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Graham slates Miss. River ‘fishing trip’

BATON ROUGE, La. (BP)–Franklin Graham is planning a Mississippi River fishing trip — “fishing for the souls of our young people.”

A four-city “Rock the River” concert tour will begin July 18 in Baton Rouge, Graham said during a luncheon to launch the outreach in Louisiana’s capital city.

Rock the River then will move to St. Louis on Aug. 2; the Quad Cities region of Davenport, Iowa, the next week (date and specific location yet to be announced); and Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn., on Aug. 16.

Each seven-hour concert, from 2:30-9:30 p.m., will feature several well-known Christian rock and hip hop bands, interspersed every 90 minutes with a 10- to 15-minute Gospel presentation by Graham aimed at 12- to 18-year-olds.

The concerts will be capped with the bands leading a time of praise and worship and a concluding message by Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham and president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

“Young people today are the least churched generation in the history of our country,” Graham said at a luncheon hosted by Istrouma Baptist Church in Baton Rouge attended by about 200 pastors and influencers.

“They desire relationships. This tour will connect young people to the greatest relationship they will ever know — Jesus Christ,” Graham said.

“They will strengthen their local churches as they are discipled,” he said, referring to the teens who gain a new or deepened relationship with Jesus Christ through Rock the River. As phrased in materials distributed at the luncheon, the outreach will “train thousands of young people to walk with Jesus Christ, and for them to share God’s love with their friends.”

About 25 percent of teens are completely unchurched during their teen years, Graham said, then added another statistic: About 75 percent of the nation’s Christians made their initial profession of faith in Jesus Christ before they turned 18.

Darrin Morgan, pastor of Parkside Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, said Rock the River can be “a great opportunity to reach out to a group of kids many of us have forgotten about.”

“We tend to ignore them; we don’t want our kids around them, with the way they dress, their piercings, their language,” Morgan said after the Jan. 29 luncheon. “This is just a great opportunity to minister to them.”

When Sherman Barnette, who heads up festival development for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, heard Franklin Graham’s vision for a summer evangelistic concert tour to start in Baton Rouge, the first call he made was to Istrouma’s pastor, Mark Surber.

“I knew Istrouma had the location, the staff and interest we needed for the launch of Rock the River,” Barnette said. “I knew we could count on them.”

Surber said Rock the River got his attention with Barnette’s first phone call.

“Anything that reaches teens for Christ interests me,” he said. “I have a passion for students.”

About 200 youth attend Istrouma, in a city of about 800,000 people with large numbers of unchurched teenagers in addition to 30,000 or more students at Louisiana State University.

“The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association can bring churches together all across our city,” Surber said. “Will [Rock the River] be successful? A lot depends on the pastors. If they get their churches involved, yes. If they don’t, they’ll miss out on a blessing.”

“Rock the River is a massive rescue effort for youth,” according to BGEA materials distributed at the launch luncheon. “The entire church needs to be totally committed to reach this age group while they are still reachable…. The format for Rock the River will be music, the language of youth, and a relevant message … in a fun, festival setting.”

“It’s a burden that’s been on my heart,” Graham told Baptist Press after the luncheon. “We are becoming a godless nation. Our country is getting worse. I’m coming to this city to fight for the souls of the young.

“I sense the Lord Jesus Christ is close to returning,” Graham continued. “Are we going to relax and say, ‘Come, Lord Jesus,’ or are we going to use every possible moment to gather as many as we can?”

Graham said he chose Baton Rouge rather than New Orleans for several reasons.

“We haven’t been in Baton Rouge for years,” Graham said. “It’s a great city; lots of kids. It’s got LSU and people are used to driving hundreds of miles to come to LSU football games. We’re advertising 200 miles out, including Shreveport [245 miles] and Monroe [218 miles].”

The launch event for the prayer component of the Baton Rouge concert will be March 10, with discipleship seminars for post-concert follow-up set for March 26-28. The BGEA Christian Life & Witness Course for adults will be offered April 23-25; for teens, May 1-2. Similar prayer and training events are scheduled for each Rock the River city.
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.