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Layman’s sensitivity yields community’s Billy Graham event

NOCATEE, Fla. (BP) — Sensing a divine command during a hospital stay, a layman’s responsiveness has yielded a community-wide event for the My Hope America with Billy Graham evangelistic outreach.

Frank Bernatt was hospitalized for heart tests when he felt God prompting him to reach his booming community for Christ in Nocatee, Fla.

Hundreds are expected to gather Friday (Nov. 8) at a drive-in theater type of set-up in Splash Water Park Field to view “Defining Moments,” one of several films offered through My Hope.

“I would just say it’s amazing,” Bernatt said. “We got to see a miracle firsthand because we were obedient and allowed Him to work through His Holy Spirit.

“I bet we could hold 500 cars in this field,” he said. “I believe that everything that has been organized or attempted to be organized, God had His hand in it all.

“Every step of the way, as we went to get different approvals, we prayed. And we put it in God’s hands, and if it were meant to happen, He was going to make it happen,” Bernatt said. “What it’s become today, I don’t think any of us could have planned it to result in the way it is. The Nocatee development folks have been more than cooperative.”

A local Publix store manager in the growing planned community with 2,000 occupied homes has offered to pop popcorn for the event, and more than 800 Bibles and soft drinks have been anonymously donated.

A local Baptist pastor, Jeremy Pellum, said he is impressed that the event is lay-led, involving more than two dozen volunteers to plan and serve at the outreach. Many will serve as counselors, praying with community members after the film.

Pellum is hopeful the event will reach many for Christ.

“I want to see folks embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. … That’s primary,” he said. “Secondary is, I want the hearts of the people to turn toward the mission.

“Baptists have been traditionally married to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ,” Pellum said, “and I don’t want that zeal to die.”

The event will open with brief greetings from community leaders and will feature Christian music videos broadcast onto a screen that may stretch 30 yards wide, followed by the film, an invitation to Christian discipleship and individual counseling led by volunteers.

The event has come together in a way only God could have fashioned, said Bernatt, who approached the management of the Nocatee development with an idea of showing a My Hope film in a small corner of the community water park.

“You always think, Is it God speaking to you or is this just some whim or a thought that you had?” Bernatt said of his experience at the hospital. “If it were me, I think I would have had that little corner of the water park to show a little movie. I think God had a different idea. I think about this event today, as I was lying in a hospital bed so many months ago.

Bernatt, 57, relocated to Nocatee in March from Johnstown, Pa., where he was president of Freight Car America. He had been an active member of the independent Emmanuel Baptist Church and had led small-group studies in his home.

“When I talked to Pastor Jeremy I said, ‘I don’t know what [God] has planned here. But I’m not going to interfere. I’m just going to be obedient and see what He wants from us.’ And I think that’s the difference,” Bernatt said. “I was very conscious of the fact that I didn’t want to limit Him. I just wanted to be obedient.

“So in this whole process, anyone that has been involved with me, and there’s been a great number of people that have a heart for the lost and a love for the Lord to be obedient, we’ve prayed and I think that was the focus,” Bernatt said.

As designed, Nocatee in its full development is expected to have about 13,000 homes, up to a million square feet of retail space, 4 million square feet of office space and nine public schools, according to developers, who promote Nocatee as the sixth-best-selling master planned community in the country, on pace to sell over 900 homes this year.

News of the event has spread beyond the community.

“Word of mouth and the work of the Holy Spirit are pretty awesome,” Bernatt said. “I’ve been elsewhere in the area of Jacksonville and I’ve heard people talking about it.”
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).