Standing for What We Believe: Decision America Tour Update

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA
By Bob Paulson

The Decision America Tour bus rolled into Sacramento after a string of 12 stops with larger-than-expected crowds and a growing sense of momentum in mobilizing the Body of Christ.

So far, few people had shown up to protest at any Decision America event, and when they had, they were polite and nondisruptive. But in Sacramento, LGBT activists planned a protest rally on an adjacent side of the Capitol building from the Decision America event. The rally was specifically promoted as a way “to counter Graham’s message of fear and intolerance with messages of love and equality.” It would begin an hour before the Decision America event, and afterward the activists planned to move over to where Franklin would be speaking, setting up the possibility of disruptive confrontations.

As a crowd officially estimated at 7,500 gathered for Decision America, about 100 came to the counter-rally and listened to a series of speakers vilify Franklin Graham and others who take seriously what God’s holy Word says about sexuality.

“Franklin Graham … speaks only for a hateful and dangerous minority,” said one speaker. “Franklin Graham is a false prophet,” said another.

They, of course, were not hearing the words of grace being spoken around the corner—the humble prayers of confession in which Franklin was leading the massive crowd, or his earnest plea for people to find a new life and a new beginning by putting their faith in Jesus Christ.

“I want to take just a moment right here on the Capitol steps to let you know that God loves you,” Franklin said. “If you can’t remember anything else, remember this: God loves you. But we have a problem, and that problem is called sin. The Bible says that we have all sinned—we’ve all come short of God’s glory and His standards—and that the wages of sin is death. But the Bible tells us that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but should have everlasting life.”

Franklin led the crowd in a prayer to receive Christ: “Dear God, I’m a sinner. I’m sorry for my sins. Forgive me. I believe Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe that He died for my sins, that You raised Him to life. I would like to invite Him to take control of my heart, to take control of my life from this day forward, and I pray this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.”

More than 340 people sent text messages indicating that they had prayed that prayer with Franklin.

As Franklin outlined ways that Christians should be involved in the civic process, about 80 people from the counter-rally marched over, hearing only the last few minutes of Franklin’s message and remaining courteously behind the Decision America crowd. Some even joined in singing God Bless America with the Decision America crowd.

They arrived in time to hear Franklin read a pledge to God and country—a pledge that more than 2,000 people signed online using their phones.

After the event, people in the Decision America crowd were enthusiastic about Franklin’s message. Julie Chegge, who moved to California from Kenya 15 years ago, said she visits the BGEA website frequently, so she was especially glad to attend the event. “It’s wonderful to know that people still stand up for Jesus Christ, especially when the rest of the world is going in a different direction,” she said. “We’re still able to stand firm, like God says, to stand up for Jesus Christ and just stick to His Word until the very end.”
Pastor William Rodriguez and about 25 others from Smyrna Pentecostal Church in Los Angeles drove seven hours to attend.

“We loved it,” Rodriguez said. “We are happy to be here, to be part of this prayer and motivation for the church to be involved, making positive change in our world, in our state and our country.”

Rodriguez added that as a pastor, he is concerned about the way moral decay and new laws are making it more difficult to live a public Christian life. He said: “I believe in preaching and living the Gospel not only on Sunday morning but Monday through Friday at your workplace, school, everywhere you are. And that’s why we’re here: to let people know we are Christians. We believe, and we are going to stand for what we believe.”

CARSON CITY, NEVADA
By Bob Paulson

Amid the rugged beauty of the high Nevada desert, with craggy hills and 
mountains all around, Carson City serves as capital of the state perhaps most widely known for its legalized vices of gambling and prostitution.

But the city is also home to a strong Christian community—pastors who pray together and churches that cooperate in outreach efforts, according to Rob Hooper, executive director of the Northern Nevada Development Authority.

“That’s interesting,” Hooper says, “particularly when we live in a state that is known for being ‘the capital of sin.’”

Nick Emery, senior pastor of Good Shepherd Wesleyan Church, agrees that much good is happening in Carson City, but serious issues remain. As few as 7.5 percent of residents attend church on Sundays, he points out, and part of that number includes non-evangelical churches.

“There is a huge spiritual need for people to be connected to Christ as their personal Lord and Savior,” Emery says. “When I look at the spiritual condition of the church, I see a lot of lukewarm, passive Christians who aren’t taking a stand for their faith or sharing their faith on a regular basis.”

Born out of those needs, some believers in the city have been praying together regularly—sometimes hundreds of them at once. “We’re laying aside a lot of our past,” Emery says, “and a lot of the things that have kept the church disunified in the community. We’re seeking hard after God together through prayer.”

On a crisp spring day that alternated between sunny and overcast, some 2,800 people gathered for prayer on the Capitol grounds for the Decision America Tour.

Waiting for the event to begin, Carol and Jose Paz talked about why they came. “Our nation needs prayer,” Carol said. “Prayer is our most powerful weapon against the enemy. This, from our point of view, is the most physical and visual way to say we care to make a difference. And we will.”

A prayerful spirit permeated the grounds as people confessed the sins of the nation, themselves and their ancestors. Franklin Graham closed the time of personal confession by praying: “Father, I confess my sins, and I ask You to forgive me. May I be the man that You want me to be. May I honor You and lift up the Name of Your Son always. It’s in Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.”

Franklin’s message of praying, voting and becoming involved in the political process resonated with many in the crowd.

Victoria Lee Ward, 19, a sophomore at Biola University, attended as she was home on spring break. “I could clearly see that the majority here is older people,” she said, “but I would really like to see Christian millennials standing up and voting. I hope I can bring this back to my sphere of influence and hopefully impact more younger people to vote.”

After the event, many were slow to leave. One group of seven held hands in a circle and prayed, at times shouting their pleas: “Revive us again, Lord! Revive us again!”

“What Franklin was doing today was just huge,” said Barbara Jones, founder of the Nevada branch of the National Governors’ Prayer Team. “We have so needed his voice in this country, especially Nevada. It was historic for Carson City. We don’t have crowds like this, especially for prayer. So this is huge for us.”

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
By Joy Allmond

“America is being lost. Our nation is in great trouble, and it’s in trouble because we have taken our eyes off God,” said Franklin Graham at the 11th stop of the Decision America Tour in Salt Lake City, Utah, March 29.

Jan Milligan, who stood on the Capitol steps with some 1,400 Utah residents, shares Franklin’s concern. As a former Navy pilot, the retired commercial airline captain has several years of service—and his heart—invested in his country.

Now a crisis-trained Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT) chaplain, he serves both God and country as he ministers in state capitals alongside other chaplains at Decision America Tour stops, providing emotional and spiritual care to anyone in need.

Milligan said he joined the RRT almost by accident a few years ago. Almost.

He and his wife had donated financially to BGEA. Shortly after, they received a phone call from a BGEA representative, thanking them for their contribution.

At the end of a 40-minute conversation with Milligan—who communicated he wanted to serve in some form of ministry in his retirement—the representative said, “It sounds like you would be a good fit for the Rapid Response Team. Do you know what that is?”

Milligan liked the description he heard. Just three months after retirement, he and his wife signed up for a Sharing Hope in Crisis training session at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove.

This year, Milligan has taken his ministry commitment to a new level. To date, he has traveled to more than half of the Decision America Tour stops—and at his own expense.

“As soon as I heard what Franklin Graham was doing, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I don’t want to serve Christ in just my town or my capital. I believe in Franklin’s message, and I want to do what I can,” he said.

Milligan also sees serving at these prayer rallies, like the one in Utah, as a fresh way to serve his country again—decades after his naval career ended.

“I guess you could say it’s serving the country. Franklin is encouraging godly people to get involved in the political process. This is a great message for our country, and we all need to take it back to our communities. Not only do I get to help bring the message back to my own community; I get to encourage people from states all over America to do the same,” he explained.

“My wife and I keep praying that God hasn’t removed His hand from our country the way He sometimes removed His hand from Israel … The same thing can happen to Americans if we don’t humble ourselves and pray, turn from our wicked ways, and let Him heal our land.”

Milligan has also found an unexpected source of encouragement from talking with people from state to state.

“I’m being fed more than doing any feeding myself. My wife and I get discouraged. We used to belong to a denomination that has gone apostate. They’ve gone down the road of gay marriage and other things averse to Scripture. We feel all alone on these issues, and when we go to these events, we are affirmed in taking a stand,” Milligan said.

“Voicing your concerns can sometimes be very lonely. Sometimes you think you’re the only voice out there. But I come to these places and I talk to these people, and they restore me.”

Ultimately for Milligan, serving through the Decision America Tour is about giving, not getting: “When I retired from the airline, I wanted to do something to serve the Lord. And I want to do what I can to help—in a small way—turn this country around the way He’s turned my life around.”

PHOENIX, ARIZONA
By Charles Chandler

Phoenix is increasingly becoming known for its ethnic variety, and that showed at Franklin Graham’s Decision America Tour rally March 18 on Arizona’s state Capitol House of Representatives lawn.

The crowd of around 6,700 people who gathered in sunny, 79-degree weather included a former Iranian Muslim who converted to Christianity, a Canadian believer who ran for public office in that country and two Virginia residents who planned their business schedule so they could attend the rally.

There were longtime Arizona residents, too, like Butch and Debby Neumann from nearby Litchfield Park, Ariz.

“We need to bring our country back to the Lord,” Debby said. “We definitely stand behind what Franklin and the whole association is trying to do. It’s just awesome that there are people willing to stand, no matter the consequences of what anybody is going to say or do, because we know that Jesus Christ is the only hope for our country and ourselves.”

Miriam Antolik shares that perspective. She brought her three children, ages 9-14, to the event because she wanted them to experience an environment with people who love the Lord and are committed to fervently praying for the nation. Jesus radically changed her life about 25 years ago when she turned from her Muslim roots and accepted Him as her Lord and Savior.

“I wanted the children to see that they’re not alone and, at the same time, get involved in politics,” Miriam said. “It’s important for me as a mom—I’m a widow—to expose them to as much truth from the Word of God as possible.”

Canadian resident Don Spratt and his wife, from Tumbler Ridge, B.C., spend about half the year in Arizona as “snowbirds” seeking to escape the winter cold. He’s passionate about the responsibility of believers to be involved in the political process. He ran for local office in Canada as part of the Christian Heritage Party, but lost largely because that nation has turned so far away from Biblical values.

Ed and Patty Brunot, who’ve been married for 29 years, flew more than 2,000 miles from Virginia Beach, Va., to support Franklin’s efforts to rally the nation. They didn’t want to wait for the tour’s Oct. 12 stop in Virginia, so they arranged for Patty to join Ed on a Phoenix business trip.

“It’s important to us because our country is going downhill like an avalanche,” Patty said. “We’ve got to pray for America. I just think of the power of what Christians could do if we rallied behind those things that are part of our values. … That’s what America was founded on.”

Ed is passionate about God and country. He served in the U.S. Army in the first Gulf War and now runs a company that supplies military commissaries with groceries.

“It’s the perfect job for me … taking care of our heroes every day,” he said.

Ed and Patty prayed on their drive to the rally that thousands would attend and were very pleased by the size of the gathering.

“It means people are interested, and they want to make the right decisions going forward,” Ed said. “That’s so important, because without change, this country is not going to go in the direction we need it to go.”

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO
By Charles Chandler

Worship spontaneously broke out amid the blowing of shofars and the waving of American flags March 16 on the grounds of the New Mexico state Capitol in Santa Fe even before Franklin Graham took the podium to give his Decision America Tour speech.

Wearing a headdress with red, white and black feathers, Native American Christian leader David Bearshield led the gathering of approximately 2,500 in the impromptu singing of modern praise songs like How Great Is Our God and classic hymns including How Great Thou Art.

One middle-aged man climbed a tree, a la Zacchaeus, to sit on a limb with a view above the packed crowd.

Bill Porter, 85, stood next to his wife, Marilyn, by the fence that closely bordered the stage where Franklin spoke. Porter said he attended Billy Graham’s historic 1949 
Los Angeles Crusade, held in a large tent, and that he was compelled to support Franklin’s rally calling the nation to prayer and Biblically inspired action.

“We’re concerned about how the culture has changed—not in a good way as far as we’re concerned,” Porter said.

Bruce and Rosie Das, who were nearing their 49th wedding anniversary, said they hoped Franklin’s 50-state tour would help usher in a nationwide move of God. They evangelize through The Navigators organization, and their love for the United States is amplified by the 2003 death of their son Eric, an Air Force pilot, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“We come with a lot of stake in this country,” Rosie said.

Local believers at the Santa Fe rally came with their hearts burdened to pray not just for America, but also for their state, which tops the nation in teenage pregnancies and is one of only seven states in the U.S. that allows abortions throughout the full term of pregnancy.

Hope, however, filled the air as Franklin proclaimed the Gospel and Christ followers united in prayer and praise.

Fred Johnson stood among the masses, smiling, loving the festive atmosphere and the symbolism of a Native American—whose ancestors were the first people group in America—taking the lead in pre-event worship.

Johnson said he’s been stirred recently by the enthusiasm among New Mexico’s First Nation believers and suggested that they “may even be to the point of revival.”

That’s just what Billy Graham foresaw when he addressed about 100 Native American Christian leaders in March 1975 in Albuquerque while in the city for an evangelistic crusade.

“You, as evangelical Indians, are a sleeping giant,” Mr. Graham said in that speech. “You are now awakening. The original American could turn around and be the evangelist to win other Americans to Christ. … Just around the corner, you may become a spiritual superpower in this country that could change not only America, but the world.”

There is no way to measure how deeply those words have touched and inspired the Native churches in and around New Mexico.

Less than six hours after Franklin addressed the rally in Santa Fe, representatives from multiple tribes gathered elsewhere in the city to honor Mr. Graham for the impact of his encouraging words 41 years earlier.

Manny Lardizaball, who ministers to Native Americans, attended the event and said he’s witnessed Mr. Graham’s vision blossom into reality in recent years.

“We’ve been seeing a new generation of the Native people who are tired of just playing church,” Lardizaball said. “They want to become the church, [live out] the Scriptures and bring forth the influence they have to be able to transform America. They’re hungry to do that, and it’s happening at an accelerating rate.”

DENVER, COLORADO
By Charles Chandler

Pastor Randy Pfaff stood in the crowd, but not as a crowd pleaser, at the March 15 Decision America Tour rally in Denver, Colo.—consistent with the message Franklin Graham is taking to all 50 states this year.

Franklin urged some 4,200 people gathered in brisk weather outside the Colorado State Capitol in the Mile High City to stand tall for Biblical values, something Pfaff has committed his life and ministry to doing.

“We need pastors who’ll have some backbone and courage and who are called by God,” said Pfaff, who pastors Cowboy Church at Crossroads in Penrose, Colo., about 100 miles south of Denver. “We must open the Bible and preach the truth with no compromise or tolerance, even though you may lose people [in the congregation], you may get a death threat or somebody might get mad.”

Last year, Pfaff experienced the wrath of a national atheist organization, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which railed against the permission he’d been given to minister to public school students. He faced the threat of arrest and eventually was forced out of the schools.

Pfaff said he fully supports Franklin’s efforts to rally the nation to prayer and action—before it’s too late.

“My greatest fear—and God’s in control of this—is that we are far from over the consequences for our sin from the past 20, 30, 50 years,” Pfaff said. “Our people need to be ready.”

Liberalism is prevalent in Colorado, which is one of only four states in the nation (along with Alaska, Oregon and Washington) to have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

“I think [the marijuana law] is driving our state even deeper into drifting from God,” said Jim LaBate from Aurora, Colo. “It’s a mind-altering substance, but people think it’s OK. That’s sad.”

LaBate was stirred by Franklin’s challenge to consider running for public office. He said he was going to pray about possibly seeking election to a school board.

LaBate, wearing a “We wish to see Jesus” shirt, lamented the fact that people in Denver seem far more passionate about the Super Bowl champion Broncos football team than about matters of faith.

“If we were just half as excited about Jesus and telling people about Him as we are about the Broncos, we’d turn this city upside down,” he said.

Dick Shiffer from Longmont, Colo., said many locals literally seem to worship the Broncos. He attended the team’s championship parade through Denver and was back for the prayer rally. His church chartered two buses carrying about 60 people to the event.

“I totally agree with Franklin that our nation is in trouble,” Shiffer said. “We’ve been on this slippery slope for so long. We’ve got to repent as individuals and repent as a nation.”

Lyons, Colo., resident Mark Burton brought his three children, ages 11-15, to the rally to expose them to an environment and a message that’s uncommon at their schools and in their peer groups. He said it’s critical that we don’t lose our youth to the culture’s declining values.

His 11-year-old daughter, Cambria, smiled as she held the American flag she’d brought from home.

“It was so cool to see all these people care about our nation and about God and Jesus and stuff,” she said. “It was amazing.”

DAT10
Standing tall: Coloradoans 4,200 strong turned out to embrace Franklin Graham’s call to pray for the nation, engage the culture and vote Biblical values. Photo: Tommy Berry/©2016 BGEA