Despite the rain, mud and intimidating cloud cover, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) hosted some 7,970 people August 7 for their much anticipated Rock the River concert held at Millennium Park in Surrey, BC The line-up of artists included Tedashii, downhere, The Almost, Starfield and Skillet; interspersed between performances were several short messages from evangelist Franklin Graham.
Sixteen year old Braeden Melanson didn’t mind the rain at all. “It’s fine for me, I’m a sea cadet,” he told CC.com as the event unfolded. While he said he would have enjoyed seeing Thousand Foot Krutch — who had to pull out of the concert because of an injury suffered by one of the band members — Melanson said he was definitely enjoying the day’s performers.
Most of the other youth CC.com spoke to shared similar sentiments. For them it was all about the music. “My experience at Rock the River was fantastic,” said Julie Tao. “I was in the front row of the pit, and I loved jumping and screaming for the amazing bands!”
Christian rapper Tedashii’s hope for those who attended was that God’s word would become active in their hearts. “I tell people when they come for concerts: ‘You’re coming for music; but I came to minister, and you just happen to get music along the way,'” he said. “I see myself as an urban missionary.”
Tedashii’s mother didn’t allow him to listen to hip hop at home; she called it “devil’s music.” Despite this, he and his friends would often sneak into corners of bathrooms, or wherever else they could find a good reverb. Oftentimes they would get into trouble with school authorities. But for Rock the River, Tedashii was able to turn this clandestine activity into entertainment for thousands of energized teens. “It’s a privilege to do what I used to get in trouble [for], and glorify God with it,” he said.
Tedashii’s foray into Christian hip hop started while he was volunteering at a juvenile detention centre. “We would make songs up and put them on a tape or a CD, and give it to the kids. Really it was just us putting scripture together in rhyme — but they loved it. Not only did they love it, but it really helped them [to] learn their Bible and want to live holy,” he said.
The rapper said this was when he and his friends started using hip hop for the glory of God. “We took that platform, and said: ‘You wanna be like us, cause we can rap. But be like Christ — cause that’s who we’re trying to be like,” he said. “Once I saw the fruit from that, I was like: ‘God, you can use this.'”
Throughout his performance, Tedashii would give quick words of encouragement. He even taught the crowd — some of whom he said “lacked rhythm” — to do an arm raise move to the beat. Members of the audience were seen doing this move well into the night.
The members of Canadian band downhere were glad to participate in the event, despite the rain. “We’ve had a great experience working with the Graham Association anytime we’ve worked with them. It’s been really professional — but also very focused on the gospel,” said band member Jason Germaine.
“We’re the band; we’re not the speaker. We had all our songs; we played, and let God do the rest,” added his cohort Marc Martel. The band felt that the BGEA’s message and goals really fit nicely with their own.
“As a band, our mission statement is to create a soundtrack for authentic Christian living,” said Germaine. “In some ways, we’re modern liturgy writers. So to join someone who’s really good at evangelism is a really good thing for us, cause we’re not totally gifted in that department.”
Band member Jeremy Thiessen admitted that, when traveling on the road, sometimes he’s drowned with fatigue — and it can be difficult to play the same songs over and over again. But he knows that for some people, this may be the only time they get to hear downhere.
“That’s when the reality kicks in,” said Thiessen. “I might be able to play these songs in my sleep; but this may be their only chance to hear [us]. As we strive for excellence in our performance and delivery, then that really allows the Lord to work in their hearts and minds — and move them one step closer to him.”
The group was also glad to be back in their own country, performing for a home crowd. “It’s really cool to be able to come back home and have the BGEA come to our part of the world,” said band member Glenn Lavender.
Between performances were video projected testimonies of individual band members. The Almost’s lead singer talked about his struggle with purity before marriage; Skillet’s lead singer discussed making good God-centred music.
Franklin Graham also delivered short invitations between each set. He shared short Bible-based messages, and asked anyone in the crowd to come forward for prayer — and to receive Jesus Christ as saviour. According to the BGEA, 466 people made decisions for Christ that day.
Speaking to CC.com during the festivities, Graham said he was pleased with how the day was going.
“I think it has been a great day so far. Rain hasn’t held the kids back [from giving] their lives to Christ. We’re always worried: is the rain going to mess with the electronics? But I don’t think it has. Is the rain gonna mess with the crowd? I don’t think it has,” said Graham, adding: “In B.C., people are used to the rain and drizzle — so I was really encouraged to see how people came out in the rain.”
According to Graham, this day was long in the making.
“There’s been a lot of work and a lot of prayer. A lot of people prayed for this, a lot of people invested their life, their time — and this isn’t by mistake. We couldn’t do it without prayer.”
He was very appreciative of all the spiritual support they received. “We wouldn’t see any of this if it wasn’t for the prayers of people back home, and the people here.”
Although the day was running smoothly, Graham said he was a little nervous about his own contribution. “There’s always a little bit of fear, asking God to give us the words to say. I’m almost 60 years old; these kids are the age of some of my grandchildren,” he said. “I come praying that God will use me according to his will, and that his purpose will be fulfilled. We’re here just to give God’s gospel.”
The night concluded with a powerful performance by Grammy nominated hard rock band Skillet. They lit up the stage with pyrotechnics, and really got the crowd going.
Rock the River may be over for the Fraser Valley, but the tour will make its way to Alberta in the coming days. Rock the River Calgary will be happening August 21, with the festival traveling to Edmonton August 28.