Coming Together in Oklahoma City
Christians Unite for Mission and See God's Power
August 1, 2003 - Jerry Mash first saw the man in a restroom at the Ford Center, in Oklahoma City—a blind man who had washed his hands and was trying to get a paper towel from the dispenser.
by Bob Paulson and Kristen M. Burke
He pushed the lever several times and then reached for the paper. There was none. Mash approached him. "It looks like the dispenser is empty," he said.
"That's what I was beginning to realize," the man replied.
"Can I help you find your way out?" Mash asked.
"No thanks; I have a friend who will help me," the
Mash left the restroom. Later, he saw the blind man again—pushing the wheelchair of a man with no legs. The man in the wheelchair was telling the blind man which direction to go.
Mash, pastor of The Church at the North Gate, in Edmond, sees in that experience a picture of the Church, the Body of Christ. "We need each other," Mash said. "Some of us can't see, but others can. Some of us can't walk, but others can. On the Day of Pentecost, the believers were all in one accord, and then God unleashed the power. I believe that God wants to see not 1,800 congregations in Oklahoma City; I believe that He wants to see THE Church."
Mission Oklahoma City with Billy Graham, held June 12-15, brought the Church together in a way not seen for years. More than 500 churches cooperated, and 10,000 volunteers worked and prayed together to prepare for the outreach.
And God unleashed His power.
Billy Graham had ministered three times previously in Oklahoma City, holding Crusades in 1956 and 1983, and leading the 1995 memorial service after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Those occasions made a lasting impact on the city, according to local Christians.
In 1956, Mike Snyder's parents were part of the party scene, Snyder recalled. "My folks always had a lot of people over," Snyder said. "I remember there was a tremendous amount of liquor consumed on the weekends." But his parents attended the Billy Graham Crusade and came home radically changed.
"I'll never forget my father dumping liquor down the sink and people asking what happened to my folks," said Snyder, who himself later came to Christ, as did his two sisters and his brother. "It started in 1956," he said. "Look at the legacy."
Wendi Humes was 9 years old when Billy Graham returned to Oklahoma City for the 1983 Crusade. She remembers sitting at the very top of the Myriad Arena and being scared of heights. But she also remembers sitting on the floor of the arena, praying with a counselor as she gave her heart to Jesus. Humes served as a counselor during Mission Oklahoma City, saying, "I'm here to help someone, because someone helped me."
Jeannine Gist, whose daughter Karen was killed in the 1995 Murrah bombing, found hope during the memorial service that followed. In June, at a reception for Mission committee members, Gist told Mr. Graham: "You said so many things to me that were helpful, but there was one thing that I have never forgotten and never will forget. You said that sometimes people have asked you why things like the Oklahoma City bombing happen. And you said that you don't know why. That was such an honest answer, and I was so strengthened to hear you say that. … I have never asked that question since then, and I'm a much stronger person for it. And I never felt alone again after that."
Mission Oklahoma City added to the legacy of the Gospel in the city, with 102,000 people attending the meetings and more than 4,400 making decisions for Jesus Christ.
Some lives, in fact, changed even before the meetings began. Charlie Collins and Brian LaPat, of Yukon, attended the Christian Life and Witness Classes in preparation for serving as Mission counselors. They took what they learned and used it to lead seven young men to Christ during a basketball outreach.
Graduate student Rich Tortorelli, of Oklahoma City, led a fellow student to Christ as they worked together on a class project. And one girl, a high school student participating in the Mission's Friend to Friend program, led a friend to Christ before the meetings began. That friend then led two others to Christ.
Lives continued to change once the Mission meetings started. One evening, a 32-year-old construction worker bounded down the aisle from near the top of the Cox Convention Center Arena, where crowds were directed after the Ford Center was full. The man went directly to a counselor and said, "I want to know Jesus, and I want to know Him now. Will you help me?" The man prayed to receive Christ that night.
A mother and daughter moved to town on Friday, the second day of the Mission. The mother wanted the daughter to attend, but the daughter was reluctant. She agreed to come to the Saturday-evening meeting, which featured Kirk Franklin and TAIT—but only to please her mother. However, Kirk Franklin's testimony moved her, and she came forward to make a commitment to Christ.
"Oklahoma City will never be the same," said Mayor Kirk Humphreys, who served as chairman of the Mission's executive committee. But he said that local Christians have a responsibility. "Our job is to see that the seed that has been scattered here takes root and grows and matures and multiplies, and that the fragrance of Jesus Christ is spread everywhere."
The Oklahoma City region has seen its share of hard times. There was the bombing in April of 1995. In 1999, parts of the city were destroyed by one of the most powerful tornadoes ever recorded. Then, a little more than a month before Mission Oklahoma City, another tornado tore through, demolishing some of the same areas as the 1999 storm. But God hasn't forgotten Oklahoma City.
"This [Mission] is a divine appointment of God with this city," said Anthony Jordan, executive director-treasurer for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. "It's just another expression of God's love for this community."
Mr. Graham's message for Oklahoma City emphasized God's love as well.
"There are things that we don't understand, but God has a plan and a purpose," Mr. Graham said. "God loves us, no matter what." He talked about the prodigal son, whose father loved him and welcomed him back even though the son had run from home and had squandered his inheritance. "You can come home," Mr. Graham said. "You can come home to God. Maybe you've wandered a long way from Him. You made a commitment years ago. You've tried to live the life, but somehow it's failed. But you can come home to God tonight."
A homeless man attended the first evening of the Mission. He said that he is an alcoholic and has been in and out of jail since 1983. He had been living under bridges in Oklahoma City. The man said that he knew he needed help but that he couldn't change alone. He rededicated his life to Jesus Christ and was referred to a homeless shelter and to a ministry for former inmates.
Another man who came home to God had been suicidal before attending the Mission on Thursday evening. He said that he had taken a pistol and played Russian roulette, but the gun did not fire. He took that as a sign that God wanted him to attend the Mission. He did, and he accepted Christ. Follow-up workers will help him to find further help.
As Christians united and reached out with the love of Christ, people experienced God's transforming power. A bus driver and her children. A 65-year-old wheat farmer. A man who drove to Oklahoma City from San Antonio. A couple that drove from Green Bay, Wis.
Ned Kessler, a Mission counselor from Edmond, stood on the floor of the Ford Center Friday evening and marveled at God's power working in so many lives. He described it well: "This is just totally God-centered awesome."