Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
A local newspaper ran a two-page article on the concert titled “Calling All Christians,” and that’s exactly what Jim Plack and the organizers of Jubileefest are doing, seeking to gather 1 million people to a farm outside of tiny Houston, Del., this summer for a praise and prayer event for the nation.
Never mind that Jubileefest is in its inaugural year. Never mind that the crowd Plack is hoping to gather is more than three times larger than any Christian concert event in history and twice as big as 1969′s “Three Days of Peace and Music.” Plack is trusting God to fulfill the vision he says the Almighty has given him, a vision for a concert that will impact the nation even more than the fabled Woodstock.
“If half a million hippies can gather on farm in New York to do drugs and have sex,” Plack told WND, “certainly God can bring a million Christians to a farm in Delaware.”
Christian music festivals like Minnesota’s four-day-long Sonshine draw tens of thousands of fans every summer across America. Pennsylvania’s mega-rally CreationFest draws hundreds of thousands.
And while Plack doesn’t expect record-setting crowds for all four days of the July 29 – Aug. 1 Jubileefest, he is calling for a million Christians to come on one night, July 31, for a prayer and praise event that will boldly proclaim to the nation’s “PC (politically correct) police” that America’s faithful are a force to be reckoned with.
“The Christian community hasn’t really come together and said, ‘Here we are, look at us,’” Plack said. “If we put a million people on a farm, that’s something that can’t be ignored.”
What makes Plack think Jubileefest can draw so many people for one night of prayer and praise?
He told WND that the location – not far from Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and within a two-hour drive of Philadelphia, New York City and major population centers in Virginia and Pennsylvania – should help.
Jubileefest’s announced lineup on five stages of continuous activity should be a draw, too, with headliner Christian musicians such as Rebecca St. James, Mercy Me, Newsboys, Sonic Flood and “American Idol” finalist Chris Sligh. Speakers scheduled include Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, David Jeremiah, Kirk Cameron and comedian Tim Hawkins.
But most importantly, Plack believes this is a God-sized goal that Providence is already working to achieve.
The story behind the vision
Nearly 10 years ago, Jim Plack sold a successful insurance agency he had run for 25 years, intending to sit back and enjoy the spoils of his labor.
But on Sept. 11, 2001, Jim’s plans and priorities came crashing down with the Twin Towers.
“When I saw President Bush in tears over 9/11, it broke my heart,” Plack told WND. “I’d been thinking about life all the wrong way.”
An encounter in a trailer park in Delaware gave Plack yet another shock and a new direction.
“I met this old couple, retired, just living on Social Security. They had to pay for the trailer and land rent, and by the time they were done, they couldn’t afford food or to fix their broken furnace,” he explained. “They were just sitting around a kerosene heater, shivering and hungry. It was just horrible.
“Even though they went through welfare programs to get assistance, they were told they lived just a half mile outside the area of a program that would actually help,” he said. “And they are not unique. The safety net of Social Security didn’t do what it was supposed to do. In urban areas, there are all kinds of programs, but out in our rural area, no such animal.”
The experience prompted Plack and his brother Phil to form a charity to help and honor the nation’s elderly. Today, their American Retirement Assistance Corporation gives nearly 100 percent of the funds it raises directly to senior citizens tax-free, with the goal of lifting them from mere Social Security existence to over the poverty line.
The brothers then tried their hand at concert benefits for ARA, to only meager success. But last year, Jim saw an open field on a 2,000-acre farm in Maryland and caught the vision for seeing it filled with a million people.
“We committed the whole thing to God,” Jim told WND, “because to really trust God, he’s got to do this. We’ve never done anything like this before on this grand of a scale.”
God shows up
For the Plack brothers, Jubileefest has been a leap of faith from the very beginning. Their faith, in turn, has been rewarded with both stunning setbacks and sudden turns of fortune the brothers attribute only to God.
Phil, who says he’s the “nuts and bolts” to his brother’s vision and passion, told WND one of the biggest initial challenges was convincing major artists to sign on to their fledgling dream – without the up-front money musicians typically demand.
“We’ve been contacting the agents of artists we had in mind, telling them
up front we don’t have a big war chest of cash, so we were unable to
offer various artists the 50 percent deposit most require,” Phil said. “Instead, we drafted a deposit system, whereby 90 days out from event, we give 50 percent of the fee, 30 days out another 25 percent and the balance on the last day of their appearance.”
“Only God could do this,” Jim added. “It’s unheard-of to be booking talent without deposit money.”
Several of the artists, as might be expected, balked at the idea. Others, however, looked at the Jubileefest website and realized the opportunity to be a part of something never done before.
“All of the artists listed on our website have agreed to do the festival on that payment basis,” Phil explained. “We took the posture that those not willing or able were just not the ones God want to be part of this event this year. I think God has given us a terrific lineup.
“We have seen God work time after time opening doors,” Phil said. “We believe with all of our hearts it will be tremendous success.”
Jubileefest, however, came to the razor’s edge of being canceled only a few months ago.
Jim told WND the story of the day he learned that the Maryland farm he had envisioned holding a million worshipprs … was suddenly scratched from the plan:
“Initially, we missed getting some of the acts together, sending us back to the drawing board and forcing delays,” Jim explained. “When we were finally able to get back to the farmer, he said, ‘Jim, we just leased out the land; you can’t use it.’”
Jim began a scramble, calling farmers, offering to lease their land – even buy their summer crops – to find a suitable venue. The farmers, however, had contracted their land to food companies, obligated to produce the crop.
“I told my brother how discouraged I was,” Jim said. “I thought this was it; we can’t find a place.”
Phil, however, encouraged Jim, insisting that if God wants it to happen, he’ll provide the land … for free.
Then, Jim explained, “The last farmer on my list said, ‘Why not call Sam Yoder in Delaware? He has a good-sized farm.’”
In fact, Yoder had been hosting Christian concerts – small affairs for only a few dozen attendees – for years.
After giving Yoder a call, the Plack brothers visited the farmer’s property and found it perfect: higher and drier than the Maryland location and well-situated between two major highways.
Jim recalled, “When we met with Sam and showed him the schedule of artists, he about jumped out of skin.”
When it came time to negotiate the terms of the lease, the brothers asked how much it would cost.
Yoder’s price? One dollar.
“Another domino fell,” Jim explains. “The odds of all this talent on no deposit and the farm for $1? God is behind this, and he is going to make this happen.”
Why the call for a million?
At the heart of the miracle the Plack brothers are seeking is a pair of motivations that neither brother is bashful about proclaiming. Why try to gather a million Christians in one place?
“First and most important,” Jim told WND, “is to gather in praise, prayer and worship. In the Bible, the Jubilee only happened once every 50 years to give the land a rest. People who were indentured slaves were set free. The idea of praise and prayer is to pray for healing of our land.
“We’ve come a long way from being the nation our Founding Fathers, devout Christians, intended,” Plack said.
The second motivation is intrinsically tied to the healing sought in the first:
“One million candles lit in prayer,” Jim said, “sends a powerful message to government, judges – whoever is behind the push for political correctness – that here we are, we’re in large numbers. If Christians see their liberties and freedoms chipped away and do nothing about it, they have only themselves to blame for not speaking up.”
Phil added, “I would love this event to communicate to the leaders of government that, despite what they hear, America is still a Christian nation. Christian values are still important to American people. We want to do this to glorify and honor Jesus Christ, but also to be unified as believers, a testimony to the world.”
Still a third purpose, not one the brothers boast, but an important one nonetheless, will be accomplished by Jubileefest: the support of several other ministries and charities, including Crossway International, Daughters of Promise, Delaware Family Policy Council, Frontline Ministries, Global Breakthrough Ministry, Jews For Jesus, Jill’s House, Open Doors, Radiovision Christiana, Teen Challenge, Word of Life Fellowship, Inc. and Wycliffe Bible Translators.
Jim told WND the list of beneficiaries and partnerships is still growing.
“Whether or not the million-candle prayer happens, it’s totally up to God,” Phil explained, “but if you do the math, at $30 apiece, that’s $30 million. But neither Jim nor I are getting rich from this. After all the artists and speakers are paid, the remaining money will be distributed to ministries around the country and around the world.”
Will Jubileefest really raise the million-Christian crowd? Some have been reported expressing doubt. Jim, however, simply expresses faith.
“The whole thing is committed to God; he’s going to have to make it happen,” Jim said. “It’s all about trusting: Do you or don’t you?”