The gathering of thousands on July 23-25 to hear the Gospel message in the mountain city of Fairmont, West Virginia, was a long time coming. The Mountain State Celebration with Will Graham was originally planned for April 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic it was postponed.
During the 15-month hiatus, the evangelistic outreach met intense opposition. Mirta Martin, president of Fairmont State University (FSU), faced ongoing pushback for allowing the meetings to be held on campus. But faithful Christians from nearly 200 churches joined together and fervently prayed for revival to sweep across their community.
Situated on the Monongahela River about 90 miles south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the northern part of the state, Fairmont is known for its beauty. In its prime, people flocked to the city as a booming transportation hub instrumental in moving people and products to distant ports. Consequently, the coal, glass and natural gas industries that made Fairmont home also reportedly spawned more millionaires per capita than any other city in America by the beginning of the 20th century.
But since the 1950s, Fairmont has declined from its heyday due to the loss of mining, manufacturing and the movement of people from West Virginia as a whole. And as the population has steadily declined, drug use has risen.
Confident in the cure, Will Graham presented the people of West Virginia with the one remedy that can heal any human hurt and change any human heart—Jesus Christ.
“I want to tell you about the greatest news I ever heard,” Will said to the crowd. “… It was something my dad told me. Oftentimes when we hear news it’s bad news. But I want to talk to you about Good News.”
Thousands listened as Will shared a message of hope from John 3:16, which says, “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” (KJV).
“That one verse, it sums up all that I want to talk to you about,” Will said.
“I want you to know that there is a God. … A God who created this world. A God who created you. … God knows everything about you. … God has never wronged you. God is perfect and He loves you more than you could ever know.”
Eleven-year-old Blake was intrigued by the kind of love Will was talking about. Having just lost his father three months ago, Blake was looking for answers.
“I felt like he was talking directly to me,” Blake told Amanda Ejimofor, a counselor at the Celebration. “Will said, ‘Anybody of any age,’ and I looked around and I was the only one that was young, so it must’ve been me.’”
After praying to receive Jesus Christ as Savior, Blake left changed and certain of where he’d spend eternity.
Joining Blake in deciding to follow Christ was 5-year-old Gus.
“I approached Gus and I asked him if he’d just accepted Christ and he said ‘yes,’” said counselor Robert Jarrett. “He was super excited and he was just smiling so big. When we prayed together, he prayed out loud. He was direct and deliberate about his prayers as well.”
A newly engaged couple, 19-year-old Kenna and his 20-year-old fiancé, Jade, also prayed to receive Christ.
“They had been going to church, but they had never actually committed their lives to Christ, so tonight they did,” Roberta Gooden, another counselor, said. “Jesus is working and moving.”
As many came forward, 25-year-old Tiffany, who was working with the security team at the event, carefully watched.
“She said her children were recently taken from her by her husband and she was in a lot of pain,” Ejimofor said. “I prayed with her and asked God to reveal Himself to her.” It wasn’t long after that moment that the two prayed together again, this time with Tiffany making a commitment to Christ and then telling other members of the security team what she had done.
Counselor Carrie Hill invited her 23-year-old friend Taylor to come to the event.
“Taylor’s been my friend for several years now, so I asked her to come with me this weekend,” Hill said. “I’ve been praying for her for a long time. I’ve been praying that God would soften her heart. That He would wrap His arms around her and let her know that she is loved, and that she is valued and cared for, and that nothing can separate her from Him if she’ll just surrender to Him, and that is what she discovered this weekend.”
Intrigued by the first night of the Celebration, Taylor asked one of her friends, 17-year-old Rahja, to join her and Carrie for the second night. Both Taylor and Rahja returned for the final night, and both women stepped forward at Will’s invitation and asked Jesus Christ into their hearts.
Between the evangelistic events and the KidzFest meeting, the total attendance at FSU’s Duvall-Rosier Field reached over 4,700, with more than 200 making decisions for Christ. In addition, around 32,000 people from 45 countries joined virtually via livestreams on Facebook, YouTube and BGEA’s website, with some 350 making decisions for Christ.
“This is a celebration of who we are,” Martin, FSU’s president, said. “And I think it’s time that we stood up. … I think it’s time that perhaps we start saying this is the way forward. Christ is the way forward.”
Photos: Ron Nickel/©2021 BGEA