Beliefnet
JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Nov. 6, (RNS)--Bringing the last of his year's crusades to aclose Sunday, ailing evangelist Billy Graham made it clear hewasn't ready to end his more than 50-year history of evangelism gatheringsaround the country. He also all but endorsed George W. Bush for president.

"I want to tell you this: as long as God gives me breath, I'm going tocontinue to preach," he said, drawing cheers and applause from 65,000people in the Alltel Stadium for the last session of the four-day crusade.

Graham, who spent much of the summer in the hospital, said he would bemeeting in the coming weeks with staff and committee members to determine"where we go next, what cities we accept."

He asked for prayers for the decision-making process as well as forthose close to him, including his wife, Ruth, who is in painful recovery fromnumerous hip surgeries.

"We're all looking forward pretty soon to being together up there," hesaid, referring to heaven. "And we'll have new bodies.... So, to all ofyou we say au revoir, which is a French word, which means 'til we meetagain, 'til we meet up there."

Earlier in the day, Graham, who turns 82 on Election Day, spoke of hisbeliefs about the more immediate future of American politics.

After a private meeting with Bush, the Republican presidential candidate, the evangelist spoke with reporters traveling with Bush on hiscampaign.

Graham's spokesman Larry Ross said that while Graham did not officially endorsecandidates, "he has come as close to that now as any time in his life."Graham's remarks followed his mention on the crusade's opening night of hislove for "the whole family" of Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, whowelcomed him to the state just days before his brother made a returncampaign swing through Florida.

"He [Graham] said he believes in the integrity of [Texas] Gov. Bush, andthat under a Bush administration the country would move forward," Ross saidin a statement. "He added that when Gov. Bush is inaugurated, he will doall he can to make sure the new administration is successful."

But in his closing sermon, Graham stuck primarily to spiritual ratherthan political matters, comparing the materialism and pornography in themodern world to the idolatry and illicit sex of Sodom and Gomorrah ofancient biblical times. After speaking for 38 minutes, the evangelist urgedpeople to make a Christian commitment.

"All you need to understand is that you're a sinner and you need asavior and Jesus is your savior and you're coming to him," Graham said.

For the second night in a row, so many people came forward Graham had toask the crowd gathered on the floor to move a bit closer to the stage soothers would have room after walking down from the upper decks of thefootball stadium. Once most had arrived, he led them in a prayer ofcommitment and urged them to read their Bibles, pray, witness to othersabout their Christian faith, and stay involved in a local church.

Over the course of the crusade, well-known Christian artists warmed upthe crowds before Graham stepped to the podium. Many of the artists, such asChristian singer and songwriter Michael W. Smith, have performed numeroustimes with Graham, but on Sunday, Graham took a rare moment to share hismusical talent with the crowd.

In an impromptu gathering around the mike, he sang "This Little Light ofMine" with longtime members of his crusade team, 91-year-old soloist GeorgeBeverly Shea and music director Cliff Barrows.

On Saturday, crusade organizers staged special events aimed at reachingchildren and teens. In the morning, a "Kidz Gig" featured "Psalty," asinging songbook character, and a children's choir and attracted anestimated 21,000 people. That night, an estimated 70,000--a record concertcrowd for the stadium--gathered for a concert with gospel music acts dcTalk, Jars of Clay, and Kirk Franklin and One Nation Crew.

Graham's son, Franklin, who has been named the eventual successor to hisfather as leader of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, introducedhis dad on Friday, kissing him on the side of the head before taking hisseat.

Over the course of the crusade, Graham focused on the gospel, but alsospoke of the need for reconciliation among races in the United States andbetween Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East.

Crusade organizers said attendance over the four days totaled 242,000,with 10,539 coming forward to commit their lives to Jesus, reaffirm theirfaith, or gain assurance or ask questions about salvation.

Well-known and grass-roots residents of the Jacksonville metropolitanarea said they hope the crusade will influence the community far beyond thefour days of meetings.

"It's been a wonderful experience for the city and it has set anatmosphere for evangelism in the city that will continue for days and weeksand months to come," predicted Jerry Vines, pastor of First Baptist Churchof Jacksonville, a prominent Southern Baptist megachurch.

Patricia Miller, 29, her eyes still wet with tears after praying with acounselor about rededicating her life to Christ, said the crusade encouragedher to be a better Christian example for her three children.

During the time of the crusade, she gave away her secular, "veryfoul-mouthed" recordings and spent $150 at the crusade on music fromCharlie Daniels, Kirk Franklin, and other groups performing during thegathering. Since she works on Sundays, she now plans to attend WednesdayBible study at her Baptist church.

"I knew it was time for me to lead a Christian life instead of justdoing what I want," she said.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus