Outreach Event Hopes to Spark Unity in Milwaukee

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BGEA Milwaukee

BGEA Milwaukee
Local pastors and leaders are forging new partnerships
ahead of Rock the Lakes, Aug. 20-21, praying the event will bring unity
and the hope of Christ to a city described as “spiritually bleak” and
“segregated” beyond its sparkling lakefront.

When someone mentions Milwaukee, you may think of bratwurst, breweries or baseball.

If you are of a certain generation, you might recall that Milwaukee was
the setting for iconic ‘70s sitcoms, “Happy Days” and “Laverne and
Shirley.”

According to a local pastor, the name “Milwaukee” carries yet another connotation, one with implications for the upcoming Rock the Lakes
Festival. “I have heard Milwaukee called the graveyard of evangelism,”
said Chip Bernhard, pastor of Spring Creek Church in nearby Pewaukee. “For some reason, the evangelical churches here have struggled through the years.”

In
a recent interview, Bernhard described the spiritual climate in
Milwaukee as dark and bleak. “Our city has a very high crime rate,” he
explained. “There is a gang problem—gangs are committing robberies and
crime. And we have, I think, one of the highest unwed mother rates in
the United States.”

New census data shows Milwaukee is the most segregated city in America, according to FOX News and other media outlets.


Only
Jesus Christ can provide hope in the midst of such challenges, which is
why Franklin Graham will be sharing the good news at Rock the Lakes,
Aug. 20-21. “Milwaukee is a city that’s in great need, and we need to
pray,” he said.

“We’re going there to tell people about a God
who loves them and cares for them, who sent His Son on a rescue mission
from Heaven to save their souls,” said Graham. “He can change any life
and any heart that is willing to accept Him by faith. And that’s the
message that we’re going to preach.”

Bubbling Beneath the Surface
 Rock
the Lakes Director B.J. Rogers agrees that change is needed and
desired. “One thing that continues to bubble to the surface here in
Milwaukee, along with the difficulties, is a real hunger for something
to change. We know that something is caused by a ‘Someone.’ People here
need to be introduced to Jesus.”

Rogers said
that approximately 300 churches across Milwaukee are working together in
various degrees, a noteworthy development in a divided city. “Even at
the Rock the Lakes launch event in January, where several hundred
pastors came together,” said Rogers, “more than one came up to me after
and said they couldn’t remember the last time they had been together in a
group of so many other fellow pastors of multiple denominations, all
thinking and planning and praying.”

I
would certainly echo that,” said Bernhard. “I have pastored here for 24
years, but Rock the Lakes has connected me personally to dozens of
clergy and pastors who are now my friends that I never knew existed
before. I’ve met six or eight wonderful African-American pastors that I
think now would consider me their friend.”


Early Impact
In
addition to unifying pastors, Rock the Lakes has sparked an early
revival of sorts. Rogers reported that more than 700 people made
decisions for Christ through the Christian Life and Witness Class and
the FM419 discipleship course. “We are seeing the awareness of and the
confirmation of the fact that people are being confronted with the gospel, and committing their lives to Christ.

“There
is a real desire for change, especially among the young people,” Rogers
added. “I talked to the instructors of FM419 and they told me this
group was one of the most engaged, most interested and most hungry they
have seen. They were lapping up everything they were taught.”

At
Bernhard’s church, more than 400 people attended the Christian Life and
Witness Course, which “lit a fire under them.” One lady who attended
went out days later to see her massage therapist. “The therapist was
asking her spiritual questions and she used the material from her
training and led her massage therapist to the Lord,” said Bernhard.

Long-Term Focus
Taking
a glance at posts on the Rock the Lakes Facebook page, Rogers said he
has noticed Christian youth are grasping the fact that this event is not
designed for them. “While it is going to be fun and they are looking
forward to it, and they are excited that Skillet and Lecrae are going to
be there, they are showing a real desire to invite their friends and to
make sure that people who don’t know Jesus get to that event.”

Bernhard
prays that Christians of all ages will bring nonbeliever friends.
“This is not another church service. We hope that when the invitation is
given, lots of people who have not committed their lives to the Lord
before would come to grips with the gospel. If we don’t have unsaved
people there to hear what Franklin has to say, we miss the point.”


Rogers
is praying that Rock the Lakes would not just be a two-day event, but
that following it, “the tribes and tongues and peoples of the church in
this area would see this as a true opportunity to continue to work on
unity and community.”

Rock the Lakes, which
will be held at Veterans Park, includes two full days of high-energy
music along with messages from Franklin Graham. Rock, hip-hop and
popular Christian music artists performing at the event include Skillet,
Lecrae, The Almost, The Afters, Michael W. Smith, Charlie Daniels and
Canton Jones. There will also be a KidzFest program Saturday morning for
children featuring God Rocks!

Used with permission of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

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