11,000 people crammed into Wembley Arena to join with Noel Richards And Band, the Wades, Gerald Coates, Delirious? and numerous guests to proclaim Jesus as the Champion Of The World. Steve Norman files his report.
There are banners on every lamppost highlighting the Euro '96 tournament, but we're not here for that. We've come to join 10,998 others at one of the biggest Christian gigs ever. As we make our way down Wembley Way towards the arena, the twin towers of the stadium loom majestically overhead. We join the queue which almost circumnavigates the giant hall. Banners and flags are everywhere -"Jesus is the champion" they say. The crowd chatters excitedly and then, yes, we're moving. Slowly the massive gathering wends its way through the main doors and to their seats. We're sat on the front of the second balcony with a great view of all that's going on.
As we watch the giant TV screen a small group of people on the opposite side start a Mexican wave. It starts slowly with only a handful of participants but then starts to grow and, before you know it, we're aaaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllll at it!!!
Suddenly, the lights dim, the wave stops and a voice can be heard out of the blackness. "Good evening everyone, my name is Noel Richards. Welcome to Wembley Arena. Please give a warm welcome to Delirious?" And welcomed they certainly were. Martin Smith and the boys belt out a couple of numbers before singing "Did You Feel The Mountains Tremble?". It's no good, I'm gonna have to stand up and join in with this one. Everybody is on their feet singing with great gusto. Now onto "White Ribbon Day". The crowd are visibly moved. While the stage hands hurriedly change the set we are treated to a drama sketch by John Persson. How does he get that quilt to stand up? Oh look! Now it's dancing!
Now the stage is empty, except for Sue Rinaldi wearing a dashing pink blouse thing (I'm sure I've seen you in that one before Sue!). "Ladies and gentlemen, The Wades." Now I'm really looking forward to this. Wow! Are you sure these boys are Brits? They sound as soulfully sassy as a plate of chittlins. I'm just gonna have to stand up again. Oh no, I'm even dancing now (well, sort of). A stormin' version of "Lift Your Spirit" is followed by a bit of audience participation. "Do ya wanna go, do ya wanna go?" pump out the brothers. "Yeah" comes the equally enthusiastic reply. Now we're really gettin' down. The Wades are joined by their beloveds and children who show us all how to dance -properly. These guys are hot, hot, hot man! As the set draws to a close the 11,000 show their appreciation with a thunderous roar.
Back now with Sue and a well earned sit down. Phew! I'm glad I bought that Coke now! It's time to introduce the John Grooms Association, a Christian charity providing housing for disabled people. Following the lead-in we are introduced to three people who, with the aid of the big screen and video footage, tell us their own very moving stories of what John Grooms means to them. Then, out of the corner comes the real star of the show - Joni Eareckson-Tada. Joni shares her life with us as if we've been friends for years. You can see faces gazing intently towards the stage, hooked on Joni's every word. As Joni closes in song the crowd all stand to applaud this truly remarkable woman.
Another change of set and some more drama. We look on in silence as John goes through his thought provoking routine which captivates this thronging mass. A mime that relates the torment of this world and yet despite all the troubles, God still loves us all.
Oh look! It's Sue's pink blouse. "Please welcome a good friend of mine, Caroline Bonnett." A single spotlight focuses on stage as Caroline delivers two excellent songs written by herself. The silky smooth 'n' soulful voice sends shivers down collective backs. We take a break.
"John and Sheila, isn't it?" comes a voice from behind. "Err, no!" But we have a natter anyway. Everyone is happy. Denominational barriers are blown away, we're all here to have a good time - and what a greeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaatttt time we're having (it's that jolly Mexican wave again!).
Now back in our seats the excitement mounts. Noel's band take to the stage followed by the man himself. The place erupts. We're on our feet again giving it our all! I'm losing my voice but who cares! Flags are waved, banners held high and voices ring out with the words "We wanna see Jesus lifted high."
Pioneer People leader Gerald Coates takes the stage and welcomes visitors from Australia, Kenya, USA, Sweden together with John and Carol Arnott from Toronto Airport church (and I thought we had travelled a long way!). Then the seasoned communicator draws his master card. "With your permission we would like to confirm a booking on the stadium for next June." A eardrum-busting roar, loud enough to be heard in Heaven itself, shows approval is granted. Now we're really excited! Following a call to salvation and re-dedication almost all the audience are on their feet pledging their allegiance to their champion of the world, Jesus Christ.
Noel's band are on now and the whole place is dancing. This is more than just a concert. It's praise, it's worship, it's a call to the Church to unite, arise and get active and to be a holy, righteous body to make a stand in these dark days.
Noel sings a final song and they are all gone. But, we're not going to let him get away that easy! The sound of 22,000 feet stomping on the concrete, 11,000 pairs of hands all applauding and cries for more soon entice them back onto the stage. The intro for "Champion Of The World" is played and now the whole arena is on its feet. Banners, flags, scarves and arms wave in the air. It looks like a sanctified version of the Kop on a Saturday afternoon. A group of children run eagerly down the sides of the auditorium carrying dozens of national flags. Then, right down the centre, a gigantic silver flag is carried, shimmering in the spotlights, with "JESUS - Champion Of The World" written in equally big lettering. The song concludes and all who have partaken in this spectacular event take a bow.
This sense of togetherness will remain with me for a very long time. I look forward with eager anticipation to June 1997 when 70,000 people will sing their hearts out proclaiming Jesus as their champion. I urge you all not to miss it for anything.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.