The early-morning sun slowly rose over the mist enveloping the campus of More Than Conqueror's Faith Church in Birmingham Alabama on Saturday, August 4. A dedicated group of energized volunteers had already begun preparing to provide wholesome entertainment and practical ministry to the 15,000 visitors -- most of them inner-city children and youth -- who would arrive later in the day for the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. rally. Rides must be set up, tents and booths erected for popcorn, cotton candy, and snack stands -- and final preparation made to the performance stage which would showcase well-known rap artists and contemporary Christian musicians from around the nation. Hundreds of volunteers were busy performing countless other jobs that would make this annual event, launched in 1994 by Pastor Steve Green, another successful outreach to thousands of kids in need.
When we learned that Pastor Green, a longtime friend of TBN, wanted to provide the thousands of inner-city kids who would visit that day with book bags and school supplies for the upcoming year, TBN's leaders responded immediately by signing the network on to be a R.E.S.P.E.C.T. co-sponsor, providing the 3,000 book bags that would be filled with many of the school supplies these kids needed.
TBN's JCTV youth and Smile of a Child kid's networks would also be on hand, bringing in some of their best network talent and capturing the entire exciting day on video for broadcast and future use by R.E.S.P.E.C.T.'s organizers.
The R.E.S.P.E.C.T. event was to begin promptly at 3:00 p.m., and at 2:45 Pastor Green came to me and said, "C'mon, we're going to open the gate, and I want you to come and help me lay hands on all these children and pray over them."
We walked across the campus, passing tents and the recreational venues, and as we arrived at the entrance the sight before me took my breath away. A line of kids and adults reached all the way down the street in both directions as far as I could see. My chest tightened with emotion as I tried to take in this picture. Every person, even little children, waited patiently in the hot sun, drenched in sweat, with none of the pushing, shoving, and short tempers that often mark similar events.
How humbling it was to watch young teen moms carrying their own children on their hip, grandmothers and grandfathers leading their grandchildren along, teenagers holding on to the hands of younger siblings, young single moms with their brood in tow. And as the gate was opened and they entered the rally, there were grateful smiles on their faces as they passed Pastor Green, saying, "Thank you so much Pastor, thank you so much."
As for Pastor Steve Green, he was in his element as he reached out and laid his hands on on every head, shouting out to the teens and children, "Jesus loves you," and "You're going to do great in school this year," and "You are a winner."
Before long the head football coach for the University of Alabama-Birmingham showed up with his entire team, and Pastor Green called out, "Everyone hold it!" With that he turned to the football players and instructed them: "Form an honor guard on both sides of the line as our children come through." And as those kids and teens filed through that tunnel made up of some of the biggest and most awe-inspiring athletes I had ever seen, Pastor Green and the football coach shouted a blessing over these kids. The whole spectacle brought tears to my eyes as I watched the expressions on the faces of the football players, as well as the faces of the young "heroes" they were honoring.
I don't think I will ever forget the faces of the thousands of children, teens, and families I saw that day. Many of these individuals live in unbelievably difficult circumstances and dire poverty. But on this special day the kids for whom this R.E.S.P.E.C.T rally was all about would be reminded that there is a group of God's people who love them and are praying for them everyday.
More than any other blessing, I am thankful that TBN got to be a part of this life-changing event, providing uplifting music and entertainment, and handing out 3,000 TBN book bags that will carry the school supplies of an army of blessed Birmingham youth as they return to school this fall.
Over and over the adults who were there that day thanked TBN for taking part and for its presence in the community. "Please tell Paul and Jan we love them and are so glad TBN is here," so many told me. Their gratitude confirmed to me that the message of Christ's love that TBN has been broadcasting for nearly 40 years is going forth with power.
As the day concluded, the rides and tents were taken down, and TBN's production crew packed up their equipment, I realized that, in reality, TBN may have received the biggest blessing of all, in the privilege we all had of being a part of God's hands of love extended to these kids, and their families, in Birmingham.