LOUISVILLE, Ky., June 22 -- For three hours, the rain fell, hard and soft and without ceasing. But just minutes before the long awaited Billy Graham Crusade started Thursday night, the skies stopped tearing and the sun peeked out from behind the gray clouds.

"This is God working a miracle," said Bonnia Cook Fouts, who drove from a nearby Indiana town. "We have everyday miracles all the time, and we're experiencing one now."

Later, applause rained down from the crowd of nearly 38,000 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium for several minutes when Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., chairman of the crusade committee, introduced Mr. Graham for the world-renowned evangelist's first crusade since last November in Jacksonville, Fla.

The 82-year-old evangelist stood by his 92-year-old friend, singer George Beverly Shea, who has been by his side since the earliest crusades. Graham, who has suffered for years from Parkinson's disease and from the effects of fluid buildup on the brain, slowly made his way to the podium, a Bible in his left hand.

"I'm not a horse," he said jokingly to the crowd. "I know that I'm in horse country. This afternoon about 4 o'clock, I heard the thunder and listened to the rain, and I thought to myself, there will only be a handful of people here. But I didn't know Louisville, and I didn't know Kentucky and Indiana. Thank you for coming."

He said that the crusade, which will go through Sunday, doesn't seem like a crusade because it will be so short.

"We used to have weeks of these," he said. "At Madison Square Garden, we were there every night for 16 weeks, and in London, we were there for 12 weeks, every night."

Graham started with a few jokes, then quickly moved into a discussion of social ills.

He turned to his Bible and read what Jesus said about the end times in the Gospel of Luke, noting the words: "nations will be in anguish and perplexity."

"The word `perplexed' means no way out," he said. "The word `distress' means to be pressed from all sides. And that's the way we are today. We're pressed from all sides. People are having nervous breakdowns and don't know why.

"We live in a pressure-cooked society. We've invented all these things to save our time, and we don't have any time."

Graham mentioned crises on the world stage: hunger and homelessness, AIDS and violence, social injustice and prejudice.

"Then there's loneliness," he said. "Millions of people are alone and afraid, and they're lonely. They just want the handshake of a friend or a word from a friend and they don't have it."

But God hasn't changed, and the Bible has never changed, he said. And the way of salvation has not changed, he said, his hands pounding the lectern.

"Is there another way to heaven except through Christ?" he asked. "The Bible teaches there's only one way. Other people will come along and tell you there's another way . but the only way is by the cross."

After preaching for about 20 minutes, Graham gave his trademark invitation to people wanting to "give their lives to Christ." He asked them to repent and ask God for forgiveness, and to believe in what Jesus did for mankind by dying on the cross, and to confess God openly.

"That's why I ask people to come forward in these crusades," he said, still gripping the podium tightly. "Because you're openly acknowledging Jesus as your Lord and Savior."

And the people came.

"Get up and come now," he said, appearing to hold back tears. "If there's a doubt in your heart, come settle it tonight."

They kept coming: young and old, running and in wheelchairs, families and singles, black and white and Hispanic and Asian.

The evangelist sat back in a chair, his head bowed and his eyes closed as if in prayer. Before long, the line stretched from the 65-foot stage in the end zone to beyond the 50-yard line, about 1,300 people.

Then he prayed with them. And when he finished, the world's preacher waited for his son, the Rev. Franklin Graham, to help steady him. Father and son walked side by side, shoulder-to-shoulder behind the stage.

Billy Graham is scheduled to preach at a crusade in Fresno, Calif., in October and has not yet decided whether he will schedule crusades next year. If he does, he may be in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. A group of church leaders has been exploring the possibility of having a crusade in North Texas.

"Some of us have been praying for a crusade for many years," said the Rev. Gary Hearon, executive director of the Dallas Baptist Association, a group of about 500 congregations in the county. "We have every faith that God will keep Billy strong, and God willing, he will come to this area."

A. Larry Ross, whose Dallas-based public relations company represents Graham, said the evangelist looks favorably on the area but that no formal invitation has been made.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad