Franklin Graham took the Decision America Northeast Tour to seven cities across New England and New York state—a region that birthed the First Great Awakening, where Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield preached to thousands, and where old headstones bear moving witness to Christ and the Gospel. Today, the Northeast is known for secularism and pluralism and is often dubbed “post-Christian,” with an evangelical population of only 2 percent. Nonetheless, during the Tour, May 19 through May 30, Franklin preached the Gospel clearly and boldly, and more than 4,000 responded to the invitation, including many who prayed to receive Christ as Savior.
It’s known as the second most “post-Christian” city in America, according to Barna Research. Portland, Maine, along the state’s southern coast, offers a beautiful backdrop against the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and green, rolling hills ascending into the mountains to the west.
The city has a population of some 70,000 and is surrounded by a metropolitan area of nearly a half-million people. But Maine, like much of New England, is spiritually poor. A faithful remnant of evangelical believers stands courageously but all too often is dispersed in small congregations that yearn to see revival and awakening.
To that end, Franklin Graham commenced his seven-city Decision America Northeast Tour near Portland on May 19, drawing an estimated 4,300 people to the Cumberland County Fairgrounds on a night that ended with steady rain but no dampened enthusiasm for the Gospel.
Charles Okiru came to the event with his 11-year-old son, C.J., from nearby Wells. He has lived in Maine since arriving from Uganda in 1999 and hasn’t seen much Gospel progress since then.
“My main prayer is that everyone comes to the Lord,” Okiru said. “The first thing you get here is almost a resistance to the Gospel. You feel that right off the bat. … So that’s why we’re happy when a guy like Franklin Graham comes around. Hopefully it puts a dent in the work of our spiritual enemy.”
Judy Lapointe pointed to the power of faithful churches in turning the nation back to God. “If only we could have churches that are like the two in Revelation that Jesus was pleased with—Smyrna and Philadelphia—just that in and of itself would be huge, if we just do what Jesus wanted us to do and to teach. And also, we need preparation … so that Christians are not deceived by false teaching.”
Franklin preached from Luke 17:30-37, where Jesus tells of the coming judgment and warns his hearers not to be like Lot’s wife, who refused to heed God’s warning and instead looked back longingly at Sodom. Franklin reminded the audience that God gives people opportunities to repent of sin.
Like Sodom and Gomorrah, America has grown proud and materialistic, yet “affluence often brings spiritual poverty,” Franklin warned.
“The Bible says [Sodom and Gomorrah] were haughty and did detestable things,” he said. “They were too busy for God … and took pleasure in sexual perversion.”
Many people today are guilty of a plethora of sins, including lying and sexual immorality, yet have never sought God’s forgiveness.
“And tonight,” Franklin said, “God is giving you another chance.”
Aaron and Trisha were among several hundred people who responded to the Gospel invitation. They prayed to receive Christ, to the delight of their school-aged daughter, who hadn’t yet made a profession of faith but had been encouraging her parents to go to church. They followed her lead and came to the event with the family of the pastor whose church they had been visiting.
In picturesque Burlington, Vermont, on the eastern shores of Lake Champlain and home to the University of Vermont, a crowd of 3,400 people gathered at the Champlain Valley Expo on a chilly evening, May 21, to hear music from Crowder and Dennis Agajanian and a Gospel message from Franklin Graham.
Dr. Harold Yates, a recently retired pediatrician from St. Albans, about 25 miles north of Burlington, was one of several people who came from Church of The Rock in St. Albans. He and his family moved to Vermont from suburban Washington, D.C., in the 1970s.
One of his chief concerns is the state’s embrace of socialistic philosophy and increased hostility toward Biblical Christianity.
“Now it’s almost a socialistic state,” Yates said. “When you get to socialism, with its emphasis on the state, it kind of cuts out the reason we are here tonight, which is to win people to Christ or to see people come back to Christ.”
Franklin reminded the audience that believers are called to pray for those God has placed in authority: “These people need prayer. You may not agree with them. That doesn’t matter. We are to pray for them.”
Turning to Luke 19, Franklin read the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector, a sinner who longed to see the Lord as He passed through his town. “That same Jesus is passing by tonight,” Franklin said. “God knows your name, just like He knew Zacchaeus’. He knows everything about you.”
And like Zacchaeus, many people today have a void in their life.
“Only God can fill that void,” Franklin said.
As the invitation to receive Christ was given, dozens upon dozens stood, and counselors worked quickly to make sure each person had someone to pray and talk with.
Roland Ludlam, pastor of Church of The Rock in St. Albans, told Decision, “This is the best thing to happen in the state of Vermont in I don’t know how many years. We are so blessed to have Franklin Graham and all of the team here. We need to have the lights on, spiritually.”
Paul Flowers—likely the only person in the crowd wearing an Alabama Crimson Tide sweatshirt—and his wife, Sheila, both on staff at New Life Christian Church in Milton, join with members of their church in three prayer meetings each week for revival and awakening.
“Without Christ coming into people’s lives, and without revival, I think our nation is in jeopardy,” Paul Flowers said. “But that revival has to come. With Franklin Graham coming up into an area like this, there’s an impact made.”
Manchester, New Hampshire
The sun peaked through the clouds as Franklin came to the stage May 23 at Gill Stadium in Manchester, New Hampshire, for the third stop of the Decision America Northeast Tour.
“All day long, I’ve been watching that radar,” Franklin said. “It looked like storm after storm after storm. Now I see a little bit of sunshine. … Even if we get a little sprinkle, I’m not leaving. God’s brought us here tonight.”
The crowd of about 4,200—already keyed up from David Crowder’s soul-stirring music—roared with applause. But a stillness settled over the baseball field as Franklin began to tell the story of blind Bartimaeus. The sun emerged from the clouds and cast a warm glow over the audience, which filled the bleachers under the canopy and the ground in front of the stage. Some sat in lawn chairs, some huddled on the ground under umbrellas.
Franklin described the scene in Jericho where Bartimaeus sat beside the road, begging, as he did daily. Suddenly, he heard a commotion in the distance, and he learned that Jesus was passing by.
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” he yelled out.
“Bartimaeus didn’t have any hope,” Franklin said. “No one could help him. And maybe many of you are at that place where you just feel hopeless.”
Jesus brought hope to Bartimaeus, Franklin said, and He can bring hope to Manchester, New Hampshire—a sin-stricken city where few people go to church, and opioid addiction and sex trafficking have brought lasting heartache.
“We have a barrier that’s between us and God,” Franklin said. “It’s called sin. … But Jesus took our sins to the cross.”
At the invitation to receive Christ, hundreds went forward to say they wanted the forgiveness Jesus offers.
Jason O’Doherty walked to the front with tears in his eyes. Beside him was his friend Shawn Terry. The two men know each other from the Southern New Hampshire Rescue Mission, where Shawn is director of food service and where Jason had come for help.
“I was hit by a vehicle a few years back and broke my spine and my leg,” Jason said. “My alcoholism really took off because in order to deal with the pain, I was drinking. Then I became homeless and was living on the streets.”
Jason had always believed in God, but he’d never applied the Bible to his life.
“So that’s what I’m doing now,” he said. “I’m sober. I’m not using alcohol anymore. I have a safe place to stay, and they’ve helped me get a foundation in the Bible. Tonight, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.”
West Springfield, Massachusetts
Fifteen-year-old Damon and his friend David have lived in the same West Springfield, Massachusetts, neighborhood since second grade.
They hang out often, usually at David’s home, so much that Damon refers to David’s parents and siblings as his second family. It didn’t surprise Damon when David invited him to the Decision America Northeast Tour’s fourth stop, May 25 at the Eastern States Exposition Fairgrounds. He knew David’s family members were Christians; he’d gone with them to church from time to time. He was more surprised at how he started to feel as he listened to the music and then to Franklin preach.
“It was like an eye-opener,” he said. “I was able to be here with my friends and my second family, and I was able to just open my eyes to the truth and to embrace God. Coming here and hearing Franklin Graham really brought the pieces together.”
Franklin’s message centered on the religious leader Nicodemus who also had trouble fitting the pieces together. In John 3, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, and Jesus told him he needed to be born again. Franklin elaborated on what the Bible teaches about how we can be saved.
“We’re saved not by what we do or how great we are,” he said. “We’re saved by God’s grace, and that grace is through faith in Jesus Christ. For God did not send His Son to the world to condemn the world but to save the world through Him. … Tonight, you can have this new birth, if you’re willing to accept Christ by faith and repent.”
Damon took it all in.
“It was like being able to feel a bridge to Jesus and God, and being able to just know that He’s here with me all the time,” he said.
The teenager joins a minority in West Springfield, a town of about 28,000, which sits on the banks of the Connecticut River. In fact, Barna Research recently named Springfield-Holyoke as the most post-Christian city in America.
Located about 90 miles west of Boston, West Springfield boasts the sixth-largest agriculture fair, held every year on the fairgrounds, the same spot as the Tour event.
“Pretty much everywhere you go, Christians are definitely in the minority,” said Keith Mumblo, who came to the event with his wife, Shannon. “This area definitely feels less safe than some other areas to talk openly about God.”
That sentiment was echoed by others in the audience of 5,600.
“It’s a shame to see what has happened up here,” said Gregg Kretschmer, from nearby Agawan.
“All the major waves of God moving through revivals and awakenings, they all started here. Now we’re like the frozen chosen. We’re praying that this will really spark a fire.”
East Providence, Rhode Island
The fifth stop brought the Northeast Tour to America’s tiniest state—Rhode Island.
An estimated 4,000 people crowded into Bold Point Park on the East Providence waterfront to hear music from David Crowder and a message from Franklin. In the distance, they could see the Upper Narragansett Bay and Seekonk River.
Franklin’s first words to the crowd were “God loves you.” Then he delved into the story of King Manasseh, whose 55-year-reign over Judah was plagued with evil and idolatry.
“God hates idolatry,” Franklin said. “Manasseh turned his back on God. Have you turned your back on God? His heart became hardened by sin. Has your heart become hardened by sin?”
Sin had hardened 26-year-old Hosea Rios. But four years in prison softened him as he began to learn about God and the Bible. When he was released a year ago, he started going to church. And now he wanted to surrender completely to God.
“I turned myself in to the Lord tonight,” he said. “I have a lot of family in the church, and they’ve been after me to do this, but I needed to do it on my own. I feel good about it.”
Hundreds of others gave their lives to Christ under the beautiful East Providence sky as a cool breeze stirred the ripples in the water nearby.
“We need this here,” said Iesha Nary, who attended the event. “I’ve been praying for a revival in the Northeast. It’s very dark, spiritually. There is a lot of religion here, but a lot of people don’t know the real truth.”
Pam Ethier of Chepachet had religion, but on Sunday night, she gained a personal relationship with Christ.
“I’ve been listening to Franklin, and all the sins he talked about,” Pam said. “I’m a human being, and I’ve sinned, and I wanted to be forgiven for those sins tonight.”
One sin particularly pierced her heart.
“One of the sins he talked about was abortion,” she said. “It’s a decision you can’t change. It’s final. It is something that you never forget. But forgiving yourself is the hard part.” Pam left the event knowing that she was forgiven.
Shellie Ford of Massachusetts has a deep love for Rhode Island. Her family has vacationed in the neighboring state for decades, and she has been burdened for its people.
“I’m just so glad Franklin came,” she said, tears coming to her eyes. “We need a breakthrough in New England. We’re hungry for it.
“Sometimes it seems like people forget about us in New England,” she said. “We’re begging, please don’t forget us. Please keep praying, and please keep coming.”
Although it is Connecticut’s largest city, Bridgeport is often labeled a “forgotten city,” even by longtime residents.
Many were surprised when they heard that their city would be the sixth stop on the Decision America Northeast Tour. Franklin told reporters before the event that “We felt this was a city that needed God’s message. We don’t give up on places like this. We want people to know that God loves them.”
Jose Santos, a youth pastor at Iglesia Bautista Emanuel (Immanuel Baptist Church), had been praying for Franklin to visit Bridgeport since last November’s midterm elections. His concern for his state’s—and the nation’s—spiritual welfare led Jose to write a letter to Franklin asking him to come to the seaport city.
“Bridgeport needs a revival,” he said. “A lot of people here have been raised in the church, but they’ve gone astray. There are a lot of lukewarm Christians.”
Jose had no idea if that letter ever made it to Franklin, but he knew God saw his request.
Franklin arrived to preach in Bridgeport on May 28, and despite the threat of rain, nearly 3,600 people came out to Seaside Park along the Long Island Sound to hear the Gospel proclaimed.
Franklin, sharing the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15, explained that the young man who asked for an early inheritance from his father selfishly thought his life would be better in a far-off country.
“Running doesn’t solve our problems. Are you searching for your own happiness and not finding it?” Franklin asked the crowd.
Like the father in the story, Franklin explained how God, the Heavenly Father, celebrates when we turn to Him and ask for forgiveness for our sins through Jesus Christ.
“Jesus isn’t dead, friends. He’s here tonight. He’s alive. He’ll come into your heart if you ask Him. … When you come to Christ, it’s the blood of Jesus that covers your sins.”
After praying so faithfully for his city, Jose volunteered to be a counselor at the Bridgeport event. He was able to lead Tacho, an older Indian man, in a prayer to receive Jesus as Savior.
Tacho had heard about Jesus while growing up in India, but in a country with at least nine recognized major religions, Christianity was just one of many. When Franklin told the crowd, “There’s lots of religions in this world, but there’s only one Jesus,” Tacho understood that faith in Jesus is the only way to God.
Syracuse, New York
The last stop of Franklin’s seven-city evangelistic Tour across the Northeast drew the largest crowd. An estimated 6,400 people packed Syracuse’s Lakeview Amphitheater to hear God’s Word preached in one of the country’s “least religious” states, according to the most recent Gallup poll.
“Is your life upside down?” Franklin asked the audience. “Are you not quite sure where to go or what to do? Have you thought that maybe your life isn’t worth much? Or that nobody cares?”
He went on to share from Mark 8:34-38. “Your soul is more valuable to God than all the money and all the value of this entire world. He loves you. He made you, He created you and He gave you a soul.
“Are you lost tonight? Well, Jesus has come to seek and to save you.”
This was a timely message for Bob, whose wife had recently left him for another man. He found out that his wife had been having an affair, and at one point was even pregnant with the other man’s baby but chose to have an abortion. Although not his choice, Bob felt a sense of guilt and responsibility for his wife’s abortion. With five other children at home, his life seemed to be in shambles.
When Franklin gave the invitation for people to come forward to pray and speak with counselors, Bob didn’t feel comfortable going up front. But as the moments passed, his grief began to surface. He felt overwhelmed by the emotions stemming from his failed marriage, the loss of his and his wife’s sixth child years earlier and the abortion his wife recently had.
Tim Bissell was getting ready to leave the event when Bob approached him. Tim was a volunteer counselor and is a church planting catalyst with the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board. As Bob began to share a bit of his story with Tim, he began weeping uncontrollably. Tim simply put his hand on Bob’s shoulder and started praying for him.
Bob had asked Jesus into his heart decades ago but lately had felt distant from God. As Tim prayed, Bob felt the presence of the Lord surround him. His wife might have left him, but he was not alone. At 49 years old, Bob chose to start his life in Christ anew, believing that God has a plan and a purpose for him.
Photo: Paul Sherar/2019 BGEA