NEWARK, N.J. – A packed stadium where thousands were standing or sitting shoulder to shoulder may seem like an unlikely place for teens to seek their own "space," but according to Bishop T.D. Jakes that's exactly where they needed to be Friday night to hear where God wants them to go.
Over 13,000 teens and youth leaders gathered at the IZOD Center in Newark, N.J., to hear the influential megachurch pastor speak at BattleCry NYC, a two-day youth rally which kicked off Friday.
The event is part of Recreate ’08, a series of rallies hosted by Teen Mania this year in response to a culture that some say has become morally bankrupt. Speakers have been calling on teens not only to reject mainstream pop culture but to reclaim and "recreate" it.
At the New York rally, teens received doses of inspirational messages from New York Yankees’ pitcher Mariano Rivera, six-time Grammy Award winner Kirk Franklin and the David Crowder Band.
Jakes, who took the stage after an address delivered by Teen Mania founder Ron Luce, shared with the spiritually hungry crowd a message from 1 Samuel 3:1-10.
He said that there are many teens in today's generation who are like Eli or Samuel – either they can't hear God's voice but they understand it or they can hear God's voice but cannot understand it. Many, Jakes said, are unable to find their "space" or place of purpose in their lives.
"You know something's missing but you don't know how to fix it," said the pastor of the Dallas-based Potter's House. "So you start doing crazy things looking for answers."
Many, the Bishop continued, end up trying to fill the intense emptiness with drugs, alcohol or sex. Others turn to violence and think "crazy stuff" when they can't find out where they fit, said Jakes.
But he assured the enthused teenagers who had been following his message with responsive cheers and choral "Amens" that God is faithful and will grant them a new beginning despite their past or mistakes.
"This altar is your space," said Jakes as he welcomed teens toward the stage during the altar call. "Where you can come with any issue, any problem, any situation, any circumstance and God will wash you and forgive you and set you free."
As the teens crowded in front, some prayed intently with tears while others closed their eyes to pray with faces raised upward.
One youth minister told The Christian Post that he was pleasantly surprised to see all of his youth group respond positively to the altar call.
"They all went down. It was really good to see that," said Ramon Cruz of Grace Fellowship in Branford, Conn.
Victoria Manteiro, 13, said Jakes' message really moved her.
"I'm hoping my purpose will become more clear" following the event, she told The Christian Post.
For some participants, the event was an opportunity to pass on a life-changing experience.
Victor Davila, 24, who had attended the first Battle Cry event in 2005 and 13 Acquire the Fire events, said the rallies combined with love he received from a mentor have helped him go from an abusive guy from a divorced family to a youth leader today.
While the messages are powerful, Davila said it's when the love is shown in action that teenagers can change.
He said because his mentor loved him with God's love, he was able to turn his life around.
“That's what I want to show my kids, too,” Davila told The Christian Post.
The night topped off with worship from David Crowder Band who performed hits songs from their latest album Remedy.
A pre-event prayer rally was held in Times Square earlier in the day with Luce as the main speaker.
Luce and an greater crowd of teens were expected back at the stadium Saturday for an all-day session filled with messages, musical performances, drama and, of course, a lot of battle cries.