Patrick’s and Celena’s journey to the Tiftarea Celebration with Will Graham on Feb. 6 seemed to mirror the evangelistic outreach event’s on-again, off-again, on-again schedule.
Postponed three times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Celebration was originally scheduled for March 2020 in Tifton, Georgia. Similarly, Patrick and Celena changed their minds several times before finally accepting the free tickets for the limited-seating event from a local pastor.
“We are late by 11 months, but we finally made it,” Will said as he welcomed those in attendance at First Baptist Church (FBC), Tifton, about two-and-a-half hours south of Atlanta. Nearly 500 people attended in person at FBC and other local churches. Also, more than 100,000 viewers joined the event online, where it was livestreamed in 50 countries. Another 280,000 watched online over the next 24 hours. In total, more than 900 indicated decisions for Christ.
Patrick, a 36-year-old trim carpenter, painter and longtime Tifton resident, had agreed to go with his wife to the Celebration featuring musical artists Aaron Shust and Rhett Walker. But three days before the event, the newlyweds returned their tickets and instead planned to attend a local car show.
Jeannie Foe, pastor of Brookfield United Methodist Church in Tifton, reluctantly accepted the tickets back from Patrick and Celena. “I invited them and invited them and got them the reservations and they actually took the tickets, and then they gave them back to me,” she said.
Jeannie continued to pray for the couple just like she had throughout the past year. Her church had hosted a wedding shower for them before their August ceremony, and she was quite aware of the couple’s premarital struggles as Patrick had battled drug addiction while they lived together.
About 11 a.m. on the day of the Celebration, Jeannie’s phone rang. Celena was calling to ask if the tickets they had returned were still available. “It was really heavy on my heart to come here tonight,” she said.
At the evening event, Will preached about Jesus’ promise in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (NKJV).
“Man’s greatest need is peace with God,” Will said. “God gives peace to those who put their faith in Jesus Christ.”
When Will invited those in attendance to come stand in front of the platform and repeat a prayer of repentance and faith in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, Celena didn’t hesitate. Unknown to her, Patrick soon followed.
Throughout Will’s message, Jeannie had been praying that “some word will touch Patrick and some seed will be planted, and he’ll grab ahold of it.”
“They came with me, and I was hoping they would come up for the call, and it’s just blowing me away that they went up there,” Jeannie said of the couple’s repentance and rededication to Christ.
“I wanted to go to a car show instead of here, but the Lord led me back here,” Patrick said. “I’m glad I went up there. I would have missed out on a lot. I haven’t felt peace in a long time, but I do now.”
Steve Davis, pastor of Brookfield Baptist Church in Tifton, baptized Celena two years ago following her profession of faith in Jesus; however, she had not attended his church for some time. When he saw her at the Celebration, he again reassured Celena of the security of her salvation in Christ.
“It’s been really tough,” she admitted. “There’s been tension. We just really need this.” The couple promised Jeannie they would see her in church the following day. And on Sunday, they checked in on social media, confirming their attendance in person at Brookfield UMC.
After Steve prayed with Celena at the Saturday night event, he noticed four teenage siblings from his church’s youth group being counseled by his church’s youth leaders. Brookfield Baptist had connected with the family through the church’s Wednesday evening van ministry outreach. The church had also ministered to the family’s neighbors, whose 15-year-old daughter had been murdered last year.
Still shaken by their neighbor’s tragic death, Dallas, 17, and his sisters Gracie, 15, Savannah, 13, and Madison, 12, also prayed with Will to receive Jesus as their Savior and Lord. The teens shared their decision publicly at Brookfield Baptist the next day, and Steve is planning their baptism celebration for the coming weeks.
Reflecting on the months of prayer and preparation for the Tiftarea Celebration in the midst of a global pandemic, Steve said he is grateful that more than 50 members of his congregation participated in the Christian Life and Witness Course (CLWC).
“Everything that we went through was well worth the labor and effort to see those four come to the Lord,” he said. “I will challenge my people to get back on the field and go to work.”
Clint Sumner, a member of Northside Baptist Church in Tifton, attended the CLWC at his church. During the Saturday morning KidzFest, he looked on in amazement as his 10-year-old daughter was one of seven children who professed their faith in Christ.
“I didn’t expect my daughter to get saved,” he said. “It’s very overwhelming.”
The children’s outreach event featured the Celebration’s debut of an animated video starring Will, as a teacher, and three kids in school detention, who join a virtual reality game on a quest to find the “City of Light.” Along their trek, the kids realize the futility of their bullying, lying and stealing schemes. When they finally choose to follow the signs leading to the “narrow path,” they ultimately traverse a cross-shaped bridge across a deep chasm to the “City of Light.”
“I gave my life to Jesus Christ when I was your age,” Will told the children who made decisions for Christ after watching the BGEA-produced video. “It’s a decision I’ve never regretted in my life.”
Photos: Paul Sherar/©2021 BGEA