At 81, it's not enough for him to pass the torch to one person. Hewants to pass it to 10,000. And on Saturday (July 29) in Amsterdam,Graham will do just that at the largest gathering of world evangelistsunder one roof.
Graham's Amsterdam 2000 conference, five years in the making at acost of $39 million, will bring together men and women from 185countries. At the sprawling RAI Center they will learn how to be goodevangelists in the Graham mold: how to proclaim the Christian message ofsalvation through Jesus Christ, invite listeners to convert, and conducttheir personal lives in accordance with the faith's values of honestyand integrity.
In hundreds of workshops simultaneously translated into 25languages, some of the biggest names in the evangelical world will offerparticipants advice, support and encouragement. They include the MostRev. George Carey, archbishop of Canterbury; the Rev. Billy Kim, pastorof one of the largest Baptist churches in Korea; Bill Bright, thedirector of Campus Crusade for Christ; and Luis Palau, the Oregon-basedevangelist especially popular among Latin people.
Although Graham's organization, the Billy Graham EvangelisticAssociation, has held smaller-scale conferences for evangelists,including two in Amsterdam in the 1980s, this event is its mostambitious. More than 70% of the participants were chosen frompoor, developing countries where Christianity has been spreadingfastest. And radio and Internet transmissions will allow people aroundthe world to monitor the conference from home.
Graham, however, will not be there. He announced last week that hewas not well enough to attend in person. Instead, he will greetparticipants via satellite from Rochester, Minn., where he has beenreceiving outpatient therapy at the Mayo Clinic for a condition in whichfluid collects on the brain. When he speaks, he will likely repeat whathas become his vision for world Christianity after he is gone.
"It seems the older I get the more I am asked who will succeed me,"Graham said recently. "Well, the fact is that I am just one of manythousands who have been called to be an evangelist. I don't need asuccessor, only willing hands to accept the torch I have been carrying."
As researchers survey the Christian world today, they say the centerof gravity has shifted. In 1900, Europeans and North Americans accountedfor more than 80% of the Christian world community. Today, theyaccount for less than 40%.
Graham and his organization have been at the forefront of a movementto help mobilize and train these new converts.
"One of the things he learned is that the Christian church is biggerthan the categories he grew up with," said Larry Eskridge, the associatedirector of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals atWheaton College in Illinois. "Christendom is no longer a white man'sreligion. It's been claimed by others."
In Africa and Asia, the growth of Christianity has been spectacular.In 1900, there were 8.7 million Christians in Africa. Today, there arean estimated 335 million, nearly 50% of the continent'spopulation. The story is similar in Asia, where the number of Christianshas risen from 20 million a century ago to about 307 million.
Today, there are almost twice as many Presbyterians in Korea as inthe United States. And there are six times as many Anglicans in Nigeriaas there are Episcopalians in this country.
It is these people, many of whom converted at the risk of losingtheir jobs and alienating their families, for whom Graham feels aparticular affinity.
William Martin, a sociologist at Rice University in Houston and theauthor of a "A Prophet with Honor," a Graham biography, said: "My clearsense is that deep inside him there is a feeling that people who facehardship and persecution are the real heroes of the faith.
"He has a genuine feeling for people working in difficultcircumstances. This thrills him more than anything he does."
Graham first realized the potential for expanding his ministrybeyond the English-speaking world when he attended a conference of youngChristian leaders in Switzerland in 1948. Though still relativelyunknown in the United States, he was already thinking of ways he mightexpand his mission to the entire world.
By 1966, Graham's crusades across Europe, Africa and South Americahad become so popular he was able to summon world theologians to aconference. The Berlin Congress, as it was called, was devoted toraising the profile of evangelicals and creating a doctrinal platformfor the worldwide ecumenical movement of conservative, Bible-believingChristians.
In 1974, he summoned evangelicals once again--this time toLausanne,Switzerland, where he held a conference intended to help Christianleaders forge alliances and build seminaries.
But those conferences still left him restless, said John Corts, thepresident and chief operating officer of the Billy Graham EvangelisticAssociation. What he really wanted to do was to "reach out to the littleguys in the bushes," as he was once quoted as saying. The Amsterdamconferences, in 1983 and 1986, focused on those aims.