Christ told a prayer team member, “My life is just not right.” 

Another man said, as tears filled his eyes, “I really need God right now.” He rededicated his life to Christ. 

Not far away, more tears were being shed. A woman was crying tears of gratefulness, thrilled that her husband was putting his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

And a married couple whose son had recently committed suicide stood together, broken but surrendering their hearts to the Lord.

After the Tour, Franklin Graham said, “We thank God for all He did on the God Loves You Tidewater Tour and give Him the glory for lives transformed by the Gospel!”  

Hope for a Troubled Heart

At each stop on the God Loves You Tour, Franklin asks those who want to put their faith in Christ to stand, and he leads them in a prayer of repentance and faith. Prayer team volunteers then approach those who are standing, helping them understand the decision they’ve made. Volunteers pray with them, give them a copy of BGEA’s “Living in Christ” booklet and take down information to help them get connected with a local church. 

But some who stand are dealing with serious issues that require help from an experienced counselor. In those cases, the prayer team member can take the person to a special “Decision” tent where they can receive more help. 

At the Tour’s final stop, in Edenton, longtime pastor Tom Seppo was in the Decision tent when a prayer team member approached and said, “Here’s a woman who has been contemplating suicide.”

The woman wore long sleeves, but her head and neck were visibly scarred.  

“How can I pray with you?” asked Seppo, who has experience with such situations. The woman said she had prayed along with Franklin to receive Christ. Then she said, “I’ve been having thoughts of suicide.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Seppo said. 

She explained that the scarring was from an attack by her former husband, and she explained more about her current situation. 

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Seppo said. He prayed with her and then told her, “The Spirit has come upon you, and He has done a work in your heart through the Gospel. And God has a plan for your life. You may not look like you want to look on the outside, but inside, you are brightly shining, and God’s got a purpose and a plan for you.”

She began to weep. She hugged him and said, “Thank you, thank you,” over and over. 

She also expressed gratitude for the Tour. “Why would they come to Edenton, of all places?” she wondered. 

“There was a strong presence of the Lord there,” Seppo said later. “It was a beautiful time when she was affirmed in the fact that God has a plan for her life, and she is valuable. It doesn’t matter how you look on the outside; it’s what God has done on the inside.”

Photo: Thomas J. Petrino/©2023 BGEA

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