‘Oh, what a night!’
Those were the words that sprang to Abbiih Oloyede’s mind as she took in what had just happened at ExCel London on Saturday night, Aug. 26.
More than 10,000 people had poured into the exhibition and convention center to hear the Good News of God’s love at the Franklin Graham God Loves You Tour in London. And, including those watching online, more than 1,000 responded to the invitation to make a decision for Jesus Christ.
“I am so elated!” Abbiih said.
She had led an intensive prayer effort with dozens of prayer warriors for two years, asking God to bring hearts to repentance throughout this capital city of 9.5 million. The church in London and throughout the U.K. has been in decline for decades and under strong attack for the last two years, particularly from the LGBTQ movement, which has shown hostility to the church, including BGEA events (see story on page 36).
Despite the city’s royal fabric, its ornate architecture, its beautiful River Thames and prestigious shops, its people suffer the same ailment as people everywhere who don’t know God—emptiness.
“People are trying to find meaning and purpose,” Franklin said at the Tour. He told the crowd, “… You can have a new life and a new beginning, but you’re going to have to make a choice”—much like the prodigal son did after he had squandered his inheritance and wound up feeding pigs for a living. He got up out of the pigpen and went back to his father’s house, and his loving father welcomed him with open arms.
“Tonight, if you’re willing to get up out of your seat, I’m here to tell you that God will do the same for you,” Franklin said.
The story resonated with Bismark Asiamah, who had recently been feeling separated from God.
“Sometimes you feel a bit down,” he said. “But the word that came tonight gave me reassurance that I’m back fully with my Father.”
Those coming forward stood shoulder to shoulder—men, women, boys and girls representing a multitude of cultures and ethnicities—a perfect display of God’s handiwork in this city of spiritual indifference. The light of great preachers like the U.K.’s John Wesley, George Whitefield and C.H. Spurgeon has long gone out, as well as much of the flames from other evangelistic crusades.
But the declining church can’t be blamed on any one group, said local pastor Oliver Raper.
“I think the biggest problem we have in the U.K. is that the church has been intimidated to silence,” Raper said. “An unpreached Gospel is no Gospel. News that isn’t told isn’t news.”
The challenge for the church is to conform to God’s standards, not the world’s standards, no matter what group those worldly standards come from.
“It’s universal,” he said. “That’s why we don’t focus on one group to the exclusion of others.”
But there are signs of hope for the church in London, says Wes Richards, senior pastor of Kings Church International Windsor and London.
“Official census figures show that just under 60% of the population still identifies as Christian,” he said, adding that since the pandemic, thousands of churches are offering evangelistic courses that introduce the Christian faith.
And though traditional denominations have declined, many new evangelistic churches are rising up in African, Latino and Filipino communities.
At least one of these churches—Praise Christian Centre—gives Gospel invitations every Sunday, something pastors shouldn’t give up, said pastor Kofi Banful. “Most Sundays, we don’t have people coming to receive the Lord,” he said. “But I never get discouraged about that because the invitation also serves to remind our congregation of how important this aspect of our Christian walk is.”
In the days leading up to the Tour, counselor Steve Johnson took the invitation to city streets—and saw five people come to Christ. And at the Tour, he led a 16-year-old to Christ, as well as a 50-year-old man, who said he was touched by the story of the prodigal son.
The line of people coming to receive Christ filled the area in front of the stage and spilled into the aisles. Three women told a counselor they wanted God to give them a desire to know Him better. One woman said she had been going to church, but she needed help knowing how to pray. Another woman drove seven hours from Edinburgh, Scotland, to get to the Tour.
“She was very receptive and was really emotional,” said counselor Rosario Pallares. “We prayed together and she said she had peace.”
But what made the greatest impact on a counselor named Daiva was how God could take just a few words from one man and use them to transform so many lives.
“God’s Word is so powerful and the Holy Spirit is so strong,” she said. “I was amazed at how short the sermon was, and yet how so many people went forward to accept Christ. That’s the greatest testimony of all.”
She remembered that it only took a few words to transform her life all those years ago—words from Franklin’s father.
“I am from Lithuania, and when I was 19, a Billy Graham video was shown at a church in my hometown, in which Billy Graham was preaching,” she said. “And I went forward and accepted Christ. That was the first time I ever heard that Jesus loved me. And for me that was enough.”
God was faithful to the prayers of churches back then, and He was faithful to the months of prayer leading up to the God Loves You Tour in London.
“We were specific in our prayers for the Tour,” said Abbiih, the prayer team leader. “We prayed for 100 buses, 100 Christian Life and Witness Courses and 1,000 decisions. And God answered every one of those prayers.”
And He gave Abbiih an added blessing—she got to lead a 16-year-old to Christ.
“She came to the front weeping, and she continued to weep. I had to hug her when we said the sinner’s prayer. … After so many months of praying, I was so excited and touched to stand alongside her as she gave her life to Christ. That’s what it’s all about.”
Oh what a night! ©2023 BGEA
Photo: Thomas J. Petrino/©2023 BGEA