Canadian cemetery owner welcomes planned Biblical themed amusement park

A cemetery owner in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada is excited for a new Christian theme park headed to his town.

A cemetery owner in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada is excited for a new Christian theme park headed to his town.  (iStock)

A wealthy businessman in China who converted from Buddhism to Christianity has been given the green light to build a biblical theme park, complete with a football field-sized replica of Noah’s Ark, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada.

The park, which will also feature a replica of the Tabernacle used to carry around the Ark of the Covenant, will be located on five acres next to what the landowners hope will become a destination that requires a permanent relocation to Moose Jaw: the Sunset Cemetery.

“You imagine how many people go to the Vatican, the Wailing Walls in Israel. You build something like this … this is going to be one of the biggest tourist attractions in Canada,” the cemetery’s manager, Marc L’Hoir, told The Moose Jaw Times-Herald.

The theme park is the brainchild of businessman Sun Wenqing, who has built a similar park in the northern Chinese city of Shenyang and is a friend of Sunset Cemetery’s owner.

“He actually converted from Buddhism to Christianity and this is just part of his spreading the word of Christianity throughout the world,” L’Hoir said.

Workers from China will be brought to Moose Jaw to build the park in four phases:The building of the Tabernacle; more Old Testament items, including waterways designed to emulate the River Jordan and Sea of Galilee; construction of Noah’s Ark, which will be 440 feet long, 75 feet wide and 42 feet high; and installation of displays on three floors within the Ark, including a children’s interactive playground, a display of animals on the Ark and a technological walk through the life of Jesus.

Some issues remain to be ironed out, including the creation of parking facilities and obtaining visas for the workers. But L’Hoir sees a bright future in the past, not only for the theme park but for the cemetery next door.

“The theme park will increase the awareness about Sunset Cemetery and possibly make it a destination where hundreds of religious followers would come to be buried,” the cemetery noted in a statement released after the park was announced.

In other words: Come for a day, stay for eternity.

“[I]t’s going to enhance the cemetery,” L’Hoir told CBC News Saskatchewan. “Hopefully people want to be buried there.”

Christian-themed museums can be big business.

In July, Ken Ham– the man behind the Creation Museum– opened a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark in Williamstown, Ky. Ham expects his ark park to draw over two million tourists annually.

Bible breakthrough: Scientists unlock secrets of burned Hebrew scroll

The scroll after it was virtually unwrapped.

The scroll after it was virtually unwrapped.  (Seales et al. Sci. Adv. 2016; 2 : e1601247)

In a significant archaeological achievement, an ancient Hebrew scroll that was burned in a fire in the distant past and was seemingly impenetrable has finally become readable— and scientists have discovered that it contains verses from the book of Leviticus.

The breakthrough was made through a high-tech process called “virtual unwrapping” and involved a collaboration between experts in the United States and Israel. While no one is sure of the precise age of the parchment, referred to as the En-Gedi scroll, radiocarbon dating suggests it is from about the third or fourth century. Discovered in 1970, it likely was burned in a fire that destroyed a synagogue in the year 600 AD.

“We’re reading a real scroll. It hasn’t been read for millennia. Many thought it was probably impossible to read,” Brent Seales, a professor in the computer science department at the University of Kentucky, said during a teleconference with the media on Tuesday.

Seales, the first author of the paper announcing the discovery in the journal Science Advances, explained that the breakthrough occurred after a scan of the fragile scroll was made in Israel using a micro-CT scanner; then his team digitally unpacked the rolled, charred object. They later corresponded with experts in Israel for the analysis of the lines of Hebrew text.

They first could see that the scroll contained writing when they examined the digital version of the document in the lab, which made them feel “elated,” Seales said in a response to a question during the news conference.

“The real joy came when [Pnina Shor, an expert with the Israel Antiquities Authority] sent me back the result of having read our first results, because then I knew not only were we seeing writing, but it was readable,” Seales continued, “because she and her team were able to identify it as a known text, and at that point, we were absolutely jubilant, I have to say.”

Seales also said during the news conference that their method may hold interest for those in security or intelligence who want to read something “noninvasively.”

In an email to, Seales clarified that deciphering the exact age of the scroll is “tricky.” The radiocarbon dating method suggests it’s from around 300 AD “with high probability,” but analysis of the handwriting suggests it’s slightly older.

The Hebrew writing on the En-Gedi scroll has consonants, but does not have vowels. Besides the Dead Sea Scrolls, the newly-readable document represents the oldest scroll in Hebrew from the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch), according to the study, which published on Wednesday.


  • Rare, gold Roman coin discovered in Jerusalem

  • Archaeologists unearth fisherman’s house in Israel

  • Like blue jeans, this ancient fabric was dyed with indigo

Michael Segal, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a coauthor on the study, said that he and a colleague, Emanuel Tov, analyzed the scroll after the team in Kentucky made it readable.

“We were amazed at the quality of the images,” he said. They first thought that it might contain all the books of the Torah, but later realized it was part of Leviticus.

He added: “I think we can safely say that since the completion of the publication of the corpus of Dead Sea Scrolls about a decade ago, under the editorship of Emanuel Tov, the En-Gedi Leviticus scroll is the most extensive and significant Biblical text from antiquity that has come to light.”

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

The incredible day Miki Ogao saw heaven — and decided to stay on earth

Miki Ogao and a friend.

Miki Ogao and a friend.(Courtesy of the author)

Miki Ogao lies on the table for yet another outpatient medical procedure. Doctors are performing a Swan-Ganz catheterization to check the health of her finicky heart. She feels nothing, but she’s wide awake. She hears the doctors and nurses discussing the procedure and marveling at their quirky patient’s upbeat mood.

Suddenly the scene turns tense as her numbers fall. A nurse notes that her cardiac output — the formula representing the amount of blood the heart pumps per minute — has dropped to near zero.

Normal is four. Zero is dead.

Ogao nearly flatlines and she catches a phrase she knows all too well from her own medical training. A somber voice says, “I don’t know if I can get her off the table.”

Unable to speak, she remembers thinking, “Um, I can hear you.”

As her numbers continue to fall and the monitors predict the end, someone or something mysterious appears. Ogao doesn’t recognize the brightly lit presence, but he or she is certainly not of this world.

Ogao has no regrets when she looking back 10 years to that moment on a table and a heavenly decision. She’ll keep living, keep loving and keep bringing smiles to others.

Ogao feels no fear. She’s calm. She’s at peace.

Though she’s not sure what she sees, or whether her eyes are even open, she knows the moment and the message are to be trusted.

Then comes the visitor’s question. It’s the most important one Ogao might ever answer.

“Are you ready to go?”

In that sacred moment with a window to heaven cracked open, thoughts raced through her mind. Remembering one of them still makes her laugh out loud. “No! I don’t want anyone to find my house the way it is!”

In a spiritual blink the visitor left — alone. Ogao soon stabilized and moments later she was talking to her doctor. Before they could convince her to stay, she was home tidying up. “Just in case that ever happens again.”

That was 10 years ago.

Ogao shared that memory and much more during a lengthy discussion about her unusual journey through life.

Naturally, she recognizes some might question her otherworldly experience and she’s been reluctant to share it in the past.

“I know that by going public I could come across as somewhat of a whackadoodle,” she said. “But I could never deny the experience. I know what I saw and I know how it changed my life.”

As I began to craft the immensely likable Ogao’s story, I realize there isn’t a newspaper or website in the world with enough space for me to paint the complete word picture of her life. But to catch even just a glimpse is worth the effort.

Ogao was born in Hawaii in 1974 but moved to Washington State when she was 4 years old. At 13, she began noticing she was much more tired than other kids who also loved sports. “Everyone thought I was just worn out all the time because I played constantly.”

That excuse eventually got tired too, and at 19 she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome. Lupus came up a year later.

For good measure, doctors later added to the list Raynaud’s, fibromyalgia, scleroderma and mixed connective tissue disease.

Despite the chronic pain and lengthy delays, Ogao finished her undergraduate degree in psychology in 2004 at the same time she held down a job with an airline.

Then, one year later, she took her first trip to the emergency room. Ogao said she’ll never forget a doctor with his British accent saying, “You’re terribly sick. What you have is fatal and incurable.” She remembers the moment with — of course — a laugh.

It was also time for doctors to add another disease to her medical charts: pulmonary hypertension.

For anyone else, Ogao’s research over the following months would have been sobering. She found that patients with her cocktail of diseases are often gone in less than three years. Most others are dead within five.

“When I started to get better instead of kicking the bucket,” Ogao said, “I got bored and went back to school to be a surgical tech.”

Against the odds she rejoined the workforce in 2009 and despite a hectic schedule that was hard on her body, Ogao never complained or rattled off her impressive list of ailments. When it became hard to walk 10 feet and complete a sentence, friends and coworkers took notice.

In 2011, Ogao had three stints in the ICU, including one that lasted a full month. But when things were dire, Ogao always knew she still wasn’t ready to go yet.

Even after two weeks of heart failure in 2014, she simply smiled at her doctor and said, “Add it to the list!”

Even after losing her home under the crushing weight of medical expenses, she simply pressed forward with faith.

Even after being encouraged to undergo a dangerous and expensive double lung transplant, she took a pass and chose to trust the pair she already has.

As our interview blew like a strong breeze from one stage of her fascinating life to the next, I asked which of the health risks worried her most.

“Definitely the pulmonary hypertension,” she said. “That’s the one trying to kill me, the others are just making me miserable.”

Since her visit from beyond and what she believes was her conscious decision to stay, Ogao has stayed faithful and thankful.

“You know I’m grateful for my body, but we just don’t get along very well,” she said.

When Ogao feels healthy, she transports cars for a broker and Ogao relishes the opportunities to travel. She still loves to fly, too, and every year her bucket list of countries to visit gets a bit shorter.

Ogao also volunteers, house sits, pet sits and works as a backup mom to dear friends who are like family. She also writes a blog with a poignant name that both demonstrates her sense of humor and her realistic expectations for how long she has left. It’s called Expiration Unknown.

“I’m just doing all I can. They say the only thing we can give back to the Lord is our will,” she said. “I cannot do much physically, but spiritually I hope I can do plenty.”

When I suggest that maybe Ogao has learned to live life outside the driver’s seat, she laughs yet again.

“Driver’s seat? I’m not even in the passenger’s seat! I’m in the back like a toddler in a five-point harness,” she said.

She says all that any of us can control is our attitude.

“You’ve heard it a million times,” she said. “It’s all about eternal perspective. Now we just need to apply it.”

Ogao has no regrets when she looking back 10 years to that moment on a table and a heavenly decision. She’ll keep living, keep loving and keep bringing smiles to others.

Because that’s what you do when your expiration is unknown.

Jason F. Wright is a New York Times bestselling author, columnist and speaker. His newest book “A Letter to Mary: The Savior’s Loving Letter to His Mother” is now available for preorder on Amazon. Subscribe to his weekly columns, join him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter

Mother Teresa and me: Visa for a saint

NOW PLAYINGMother Teresa’s road to sainthood

I will never forget the day, in early August 1989, when Mother Teresa came to the Albanian Embassy in Rome to receive her first visa – a visa that would enable her to travel back to her homeland after almost 60 years away from it.

I was a minister-counsellor for cultural affairs in the embassy at the time. It was during a period when the weakened communist government of Albania was allowing breezes of pluralism to blow through the bureaucracy.

It had taken Mother Teresa two decades and an intense personal tragedy to get that permission. Her long ordeal started in late 1960s when her mother Drane and sister Age were living in Tirana, the Albanian capital. Her mother was ailing. Mother Teresa wanted to see her before she died.

She used a variety of powerful friends, from presidents to foreign ministers, to plead with Enver Hoxha’s insular communist regime to grant her mother a 30-day visa and permission to leave the country. — The hope was that the elderly woman would be able to visit her daughter in Rome and enter a hospital.

Mother Teresa slowly got out. In front of us was a tiny lady, stooped over, wearing dark sandals on her feet, dressed in her simple, white and blue sari. The only adornment she wore was a Roman Catholic rosary around her neck.

But the regime never allowed that to happen. Her mother and sister died in Tirana in the mid-1970s.

In all the intervening years she had never been able to even to visit their graves.

It took almost 19 years—until a popular revolution began to topple nearby pro-Soviet communist regimes — for the Albanian government to decide to approve a travel visa.

When the approval came the embassy contacted the sisters at the Missionaries of Charity in Rome, the order that Mother Teresa founded, to let her know that the visa was ready. To our surprise they told us that Mother Teresa herself would be coming to the embassy.

By that time, Mother Teresa was world famous. She had received the Nobel Prize in 1979, had met with presidents, kings and leaders around the world.

We at the embassy anticipated her arrival with all pomp that a world dignitary of her status deserved. We thought that she would arrive in the same fashion.

Instead, on that early afternoon, on a very hot day in August, an old car pulled into the driveway of our embassy in Rome’s via Asmara, driven by one of the missionary sisters.

Mother Teresa slowly got out. In front of us was a tiny lady, stooped over, wearing dark sandals on her feet, dressed in her simple, white and blue sari. The only adornment she wore was a Roman Catholic rosary around her neck.

Inside the embassy hall, we had prepared a huge banquet in her honor.  Neither she, nor the two Sisters accompanying her, ever touched it.

She didn’t stay long, meeting briefly with our ambassador, and in parting saluted all of us in rusty Albanian – Zoti qoftë me ju (May God be with you).

A few days later she arrived in Albania, met with officials there, and was able to finally visit and pay her respects at the graves of her mother and sister.

Two years after her visit, the country’s communist regime was swept away in popular elections.

Mother Teresa would later return to Albania and open her local branches of her Sisters of Charity. These women immediately began to bring help to the poor and sick all over Albania.

The Sisters of Charity’s doors were open to everyone: Muslim, Roma, Orthodox and Roman Catholic Albanians alike. They never turned anyone away.

Mother Theresa liked to say, “there are no great things, only small things with great love” that bring about change in this life.

The canonization of Mother Teresa on Sunday brings great pride to Albanians. But the humility and patience she showed decades ago, even while enduring the pain of separation from her dearest family members, is what truly illuminates our path to social justice and greater help for people in need.

Gjovalin Shkurtaj is a member of the National Academy of Science of Albania. Join him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Mother Teresa: The Saint of Mercy for our time

NOW PLAYINGMother Teresa’s road to sainthood

There is no mercy from a distance, because there is no friendship from a distance.  It is fitting that Mother Teresa is being canonized in the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis.

It is hard not to believe that John Paul, in first beatifying her, and now Francis in canonizing her, aren’t very deliberately putting her before the world as THE saint of mercy for our time.

A saint is an exemplar of holiness for others. The processes of beatification and canonization do not make a saint, but recognizes the spectacular holiness of someone as a model for how to love God above all else and one’s neighbor in God through Christ.

It is Christ who makes saints through the gift of grace that overflows from them into the lives of those who suffer.

A saint is an exemplar of holiness for others. The processes of beatification and canonization do not make a saint, but recognizes the spectacular holiness of someone as a model for how to love God above all else and one’s neighbor in God through Christ.

Mother Teresa was just such a person, loving God above all else and her neighbor in God.

“But who is my neighbor?”

It is a constant of Pope Francis’ teaching that genuine mercy is expressed only by going out to those who suffer — to assist them — motivated by acknowledging that, like the Good Samaritan, those who suffer are our neighbors; it is they who are our greatest friends.

We often think charity means doing good things for the poor, but in a way that does not require that we befriend them.

However, caritas, as Pope Benedict reminded us, is first and foremost the love we bear for God and our neighbor in God.  But you cannot love from a distance.

I may be able to do a “good work” from a distance, never actually seeing those I assist, never coming to know them, never befriending them.  But the Church insists you cannot be merciful if you do not see, touch, smell, and hear the cry of the poor—literally hear it, whatever their poverty is, financial, moral, or spiritual—there is no mercy from a distance because there is no love from a distance.

Mother Teresa’s life was a life lived in pursuit of closing the distance between herself and Christ’s poor.

Her mother provided the first model of this closing the distance, inviting the poor of their town in Albania to eat with them in her home, saying to her daughter “my child, never eat a single mouthful unless you are sharing it with others.”

She joined the Sisters of Loreto, taking a vow of poverty and teaching in a high school to educate the children of the poorest families of Calcutta.

But after twenty years of teaching she heard Christ calling her to even greater union with the poor—those who were starving, dying in the streets, castaways of society living amongst us, the “poorest of the poor.”  To be friends with Christ meant for her to be friends with them, and she literally left no distance between herself and them.

This is what she showed us. If the poor and suffering cannot come into one’s house — as her mother had invited them to do — then one goes out to their streets.

This, as Pope Francis has proclaimed over and over again is mercy. And mercy does not wait for those who suffer to come to it, and it does not do good works from a distance; it leaves the safety and comfort of the Church walls, goes to those who suffer and embraces them as friends and neighbors.

There is no honor the Church can bestow on Mother Teresa in canonizing her. Her great honor was to love Christ and his beloved poor.

The model of her life poses for us the question: what suffering and poverty do we ignore right in front of our eyes?

She is a saint for those who have eyes to see that there is no mercy from a distance.

John O’Callaghan associate professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He is a permanent member of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas and former president (2012-13)of the American Catholic Philosophical Association.

Why Mother Teresa matters (and what her canonization means)

NOW PLAYINGMother Teresa set for sainthood

Canonization is the process by which the Catholic Church solemnly proclaims that a holy person becomes inscribed on the list (i.e. the canon) of those persons who may be venerated publicly in the liturgy of the Catholic Church. In the case of Mother Teresa she will receive her own feast day with a Mass and a liturgical office constructed to offer due veneration to her.

In the popular imagination, however, she has already been canonized informally in the sense that she has been widely recognized both in and outside the Catholic Church as a saint.

That informal canonization has been attested to in everything from her picture on the cover of Time magazine to the judgment of the committee of the Nobel Prize as well as the widespread recognition awarded her among ordinary people. One may well ask what it was that gave her such recognition in the public sphere.

In one sense Mother Teresa was a very traditional holy person. She was an extremely traditional nun who dedicated her life to the poor and in that way she stood in the line of generations of nuns who did exactly the same thing in almost exactly the same way: she stepped outside her cloister walls and began to aid the dying, sheltering the homeless, protecting the leper, and extending love to the most unloved. That she did it in environment that was largely non-Christian (being very careful not to proselytize in the process) does make her work a bit exotic but the Catholic Church’s mission in the non-Christian world is hardly singular.

What gives Mother Teresa’s life such a special aura is that she acted out this traditional way of being so that it came to the attention of the wider world in an age of instant communication. Had Malcolm Muggeridge not made a film; had the media not filmed her and her sisters in various places in the world; had there not been books and biographies galore she still would have been doing her work of love and mercy. It was the years and decades among the most destitute – the sheer tenacity to work with the most unloved in this world – that highlights her most conspicuous virtue: fidelity in her love for the poor.

In her life Mother Teresa combined the traditional Christian value of total service to the poor with the anguish of the postmodern sense of the loss of God.

We now know after the posthumous publication of her writings that for years she acted out her mission without the consolations we normally assume to accompany the labors of a saint. She found no encouragement in her prayer; she often had a bewildering sense of the absence of God; she found little but dryness in her encounter with scripture. This dryness is not uncommon in the Christian life. Indeed, if we believe what the great mystic John of the Cross has written, this “dark night” is often a long prelude to union with God.

There is a way in which we can understand Mother Teresa if we join together her faithful giving of the self for the sake of the poor and the abandonment of long periods of religious consolation as parts of a seamless whole.

In her life she combined the traditional Christian value of total service to the poor with the anguish of the postmodern sense of the loss of God.

It may well be the case that she is so admired because she exemplifies selfless love for both God and not for abstract humanity but this or that concrete person.

She, along with all the great saints, did the ordinary things in an extraordinary fashion.

Lawrence S. Cunningham writes from the University of Notre Dame where he is John A. O’Brien Professor of Theology (Emeritus).

Days before Mother Teresa is canonized, nuns working in order she founded are beaten, gagged

  • Mother Teresa nuns assaulted.jpg

Barely a week before its founder, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, is to be canonized by Pope Francis in Rome, three thugs entered a Missionaries of Charity convent in Mar del Plata, Argentina, and beat and gagged five nuns.

Police said the men restrained the nuns so they could not cry for help while they ransacked every corner of the house, which provides free care for terminally ill HIV and AIDS patients. The men made off with the equivalent of about US$3, the only cash the nuns had at the time.

In a search for gold, the men opened the tabernacle and emptied out the area holding consecrated Holy Communion hosts. When they realized they were made of flimsy metal, the thieves left them behind.

The mission was founded by Mother Teresa, who is set to be canonized by Pope Francis on Sunday.

The community, Queen of Peace Home, was founded 20 years ago in Mar del Plata, a fishing port and seaside resort town in the Southeast region of Buenos Aires.

Mother Teresa founded her Missionaries of Charity in 1950. Today it’s comprised of more than 4,500 religious sisters. The nuns have taken a vow of chastity, obedience, poverty and a promise to help the poor.

The order has 19 homes in Calcutta, and several others globally, providing AIDS care, refugee support, homes for people suffering from leprosy, and other humanitarian work.

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia in 1910. She entered the convent in Dublin, Ireland in 1928, taking the name Teresa, after the patron Saint Therese of Lisieux.

Mel Gibson confirms ‘Passion of the Christ’ sequel

Actor Mel Gibson attends the closing ceremony of the 69th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, Frances, May 22, 2016.

Actor Mel Gibson attends the closing ceremony of the 69th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, Frances, May 22, 2016.(Reuters)

Mel Gibson confirmed he’s working on a sequel to his 2004 film “Passion of the Christ.”

“And you know, it’s not the ‘Passion 2.’ It’s called ‘The Resurrection,'” Gibson told evangelist Greg Laurie at SoCal Harvest, according to

Gibson explained that the sequel will focus on Jesus’ resurrection.

“Of course, that’s a very big subject and it needs to be looked at because we don’t want to just do a simple rendering of it — you know, read what happened,” the actor added.

“Passion of the Christ” screenwriter Randall Wallace told The Hollywood Reporter that “there’s a lot more story to tell.”

“The evangelical community considers ‘The Passion’ the biggest movie ever out of Hollywood, and they kept telling us that they think a sequel will be even bigger,” Wallace said.

“Passion of the Christ” starred Jim Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern and Monica Bellucci. It was a box office hit, bringing in more than $611 globally.

Gibson is currently promoting his upcoming film “Hacksaw Ridge.” The film stars Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer and others. It tells the story of a Seventh-day Adventist conscientious objector who was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman for his efforts during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II.

It is Gibson’s first time directing a movie since 2006’s “Apocalypto.”

Evangelist Franklin Graham offers prayer for America ahead of 50-state tour

NOW PLAYINGRev. Franklin Graham talks visiting flood areas with Trump

Even in the most liberal cities in America, people of faith are eager to stand up and pray for this nation and its leaders.

They did just that in Boston Tuesday, gathering for the Franklin Graham and Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s “Decision America Tour” stop at Boston Common. They were within view of the Massachusetts State House, too — where some of the most liberal state laws in the nation have been passed.

The Boston event marked the 39th prayer rally of the Decision America Tour. Graham is bringing his message to all 50 states and to anyone who will listen — conservatives or liberals, Republicans or Democrats. The message is simple and persuasive: America is in dire circumstances and turning to God is our only hope.

The tour specifically challenges Christians to pray for America and its leaders, and to live out biblical principles at home, in public, and at the ballot box.

Jim and Nancy Lake and their friend Carol Raymond came to Boston from their homes in Athol, Massachusetts, on a chartered bus with 51 other rally attendees. Jim Lake had a message for those on the bus, he said, as they traveled down the freeway.

“I said, ‘Before we come into this place, we need to purify our hearts and get rid of the stuff’ — be as pure as you can when you come into this place, with God’s people,’” he told LifeZette, minutes before the rally began. “We’re going to talk with the Lord today. It’s not about Franklin Graham or Billy Graham. It’s about God Almighty — and what he’s going to do with all of us today.”

His wife, Nancy, had a focus to her prayers as well. “We need to come together to pray for our nations and our churches, and to gather together and ask God to raise up godly leaders. The work ahead must start with the believers.”

She continued, “We as believers need to unify, putting aside denominations and instead be in harmony as Christians. We need to ask God to change hearts, and ask him to draw people back to Him.”

Their friend Carol Raymond also stressed the unity of the faithful. “It’s very important that we’re all out here together, agreeing on different issues as Christians,” she said.

Jim Lake said America needs to go back to its first love — God.

“In Athol and in the surrounding communities, there is a movement — people are returning to prayer meetings,” he said. “There’s also an emphasis in our church for people to go out and vote. It’s our responsibility.”

When asked if they’ve been longtime supporters of Franklin Graham, Jim Lake said, “We know his dad better than we know him, but Franklin is just the man we need for times such as these.”

Franklin Graham took to the podium set up on the Common around noon, as the temperature rose and clouds floated through a bright blue sky over the lawn and the duck pond, where children floated toy boats. Business people on their lunch hour, mothers with small children in strollers, and teenagers with different Christian-themed T-shirts cheered heartily as Graham took the stage. Many stood on tip-toe to catch a glimpse of him as they tried to snag patches of shade in the noontime heat.

Reading from the Book of Nehemiah and reiterating its theme of rebuilding walls for security and strength, Graham emphasized to the almost 3,500 attendees the state of spiritual and moral emergency the nation is in.

“It’s not too late, but if we turn our back on God it’s too late, I’ll tell you that now,” Franklin said. “The moral and political walls of our nation are crumbling. Politicians — and sad to say, some churches — are more concerned about political correctness than they are about God’s truth and His righteousness. Just look what Nehemiah did. He fasted and he prayed and he rebuilt his walls.”

Graham twice mentioned appreciation for law enforcement and the nation’s veterans. He also asked the crowd to ask for forgiveness for the nation’s sins.

“I’d like you to grab the hand of the person next to you — it may be a total stranger, and I want us to pray. But first, let’s confess the sins of this nation.” Graham then listed abortion, same-sex marriage, an entertainment industry that peddles sex, and the neglect of our nation’s poor as prime examples.

Heads bowed on the Common and hands clasped, making long human chains as prayers rose into the air. Some were just whispers; some were tearful and personal pleas for God’s grace. Some people prayed in unison.

Graham asked for prayers for Massachusetts’ state government, including Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karen Polito.

“Let’s pray for law enforcement across this nation, that puts their lives on the line every day,” he said to cheers. Small American flags were in the hands of many attendees, and they waved them proudly. “Let’s pray these prayers so that your whole state can hear us,” Graham said, his voice booming.

LifeZette spoke to 53-year-old Charlotte Tyler (not her real name) of Holbrook, Massachusetts. She had brought her 15-year-old son along, and both held flags and listened intently.

“I am here because it’s important to attend as a Christian,” she said. “We’re going in the wrong direction in America, and it’s hurting us all. It’s affecting our children as this stuff [the progressive agenda] is coming into the public schools. It’s awful. A wrong will always be a wrong, and a right will always be a right. People are beautiful when they shine with faith,” she added, smiling at the crowd around her.

A central focus of the Decision America Tour is Christians and politics — and how to get the former involved with the latter. Graham does not officially endorse a candidate, but he did meet recently with Donald Trump in storm-devastated Louisiana.

“‘We are going to have to meet our political responsibilities as Christians,’ my father once said,” Graham intoned. “Today, we need men and women of God at all levels of government. We are being stripped right now of our biblical heritage.”

Graham said Christians can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines. “It’s the duty of Christian men and women to offer themselves for public office,” he exhorted the crowd. “There are many places where Christians could get the vote and win — if only they offered themselves up [as candidates].”

Graham also said that a stunning 20-30 million evangelical Christians sat out the last national election.

He spoke about the youth of today and the moral and spiritual perils they routinely face. “Sexually graphic reading material is now in schools and they say, ‘Well, this will expand the minds of the children.’ Well, no, it won’t,” asserted Graham. “We need Christians on school boards to say, ‘We’re not going to let that garbage in here anymore.’”

After the rally, Graham reiterated to LifeZette his concerns for America’s kids. “Millennials have a whole different view of the United States. They’ve taken God out of our schools, our history, our textbooks — and it scares me.”

Toward the end of the rally, Graham told the crowd, “I’ve got a question. Do you know Jesus Christ as your savior?”

One elderly woman attending the rally leaned toward her female friend. “That’s where I see his father in him,” she said, smiling.

How to buck the millennial stereotype

NOW PLAYINGDo millennials lack initiative?

Millennials are widely criticized for their laziness, their sense of entitlement, lack of focus, self-centeredness, social-media obsession — the list goes on and on.

But don’t feel too defensive if you’re between the ages of 18 and 34.

Millennials — if one scratches the surface — are often more eager to engage in service projects than baby boomers are, according to a 2013 survey. More millennials give to charities than their elders, the survey said.

On college campuses, of course, a diverse set of service clubs and organizations await eager freshmen. Emily Yeh, a rising senior at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, has a busy schedule: She’s studying business at the Ivy League school and helps runs a student club, among other extracurricular activities. But like so many of her generation who are turning toward service, she finds time to volunteer for church activities throughout the school year.

“College is such a neat time in our lives,” said Yeh. “It is four years where we can focus on discovering who we are and who we hope to become. I think this makes volunteering in college all the more valuable. It shapes us as people. It helps us to get in the habit of giving our time and energy to others, perhaps without receiving any tangible ‘rewards’ in return. I think the experience can give us an opportunity to receive the gift of true joy through serving others.”

Others echoed the notion of finding joy in service.

Santi Ruiz, a rising second-year student at the University of Chicago, spent his first year tutoring a middle-schooler. When asked about the impact of volunteering and the time it took, he said, “It didn’t feel like a time sacrifice because of the relationship I built with the seventh-grader … It honestly felt like [I was helping] a friend with a project twice a week.”

Ruiz is also a busy student. But neither of these two college kids is an anomaly on campus. As the 2015 Millennial Impact Report noted, “The majority of millennials engage in some kind of volunteer work.”

Ellie Mueller, a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota, volunteered weekly at a women’s shelter where she helped residents prepare for the GED. She said that nothing was more important to her as she spent time with the women.

“Taking my time and giving it to someone else made me realize this world is not all about me,” Mueller said.

While some in older generations attempt to understand the millennial psyche with a kind of odd fascination, as in — “What do they think about religion? How do they compare with their grandparents? What is a selfie?” — most just slap on a general label, usually “lazy.” For many millennials, they may not be far off the mark. But students like Yeh, Ruiz, and Mueller all contradict the stereotype.

Community service and volunteer work means more than just feeling good about oneself or even a sincere desire to alleviate suffering. It means ignoring one’s own needs, even if it’s just for a few hours a month, and substituting those needs for the needs of others. For Christians, service at its best is a way to serve Christ. As Matthew 25:40 says, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Mother Theresa, one of the most popular religious figures in recent history and soon-to-be-saint (on Sept. 4), wrote, “Seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and His hand in every happening; this is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world. Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.”

On the eve of her canonization, “the angel of the slums” is an ideal model for millennial lives as young people turn away from the self-gratification suggested and demonstrated by today’s culture.

As Mueller said, “In this society and this culture, it is easy to get wrapped up in ourselves — but for those two hours every Thursday, giving up my time made me realize that it wasn’t mine in the beginning.”