Sinner’s Prayer in Times Square

July 8, 2014
Posted on Jul 8, 2014, by Baptist Press

written by Barbara Denman*

NEW YORK (BP) — Can the still, small voice of God be heard amid the sensory overload of Times Square’s bombastic billboards and teeming crowds of people from life’s every corner?
That voice was heard by Nick, a young Marine from New Jersey who came to the Big Apple on leave with his buddies.

Listening to the Florida Baptist Worship Choir and Orchestra sing “Open Up the Heavens” at the exact location where the Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball drops, Nick heard the message God had for his ears — and heart.

The Marine asked Wes Ratliff, worship pastor at Wright Baptist Church in Fort Walton Beach, a simple question, “What are you doing?” sparking a conversation that led to eternal life.

“We spoke about why we were in New York City and our desire for God to ‘Open Up the Heavens’ on this great city and those that were visiting from all over the world,” Ratliff said of the flash mob-type rendering of one of the choir’s most compelling songs.

“My wife and I explained to him how God speaks to us individually,” Ratliff said, “and that his interest in our flash mob performance was no accident, but most likely God was speaking to his heart.”

The young soldier who had once been deployed to the Middle East promised to come hear the Florida worship choir in concert the next night at Carnegie Hall.

Near the end of that concert, Bill Hild, pastor of First Baptist Church in Sarasota, who accompanied the choir, extended an invitation for anyone to come and speak to him afterward.

Nick, however, headed straight to Ratliff, who reiterated some of the pastor’s message from the Bible. Ratliff noted the “holy” moment occurring in a place like Carnegie Hall where so many special moments have taken place.

Ratliff then asked if Nick wanted “a holy moment that would change his life forever.” After the Marine confirmed he did, “I led him in prayer as he admitted his need for Christ’s forgiveness, his belief in what Jesus has done for him, and confessed he wanted Jesus to be Lord of his life.” (bold added)

As many as 50,000 people heard the 300-member choir sing in Times Square on Sunday, June 1, their voices resonating even a few blocks away, drawing more and more people who sought a glimpse of the singers. The Floridians visited with the throngs who came, thanking them for their interest, some striking up spiritual conversations and distributing tickets to the next day’s performance at Carnegie Hall.

Becky Collins of First Baptist Church in Leesburg, Fla., struck up a conversation with a woman and her daughter. When Collins spoke of her purpose, the mother quickly dissolved into tears, unable to finish the conversation.

“She began crying uncontrollably when I shared with her. I believe she had been in church at one time and God was dealing with her life. I didn’t think we could do anything but pray for her, so we did,” Collins recounted.

Before the trip, Collins said God shared a verse from Scripture with her — Matthew 11:18, “Come unto me, all that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” — and she asked Him to show her those who were “needy and seeking and that their hearts would be open.”

Collins found numerous times to share her faith throughout the five-day trip and gave evangelistic tracts to many she met in hotels, shops and restaurants. Others engaged their new mission field in similar ways.

These were “God stories” in the world’s fifth largest city, said Terry Williams, the Florida Baptist Convention’s music and worship team strategist who organized and coordinated the trip for 350 worship leaders, choir members and musicians from Florida Baptist churches….

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*Barbara Denman is the Florida Baptist Convention’s director of communications. This article first appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (, newsjournal of the Florida convention.

Ed.’s note: Who wants to tell Ratliff or the Marine that the Sinner’s Prayer is a superstitious incantation?

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