Over 59,000 attended the Kern County Festival with Franklin Graham the weekend of April 3-5 in Bakersfield, California. And while the meetings drew attendants from various age groups, it was clear that the younger generation of attendants had been deeply moved by the meetings. Of the estimated 3,000 people who made their decisions for Jesus Christ over the course of the festival, over 2,000 were under the age of 25.
Saturday night of the Festival was organized especially for the youth. More than 19,000 people gathered in the Bakersfield College Stadium for Saturday evening’s meeting to enjoy the music of Christian rock band Jars of Clay and to listen to Franklin Graham’s message of God’s love. During the message, Graham spoke of the Prodigal Son, a story that has personal significance for him. Like the many youth out there, Graham was once a rebel, running away from God, seeking his own personal goals. It wasn’t until the age of 22 that Graham committed his life to Jesus Christ.
“We all aim for our own personal happiness,” Graham said. “We say, ‘If I could just get that new car I would be so happy. … We turn to drugs and alcohol. Why? … We want to have peace in our life; we want to have joy. But something is missing.”
Graham went on to explain the way to fill that emptiness. “God sees you tonight, and He has compassion for you because He loves you,” he said.
“The [Prodigal Son] came to his senses. That boy went back home. … The Father saw him a long way off. He was watching him. The Bible says … the father ran to the son and put his arms around him and hugged him and kissed him. … You come tonight to God in faith, receiving His Son Jesus Christ into your heart and your life, and God will change you. You won’t leave here the same person.”
Over the course of the Festival, thousands found Graham’s statement to be true. God used the months of advanced preparation to impact thousands of young people. Even in the months leading up to the Festival, Kern Country had been witness to God’s love as more than 250 churches united to prepare the community for a message of hope. “It’s been very inspirational for me and pastors in our community,” said Wendel Vinson, pastor of Canyon Hills Assemblies of God Church and Festival chair for pastors/churches.
“Getting pastors together is sometimes like herding cats,” said Vinson. “It’s not the easiest. We get fragmented over small pieces of things that aren’t the essentials. … I think that is the beauty of what the Festival is about – majoring on the Major, Jesus Christ.”
That unity also extended into community schools and youth efforts. One inner city ministry working in conjunction with the Festival transformed teens in Kern County’s roughest neighborhoods and schools, and thousands of kids indicated the desire to know more about God. Meanwhile, students at a local high school took an idea from a pre-Festival youth training seminar for the school’s student Bible club, which consists of 100 members. The club took the names of the entire student body (about 2,000 students) and divided them up into envelopes, giving each member about 20 students.
“For 40 days, every single person at Liberty High School has been prayed for since that time until now,” said Festival Student Chair Brian Lapp. “And they have made a point to get to know the kids they have been praying for.’”
And by the grace of God and the efforts of the community, over 3,000 lives were marked new beginnings in Jesus Christ.