Turning to Christ in Tulsa
November 1, 2003 - Christians often seem hesitant, even scared, to tell others about Christ. But when they care enough—when perfect love casts out fear—they may see God work in amazing ways.
by Bob Paulson
Mary Diesburg hadn't planned to read the "Steps to Peace With God" booklet with her client that day, although the two had discussed Jesus Christ in the past. But that day, something changed her mind, and the result made a difference for eternity.
Diesburg, a personal care provider, was attending Christian Life and Witness classes in preparation for counseling at the Northeast Oklahoma Festival with Franklin Graham. Her homework for the week included reading the evangelistic booklet to someone. As she went about her tasks that day, she sensed God leading her to read the booklet to her client, a woman with cancer. So after work she did so—and the woman prayed to receive Christ.
The two talked several more times about the woman's decision, but soon her condition worsened, and she moved to a nursing home. Although Diesburg was no longer the woman's care provider, she continued to visit her friend at the nursing home over the next few weeks. One day the woman said, "I'm ready, Mary. When the Lord Jesus Christ calls me, I'm ready to go." Later that day, she passed away.
"I had no idea that her time was so limited," Diesburg said. "I just thank God that she accepted Jesus as her Savior before she passed on."
Diesburg sees a lesson in her experience for Christians: "When you have the opportunity to talk to someone about salvation," she said, "take it, because nobody knows how much time they have."
The Northeast Oklahoma Festival brought the message of salvation to thousands, not only in the Festival meetings but also in homes, schools and businesses, as Christians told friends the wonderful news of Jesus.
Into the Lifeboat
Festival Executive Chair Jim Dawson knows fishing. He was president of Zebco, one of the world's largest fishing equipment manufacturers. But like some of Jesus' first disciples, Dawson left his fishing business to become a fisher of people—he is now an associate pastor at First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow.
In preparation for the Festival the church put a "lifeboat" in the sanctuary to encourage members to share their faith. In a holder next to the boat, members placed Operation Andrew cards with names of unsaved friends. When a friend accepted Christ, the card was moved from the holder into the lifeboat. Some came to Christ even before the Festival meetings began. Others accompanied friends to the meetings and made commitments there.
One Christian woman has a co-worker who has faced huge struggles that left her embittered toward God. The Christian wanted to be sure that her friend attended the Festival. So in addition to praying for her friend and talking to her about Jesus, she phoned on the day of the Festival and said, "I'll come and get you."
Her friend agreed. Throughout the service, the Christian wondered what her friend was thinking. "At the altar call," the Christian said, "I turned to her and said, 'If you want to go, I'll go with you.' She said, 'No,' but she was crying. I prayed and held her hand. Then I said, 'You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. God is waiting with open arms, and He just wants to love you.'"
As the Christian explained later, "Franklin Graham started praying the prayer with those who had come forward, and I heard [my friend] repeating the prayer out loud after him. I put both arms around her and held her tightly through the rest of the prayer."
A counselor went through the Festival's counseling materials with the woman so that she can be followed up by a local church. But she's already got one friend who will be there to help her—a friend who cared enough to make sure she heard the Good News of Jesus.
In all, more than 2,400 people made decisions for Christ during the Festival meetings at Drillers Stadium or at other Festival-related events.
People found Christ even in local jails. Festival meetings were broadcast via closed-circuit television in three local correctional institutions, and 35 inmates made decisions for Christ. A correctional officer at the Tulsa Jail said that one man watching the TV broadcast suddenly saw his mother singing in the choir. "That's my mom!" he exclaimed. At the end of the program, he gave his life to Christ.
Unity in Christ
Pastors and other Christians reveled in the unity that developed as they worked together on the Festival. They spoke of "unbelievable fellowship," of having labels erased, of working on the same team. But this is a unity that has been a long time coming for Tulsa's churches.
"Tulsa has been a very divided city," said Milford Carter, pastor of Sanctuary Evangelistic Church. "But this Festival has been a catalyst that caused people to move across denominational, racial and socio-economic lines to come together with a common interest of winning people to the Lord Jesus Christ."
Robert Pierson, pastor at Christ United Methodist Church, served as the chair of the pastors' committee. He spoke of the long-term results that he expects to see: "We've come together, and things are going to be different in Tulsa. We're going to bring unity to the churches in this city."
Filling the Hole
While unified churches can bring change on a citywide level, the centerpiece of a Festival is the invitation for individuals to commit their lives to Jesus Christ. Each evening, Franklin Graham challenged people to do that.
"I think there are many of you here tonight who have an emptiness in your life," Franklin said to the crowd on Friday, the first evening of the Festival. "Kurt Cobain committed suicide a number of years ago. He was the lead singer of the rock group Nirvana. He was at the top of his career. ... it seemed like everything was going his way. But 'Rolling Stone' magazine, after his death, recorded part of his suicide note. And in that note he talked about a great big, black, empty hole in his life. And maybe tonight you say, 'Franklin, that's exactly what I've got in my life: a big, black, empty hole.'"
Franklin said the only thing that can fill that hole is Jesus Christ. And many people who made decisions for Christ during the Festival referred to that hole, that emptiness they felt in their own hearts.
A woman attended Friday with her husband, grown daughter and granddaughter. The woman and her husband had decided in advance that they were going to accept Christ together—on the following night, Saturday. So the husband was "a little miffed" when the other three jumped the gun and responded to the invitation on Friday. But he was back with his wife the following night, and he accepted Christ. As he talked with a Festival counselor, his wife was rejoicing and telling others nearby about her own experience: "I felt that something wasn't right," she said. "I just wanted to fill that empty spot in my heart. I've been happy-go-lucky all day today—that empty place is gone."
Even children were sensitive to that empty feeling. On Saturday morning, after the Festival's Kidzfest with Bibleman, a young boy said, "I had this feeling in my heart when Bibleman was talking—I feel like I've done things wrong, and I want to make it right with Jesus."
On the field at Drillers Stadium, counselor Anne Halik wiped away tears after praying with two girls who had responded to the invitation. "It's such a privilege from God for me to counsel with these precious people and to know how much God loves them," Halik said. "Although I got saved many years ago, it's always new when someone comes to Christ. I'm happy for them; I'm happy for God."