As Christians across New England and New York prepare for Franklin Graham’s Decision America Northeast Tour, prayers of hopeful expectation seem to reverberate from the rocky coast of Maine to the Long Island Sound.
A couple of months ago, more than 1,900 people came together on some of the coldest, darkest nights of the year to worship and pray at kickoff rallies held in each of the seven cities Franklin Graham will visit May 19–30. Additional prayer gatherings are taking place throughout the region right up until the start of the Tour.
The Christians who are joining in prayer know they’re a long way from the Bible Belt. In fact, five of the seven Tour stops—Portland, Maine; Burlington, Vermont; Manchester, New Hampshire; East Providence, Rhode Island; and Bridgeport, Connecticut—will be in or near the most “post-Christian” cities in the nation, according to a 2017 Barna study. The other two stops—Springfield, Massachusetts, and Syracuse, New York—are in states where Christian values have rapidly diminished.
Portland, Maine, the first stop of the Tour, is the No. 1 most “post-Christian” city in the U.S., according to the Barna study, which found that about 57 percent of Portland’s population is non-Christian.
The Boston, Massachusetts/Manchester, New Hampshire, metropolitan region is ranked No. 2, with 56 percent of the population rejecting Christian beliefs and practices.
Pastor Juan Saa leads LifeWay Church in Derry, New Hampshire, about 20 minutes southeast of Manchester. He has also been serving as a local Decision America Tour representative.
“I’m praying with our church that there will be an unprecedented number of people coming to know Jesus during this effort,” he said. “I dare to believe that God is sending us help.”
The Decision America Tour has been going strong since 2016, when Franklin Graham visited all 50 state capitals. Since then, he has returned to several regions to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ to the lost and to call on Christians to pray, vote and engage in the political process.
The Northeast Tour will include worship music from Crowder and fireworks at the end of each night. The focal point, however, is the life-changing love of Christ. Franklin will boldly preach the Gospel as he leads believers in repentance and in prayer for their city, state and nation.
“This is the kind of wind we need under our wings to bring a new sense of excitement to the church,” Saa said. “Many have lost their drive to share about Jesus, just because it’s hard. I think this will infuse new strength and fresh vision and passion, and I could not wait to say I will do anything and everything to help.”
After almost 20 years of ministry in New England, Saa has seen too many pastors burn out and give up.
“The pastors begin to lose their excitement, their enthusiasm and their faith,” Saa said. “They stop sharing—they stop going out there and putting themselves out there, because they hit a wall. They get a harsh reaction.”
Saa has encountered resistance, and even belligerence, while sharing the love of Christ with people in New Hampshire. Recently, a man who was initially friendly turned suddenly violent, demanding to “take it outside” and fight when Saa brought Jesus into the conversation. On another occasion, Saa called the police after someone made threats that seemed too credible to ignore.
“The enemy has tried to keep us from reaching out,” Saa said. “When I heard that Franklin Graham was coming, I said, ‘God, this is like You are setting Your eyes on this land. You’re putting it on his heart to come here.’ It was just exciting to know that God has not given up on this land.”
About 180 miles southwest of Saa, Pastor Luis Burgos from City Wide Church in Bridgeport, Connecticut, is also convinced the Northeast Tour is part of God’s plan for the region.
“It just seemed to me in my heart that there was a divine alignment with [Franklin Graham] choosing Bridgeport,” said Burgos, who has also been serving as a local Tour representative.
“I promise you the BGEA will not go to another city that is as saturated in prayer as Bridgeport is.”
That’s a bold statement from a pastor who’s sandwiched between two more of the top 10 most post-Christian cities in the nation—Hartford-New Haven, Connecticut, and New York City.
Burgos says fervent prayer and unity among Bridgeport’s churches has led to an outpouring of the Holy Spirit across a region that struggles with violent crime, drug abuse and an opioid crisis.
“People need what we have,” Burgos said. “It’s just a matter of, can the church put their differences aside and actually reach the lost?”
A few years ago, dozens of Bridgeport’s churches said yes when they came together for 10 days of around-the-clock worship, prayer and evangelism. They saw answered prayers, new converts and an unprecedented unity.
Now “10 Days of Prayer” is an annual effort that draws Christians from 60-100 churches. During last year’s event, in the wee hours of the night, a group of believers encountered a young woman on her way to take her own life.
“Some of our team found her—the evangelism team that was out there 24/7,” Burgos said. “They brought her to the meeting, and she radically encountered the Lord. She’s been a part of our ministry ever since.”
In spite of the opposition, pastors across New England and New York are reporting that the Holy Spirit is at work.
“These are places that are spiritually hungry,” said Steve Rhoads, BGEA’s vice president of church ministry. “People are looking for meaning and significance and love, and Christians have the answer. That’s what Franklin’s going to offer. He’s going to say, ‘There is something—Someone—bigger than us, and we want to introduce you to Who that is.’”
Across the Northeast, there’s a sense that the fields are white for harvest (John 4:35)—a sense that the scales could finally tip from “post-Christian” to “pre-revival.”
It has happened before. The Northeast was at the heart of the Great Awakening that swept across the 13 colonies in the early 1700s. Decades later, when the United States of America was in its infancy, the Second Great Awakening began in New England.
“The biggest forest fires happen in the driest places,” Burgos said. “I’m looking for that long-term move of God, where the buckle of the Bible Belt shifts back to New England. If God can do it in New England, God can do it anywhere.”
Kristy Etheridge, a freelance writer living in New York, is a former digital content manager for BGEA.