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10/7/97 1,300 crusade decisions for Christ include football team, dying woman

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (BP)–Serving as an altar counselor to help people find new life in Christ, he sensed the evangelistic crusade was where God had called him to be.
On the last night of the crusade, Larry Kochenderfer found out why.
Four black high school football players stood at the altar, deep in prayer as the crusade’s final service ended. While others continued to stream forward, they raised their heads and began to walk toward the counseling area.
Kochenderfer saw them and felt a lump rise in his throat; he wasn’t comfortable around people of another race.
“I wasn’t prejudiced; I just wasn’t around many black people,” he said. “When I saw those young guys walking toward me I was nervous, but I felt the Lord push me, saying, ‘Go to them now.'”
No chairs were available in the counseling area of the Greater Horry County (S.C.) Rick Gage Crusade, so Kochenderfer asked the young men to follow him to the stadium bleachers. As they walked, more black teenagers joined the group. When he shared his testimony with the students, Kochenderfer admitted how the Lord had changed his attitude that night.
“I told them, ‘Six months ago, I wouldn’t have been here talking to you. I never really had much to do with black people. But God is changing me, so I can love you. A year ago, I rededicated my life to the Lord, and he has been changing my attitude toward all people. Tonight has been a milestone.'”
Kochenderfer prayed with the group, and four students accepted Christ while four others rededicated their lives.
“When we were done, I just had to hug them,” Kochenderfer said. He later attended the players’ football game where they ran to embrace him again.
“The purpose of this crusade was to bring everyone in Horry County together,” said Wayne Brown, general chairman for the crusade and pastor of First Baptist Church, Myrtle Beach. “We wanted to cross all denominational, racial, political and geographical lines.” More than 19,000 people packed Coastal Carolina University’s Wheelwright Stadium for the Sept. 7-10 crusade.
By the last evening, more than 1,300 people had made decisions for Christ; 700 were first-time professions of faith. It was a touch from God that Horry County hadn’t felt in 27 years.
“Many people in the Southern Baptist realm are saying that the days of revivals and crusades are over, but it is just not so,” said Brown. “There is nothing like getting the gospel into a public setting where people wouldn’t normally expect to encounter God and see them come from all walks of life to praise him together. The purpose of the Greater Horry County Rick Gage Crusade was to express the gospel and let people rededicate their lives or profess faith for the first time. And that’s what we saw happening.”
Planning began nearly a year ago for the interdenominational event sponsored by more than 50 area churches. Hundreds of laypeople and church leaders worked together with their neighbors to organize every aspect of the crusade. That smooth cooperation of God’s people was an important reason why the event was so successful, according to guest evangelist Gage.
“As a result of all that chemistry,” he noted, “the Lord was able to move in Horry County.”
Christ also worked through a special high school assembly program presented by Gage and his team during the crusade week. Encouraging Horry County kids to think about the big issues in life, the group visited more than 20 public and private schools in the area and presented “On Track,” an anti-alcohol and drug abuse program, to more than 12,000 students.
Not only is it a way to stimulate student thinking, the program also is an aspect of Gage’s ministry particularly close to his heart. “My college roommate who played football with me is dead today because of alcohol,” he said. “As a college athlete and as a coach, I’ve seen dozens of promising careers destroyed and lives lost because of drug and alcohol abuse, teen suicide and premarital sex. It’s powerful illustrations like these that wake kids up and get them thinking. Then they come to the crusade looking for more, and we can share the solution with them.”
Marty Williams, head football coach at Myrtle Beach High School, wanted to make sure his players got that message. As a member of the crusade youth committee, he had already sent letters to all area football coaches inviting them and their players to the crusade’s youth pizza night. “I encouraged my own varsity and junior varsity teams to meet me and we’d ride to the crusade together,” he said. “Because we’re a public institution I couldn’t make it mandatory, but I was praying that some of them would come.”
Twenty-seven players gathered for the bus ride to the stadium.
“That evening, Gage stressed the importance of knowing for sure that you are going to heaven. He told a lot of powerful stories,” Williams said, “and because they had already heard him once in school, the kids really listened.”
At the invitation, all 27 of Williams’ young football players went forward and accepted or rededicated their lives to Christ.
“It just blew me away,” the coach said. “I didn’t know how they would react. You kind of go out on a limb to offer this in a secular environment like the school system, but the Lord is using their response to encourage me.” Since the crusade, Williams said he has seen changes in the players’ lives, and several have asked him about joining a Fellowship of Christian Athletes program.
Seeing teenagers like Williams’ football team at the crusade altar confirmed to Linda Harper something she had already known. “Last December, the Lord spoke to my heart that he was going to bring revival,” said Harper, a member of First Baptist, Myrtle Beach, who served as a sign language interpreter at the crusade. “He said it would be so powerful that none could deny it, take credit for it or explain it away. Praise God he did it! None could deny the mighty move of his spirit as teens ran to the altar with tears running down their faces or men fell on their knees unashamedly worshiping God. It was a sovereign move of his spirit poured out as never before.”
But God’s spirit didn’t stay within the walls. Registered nurse Sue Woodahl said she felt his presence when she witnessed a car accident during the week of the crusade. A large delivery truck had slammed into an older woman’s car, flipping it on its side.
“Normally I would just have gotten out of the way, but God’s spirit really impressed me to stop,” Woodahl said. The woman had severe head injuries and was hanging from her seat belt. Woodahl felt for a pulse but couldn’t find one.
“People around me started saying she was dead. But I felt I should talk to her, so I asked, ‘Can you hear me?’ Faintly, she shook her head, ‘yes.’ I told her the ambulance was on its way and then I asked if I could pray with her. Again, she shook her head, ‘yes.’
“I couldn’t believe I was saying these things. Even as a nurse, I’ve never prayed with someone who was dying. I hadn’t even stopped for a car accident in more than 20 years. But I prayed that Jesus would come into the car, surround her with his love and take away the pain and fear. She couldn’t speak so I couldn’t ask her if she knew the Lord, so I prayed that if she didn’t know him then, right now he would forgive her of her sins and come to her. Again, she shook her head, ‘yes.'”
At that moment, the ambulance arrived to race the injured woman to the hospital. It wasn’t until the next day that Woodahl learned she had died.
“I feel so certain she went to heaven,” the nurse said. “She shook her head three times as I prayed. She wanted Jesus to be with her. I just felt the spirit of the Lord so strongly at that accident scene. The crusade has affected our whole county with his power.”
Testimonies of that power continue to pour into Wayne Brown’s office at First Baptist. “This crusade was an answer to prayer for me,” he said. “It’s been 27 years since Horry County has experienced a crusade and a moving of the Spirit like this. Lots of churches think special worship services or lecture series are crusades, but they’re not. That’s not the same thing as reaching masses of people with the gospel. Many of our churches, even Southern Baptists, join together for community worship or a Thanksgiving Day service, but a crusade is entirely different. We’ve been touched by Christ’s power. The revival in Horry County has only just begun.”
How many other communities need a fresh touch of Christ’s spirit? Is American crusade evangelism out of business except for Billy Graham? It might be if Southern Baptists don’t change their attitude toward reaching their country for Christ, said Rick Gage. A member of Rehoboth Baptist Church in Atlanta, Gage said there is not only a lack of “harvest evangelists,” but also a severe lack of emphasis in Southern Baptist churches on winning people to Christ. “Reaching the lost is no longer our priority,” he said. “There are more people in America today, more SBC churches, more resources, more money and more methods, but according to statistics from the North American Mission Board, we have baptized fewer and fewer people every year since 1972. Crusade evangelism is not dead, but we Southern Baptists need to repent, get right with God and get a burden for the lost. Winning people to Christ is the purpose of the church. There is nothing more important.”
Horry County, S.C., couldn’t agree more.

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  • Kelli Williams