23,000 teens sound a battlecry
SAN FRANCISCO (BP)--The city turned off the sound system, but it couldn’t turn off the celebration.
Nearly 23,000 teens and their youth leaders filled AT&T Park in San Francisco with shouts of “Jesus” and “Hallelujah” Saturday morning accompanied only by hand-held radios scattered among the seats.
Prohibited by the city of San Francisco from using the stadium’s sound system until 10 a.m., organizers of “BattleCry” enlisted the broadcasting capabilities of local Christian radio station KFAX, urged the teenagers and their leaders to bring their radios and pressed on with a 9 a.m. worship service at the home of the San Francisco Giants.
BattleCry, a stadium event held by the evangelical Christian organization Teen Mania, had visited San Francisco last March and been met by scores of protesters in the city who were offended by what they termed the “anti-gay” thrust of the event. BattleCry volunteers who held signs proclaiming homosexuality a sin and declaring that the “Real Church Battles Evil” were special targets of the most virulent protests in 2006 and again this year.
The weekend event began with a mid-afternoon rally Friday in front of City Hall, where most of the interaction between the Christian teenagers and the city protesters took place.
Matt, a cameraman for ABC News in San Francisco, described the standoff as “pretty lively.”
“The protesters weren’t exactly helping their side,” he said of Friday’s rally. “They were using lots of profanities, and there was yelling back and forth from both sides.”
After last year’s heated though non-violent interactions, the city of San Francisco enforced a noise ordinance banning BattleCry organizers from using the stadium’s sound system before 10 a.m. Bowing to the letter of the law but not the spirit, event organizers responded by enlisting the assistance of local Christian radio station KFAX, which agreed to broadcast the day’s events starting at 8 a.m. Urgent e-mails and publicity then went out to churches and Christian organizations across the Bay Area to attend the morning service, bring their radios and lift their voices. The event included several bands and speakers.
Mark Verdugo, who brought 30 students from East Bay Fellowship Church in Danville, Calif., was nonplussed. “I’ve been in this stadium for motorcycle events and they’re loud at 8 a.m. But we understand there’s a battle, so we’re not upset. It’s just the sign of the times. Our youth are getting a wakeup call, and I praise God for it.”
It was a surreal atmosphere -– the stadium awash in throngs of teens from all over California and the West, holding small radios, radio-equipped IPODs and headset radios, all tuned in to the same station broadcasting from the stage directly before them, singing along with the band, also on the stage directly before them but too far away to hear. The atmosphere created an electric current throughout the crowd.
But the sense of solidarity and excitement was the real current of the day.
“We are not allowed to use the sound, but You have given us a more powerful tool -– our voices,” prayed Lindsey Douglass, a member of South Lake Tahoe Christian Fellowship, as her youth group gathered outside the park Saturday morning before the “quieted” worship service.
Ron Luce, Teen Mania president and founder, rallied the thousands of students and adults with a similar message. Displaying the words “my” and “voice” on the two large screens, his voice amplified only through the radios all over the stadium, he urged the students to repeat the two words at the end of each of his sentences in an emotional call-and-response:
“It doesn’t matter what they say, they’re going to hear ‘my voice.’ It doesn’t matter what they turn off, they’re going to hear ‘my voice.’ I’ve got forgiveness in ‘my voice.’ I’ve got truth in ‘my voice.’ I’ve got acceptance in ‘my voice.’”
Jim Eggert, pastor of Pioneer Bible Church in Somerset, Calif., saw the attempted “silencing” as a good thing. “I feel like God is using it. It’s exciting because it’s being broadcast all over the Bay Area, all around the country.”
More exciting, the San Francisco native added, was the spillover affect of such an event. “We were sitting outside the gate this morning praying, and we’re just one gathering, but still, even though our goal is personal sanctification, the result is the city gets covered in prayer this weekend.”
Matt Hein, youth leader who leads worship at the South Lake Tahoe church and its mission, Eagles Wings Christian Fellowship in Carson City, Nev., agreed. “When you bring this many people of the same spirit together, it releases over everybody and softens them to the Gospel.”
Outside the stadium, BattleCry volunteers with the “Homosexuality is a sin” signs talked with passersby and the media. Inside the stadium, students and youth leaders rallied loudly as 10 a.m. drew near.
On stage, Luce was invoking the image of the great tribe of nations and tongues in Revelation 20, reminding the crowd that the throng of believers that would one day gather would be far larger, and their worship would sound like “a mighty wind” and “rolls of thunder.”
“So I wonder if, this morning, while there’s still no P.A. system, while it’s still quiet in San Francisco, if for these couple of minutes before we can turn on the sound, can we practice that sound? Can you lift your voices so they can hear us in Oakland?” he asked.
The crowd responded as if Barry Bonds had just hit another homer into the Bay: a sustained roar punctuated with “Jesus” and “Hallelujah” chants, concluding with the “drum roll” pounding of the seats, and a countdown until the long-awaited moment of 10 a.m. -– at which time the sound system erupted with the song “I am free to live for you,” the words filled with an added sense of significance for nearly 23,000 teenagers.