Hundreds of churches and volunteers prayed and prepared for months ahead of Franklin Graham’s Route 66 God Loves You Tour. Stretching nearly 2,000 miles, the eight-city tour, held Sept. 19-Oct. 2, yielded more than 5,000 desisions for Christ while drawing 56,000 people to worship God and hear Franklin preach the Gospel at racetracks, fairgrounds, parks and state capitol grounds.
Nearly 8,700 people braved the sweltering heat at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, on Sept. 19, for the first stop of Franklin Graham’s eight-city God Loves You Tour along the historic Route 66.
“Our country and the world has changed,” Franklin told the Sunday night crowd, referencing the pandemic, 9/11 and the crisis in Afghanistan. “But 2,000 years ago there was another event that changed the world—when Jesus Christ, God’s Son, stepped out of Heaven and came to this earth for the purpose of taking your sins.”
Paul Khrab of Cleveland traveled to Joliet, 45 miles south of Chicago, to witness how God used Franklin’s message of hope. Months ago, Khrab was flipping through Decision magazine when he stumbled on an ad for the God Loves You Tour. As he studied the ad, he began to sense that the Lord was calling him to sign up to volunteer at all eight events. Financially, it was impossible, Paul said.
“I asked God that if it was His will, He would make a way.”
To Khrab’s surprise, a fellow church member offered to pay for his travel expenses.
“God provided, and my marketing job already allows me to work remotely, so I packed up my car and set off.”
In an Instagram post, Khrab praised the Lord for allowing him to be part of the Tour: “I am seeing one act of God after another of what God is doing to revive our nation,” he wrote.
One of those acts occurred in the heart of 11-year-old Jalynn. Jalynn’s grandmother had been praying for years that her granddaughter would come to know Jesus. So when she heard about the God Loves You Tour, she asked Jalynn, who lives two hours away in La Fayette, Illinois, if she would like to come.
As Franklin invited those who wished to put their faith in Christ to rise from their seats, Jalynn stood—to her grandmother’s pleasant surprise—and prayed to receive Jesus as her Savior.
With a fall chill in the air as the Tour stopped in the bustling “Gateway to the West” city of St. Louis, Franklin shared the Old Testament story of Naaman, a Syrian army commander plagued with leprosy.
“Leprosy in the Bible is also a picture of sin,” Franklin told the crowd of 4,200, explaining Naaman’s predicament with the highly contagious skin and nerve disease. “Leprosy starts with a very small beginning … but soon it can infect your whole body.”
Like leprosy, sin started small—with Adam and Eve disobeying God—but it quickly spread to infect the entire world.
Twelve-year-old Noah knew what sin was—he had been dealing with it for a while. But he didn’t know how to get rid of it. Since his parents divorced, he’d been full of anger, lashing out at friends, family and teachers.
As Franklin continued speaking, Noah realized that his sin could be washed away. It was then that he repented and decided to lay all his anger at the feet of Jesus Christ.
“I know Jesus can make me less mean, and I want to live for Him,” Noah later told a counselor.
For Susan, a broken TV drove her to begin reading the Bible out of boredom—just a few verses. But soon, she was reading chapters, and then books.
Echoing through the parking lot of the World Wide Technology Raceway, where the event was held, were these words, spoken by Franklin Graham: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, KJV). Susan had read that verse a few days before, but it wasn’t until now that it truly made sense to her.
“I was intrigued,” she said.
When Franklin gave the invitation, she knew she was ready to receive Jesus as her Savior.
“I know now that the Holy Spirit has been working in my heart and preparing me for this moment,” Susan said.
Fifty-eight-year-old Rusty Puckett was excited—and slightly nervous—to serve as a counselor during the Sept. 23 Tour event in Springfield, Missouri.
“I must have watched the counselor video six times the day of the event,” he said.
Puckett had an overwhelming feeling that God was going to do something special at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds, and he wanted to be prepared.
That night, Franklin preached on the parable of the Prodigal Son, a story of a young man who squandered his inheritance only to return home empty-handed, begging his father to hire him as a servant. All along, the father had been anticipating his son’s return so he could welcome him home with open arms.
“This is a picture of our Father in Heaven,” Franklin said. “He is waiting for you, watching for you.”
When Franklin invited those who wished to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior to stand, Rusty’s eyes were drawn to a man just a few rows in front of him. He quickly approached the man and asked him why he decided to stand.
The man said that he was a recovering alcoholic and had been sober for 10 years. While he was in a much better place physically than he was a decade earlier, he shared that he also wanted to be healthy spiritually.
As Rusty continued the conversation, he soon discovered that he had worked with the man’s father, Ray, nearly 18 years earlier at a church camp in Mount Vernon, Missouri. Rusty remembered Ray often sharing about his son’s addiction and the camp staff praying for the son’s recovery.
Out of the 8,900 people at the event, Rusty was awestruck that God led him to someone he had prayed for nearly 20 years ago.
“I went there to help, and God ended up ministering to me,” Rusty said. “God showed me that I needed to be obedient, and I want to encourage people to keep on praying.”
In a state where football ranks high in priority, some 4,600 people chose to come to the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds in Oklahoma City for the Franklin Graham Route 66 God Loves You Tour, even though two major college football games were being played within a few miles.
Larry Louthan of Oklahoma City, a fan of the University of Oklahoma Sooners, arrived several hours early to serve as a counselor for those who would respond to the Gospel.
Speaking from his crimson-colored, Sooners-themed camping chair before the event, Louthan said changing moral values and relativism are problems even in his Bible Belt state. Oklahoma surprised the nation in 2018 after voters, fueled by a heavy campaign pushed by marijuana activists, approved a loosely defined medical marijuana law. According to one physician Decision spoke with, the law has only compounded other social ills and spawned hundreds of weed dispensaries.
But a message of grace and forgiveness resonated with young and old alike as Franklin told the story of a woman, from Luke chapter 7, who was forgiven much and showed her gratitude by washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and anointing them with perfume at a dinner party. He shared how they, too, could have their sins forgiven by a holy God, and gain the promise of eternal life.
Among those who responded was Jonathan, a 9-year-old boy who came to the Tour event with his family. He rose to his feet when Franklin asked those who wanted to put their faith in Christ to stand.
After counselor Kenneth Braddock introduced himself to Jonathan, he asked him, “Why did you stand up?”
“Because I wanted to ask the Lord to forgive me and save me,” the young man replied.
For Crystal Rodriguez, the Tour stop in Amarillo, Texas, on Sept. 26 marked a crossroads in her life. The day before, the single mom of three had been discharged from the hospital following pregnancy complications.
“I’ve been through a lot, homelessness,” Crystal said. “I was an alcoholic and left all that and started getting right for my baby and started going to church, and it’s lifted me up a lot.”
Earlier in the day, Crystal attended First Baptist Church (FBC) Vega, Texas, and rededicated her life to Christ. While living with her grandfather, she is seeking to regain custody of her daughters.
Brian Hevrin, pastor of FBC Vega, in a farming community about 30 miles west of Amarillo, brought Crystal, her boyfriend and her two daughters to the Tour stop at John Stiff Memorial Park, arriving an hour-and-a-half early.
“All of us are guilty of breaking God’s laws—we’re guilty,” Franklin told the crowd of more than 11,000. “That’s why Jesus Christ stepped out of Heaven and came to this earth 2,000 years ago. He came on a rescue mission to save us from our sins.”
Both of Crystal’s daughters, Diamond, 8, and Natalie, 7, were among nearly 200 people making first-time decisions for Christ.
“We will follow God and His Word, and hopefully there’s a way I can find a home and get my girls back,” Crystal said.
Steven Fike of Amarillo, a counselor this year and 21 years ago when Franklin preached a three-day Festival at a nearby football stadium, couldn’t stop smiling after praying with three teenagers who traveled an hour-and-a-half with their youth group from Logan, New Mexico. One student professed her faith in Christ for the first time, and the other two students rededicated their lives to the Lord.
A teenaged girl named Dowdy said she had not thought much about her mortality before hearing Franklin preach Sept. 28 at Expo New Mexico in Albuquerque. And she had never pondered her eternity.
“He said that we all have a date with death, and that kind of scared me because I’m only 15, and I feel like I have my whole life ahead of me,” she said. “But we never know. You could go at any moment and meet the Creator, and at any time. And that kind of woke me up.”
At the end of Franklin’s message, Dowdy stood and prayed along with Franklin to receive Jesus Christ as her Savior.
Jared Render, 18, a University of New Mexico student, attended with a group of friends. He said he prayed to receive God’s gift of salvation before, but this time was different.
“I had prayed before, but I don’t know that I was really serious about it, but today I think I was ready,” Jared said. He was eager to read the Gospel of John booklet he received and to find a church.
More than 7,000 people dodged rain showers in order to attend the Tour, and more than 800 decisions were made for Christ.
Dana Rickard and her husband, Terry, who were counselors at the event, said the opportunity to pray with people to receive Christ as their Lord and Savior was amazing.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a month and a half,” she said.
Dana added that she told a husband and wife and their two children, who all committed their lives to Christ, “You made the best decision you could have ever made in your lives.”
Temperatures in the low 40s couldn’t chill the enthusiasm of some 4,400 people Sept. 30 at the Fort Tuthill County Park Fairgrounds in Flagstaff, Arizona.
“You have a choice to make,” Franklin told the crowd as he shared the story of the corrupt tax collector Zacchaeus climbing a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus, and his subsequent decision to follow Him. “You can accept [salvation] or reject it,” but the consequences of either choice could not be more different, Franklin said—eternal life or eternal damnation. Heaven or hell.
Ryan Chip Chee and his wife, Cree, are members of the Ranch Church on the Navajo Nation Reservation. The Navajo Nation occupies more than 26,000 square miles of northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah and northwestern New Mexico.
Ryan said Franklin’s message reminded him of the blessing of God’s provision, just like He provided a sycamore tree for Zacchaeus to encounter Jesus.
“The Lord provides for our lives and our livelihood, the plan and the direction that He gives to each of us,” Ryan said. “How wonderful His promises are.”
Julie Letts and her husband, Mark, moved to Flagstaff from Burbank, California, in March.
Julie prayed with five people who made first-time decisions at the event, including two 12-year-old boys and three women in their late 30s or early 40s. She also encouraged them to be discipled in their newfound faith.
“You don’t walk away and think your life is going to change by just a prayer,” she told the new Christians. “You have to follow through … and get involved with a church.”
Mark told of a man in his 50s he prayed with: “He wanted to make sure that his sins had been forgiven. You don’t go away thinking maybe or hoping,” he said. “We’re trusting the Holy Spirit.”
At the Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino, California, flag waving comes with the territory as cars race around the track. But on Oct. 2, Maria Martinez waved a large white flag and danced on the quarter-mile asphalt oval for a different reason.
“We love to worship and give God the glory for what He’s doing in our lives,” said Maria, a member of Center of Hope Church’s Dancing with Grace Ministries. “I’m worshipping and I’m giving it all to the Lord.”
At the end of Franklin’s message to a crowd of 6,800 at the last stop along the Tour, the Ragan family and their friend stood shoulder to shoulder and held each other’s hands above their heads as they prayed out loud.
“We were able to stand up and say, ‘I know I’m a sinner, and I want to be recommitted and be with God,’” said Trish, 57, as tears flowed down her face with her husband, Jeff, by her side.
Their son, Patrick, 18, who has battled intense bouts of anxiety, looked up after praying and exclaimed “Thank you Jesus, hallelujah!” as he jumped in the air. “All glory to God because He allowed me to come here tonight and recommit my life to Jesus Christ. He’s forgiven me, and He loves me, and now I can move forward and be a good steward of the things that He’s given me.”
Patrick’s friend Junior Bedolla, 18, said he was convicted by the Holy Spirit to repent of “a spirit of lust.” He rededicated his life to Christ.
Janet Usher, from nearby Highland, said serving as a counselor for three 16-year-old boys who prayed to receive God’s gift of salvation encouraged her faith in the power
of the Gospel.
“It’s exciting to see the Lord work, especially in times like this when we need it so much,” Janet said. “I wanted to come and see the Holy Spirit at work.”
Header Photo: Thomas J. Petrino/©2021 BGEA