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A Day in the Life of BILLY GRAHAM
By DEBORAH HART STROBER GERALD S. STROBER
Square One Publishers
Copyright © 2003
Deborah Hart Strober and Gerald S. Strober
All right reserved.
Chapter One The Cincinnati Mission
It was 6:30 on the stiflingly hot and humid evening of Thursday, June 27, 2002. As attendees filed into Paul Brown Stadium for the opening service of Billy Graham's Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Mission, the skies suddenly opened. Those who were not already beyond the entryway dashed back under its protective cover as the rainstorm ran its course.
A few hours earlier, Billy Graham sat quietly in his hotel room in the downtown area of the "Queen City," going over his notes for the evening's sermon. It had been a day of study, prayer, and rest. On the days he preached, Billy always anticipated the physical and, more importantly, spiritual stress of speaking to thousands of people. Sometimes he felt as if the devil himself was perched on his shoulder.
The evangelist's sense of responsibility has always been enormous. It was the mission's opening night, and Graham's first public speaking appearance in nine months. As always, he was very much aware that the weight of the eternal destiny of a stadium full of people could depend on the words he would utter in the next three hours. Having recently dealt with a number of medical issues, including eye surgery and a serious case of sinusitis that also required surgery, he knew that he had to summon uncommon energy to preach that evening.
As Billy reviewed the Biblical passages that were at the core of his evening's message, he recalled the last time he was in Cincinnati. It was during a 1977 crusade, as his multi-day missions were then called. Five years in the making, it had gone on for four weeks. Now in 2002, he had returned. He thought about why he had accepted the invitation to come to this particular city. After all, he had received many similar invitations in the past year, beckoning him and his organization to hold missions in cities throughout the United States. The decision to hold this mission in Cincinnati resulted from the evangelist's concern over the city's serious racial problems, which had intensified over the previous two years. Cincinnati's turbulent, often-violent situation first came to Graham's attention during the spring of 2001, when he had been holding a series of meetings in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville was only 100 miles from Cincinnati, and its newspapers and other media outlets were filled with reports of the growing unrest.
Coincidentally, at that time, some local pastors in the greater Cincinnati area had begun to organize an effort to invite the evangelist to town. In October 2001, they embarked on a mail campaign in which Billy received more than 200 letters, inviting him to hold a mission in their city. For Billy, receiving those letters confirmed his belief that God was leading him there-that the Holy Spirit was saying, "Cincinnati is the place you ought to go."
VIEW OF THE CITY
A major metroplitan area, Cincinnati is the twenty-fourth largest city in the United States, encompassing thirteen counties and more than a hundred municipalities and townships. According to the 2000 census, almost 2 million people live there. In one major survey taken during the last decade of the twentieth century, Cincinnati was rated as the best place to live in North America. It has also been cited by Fortune magazine as one of the "top U.S. cities for work and family."
The city and its suburbs are home to eight Fortune 500 companies, including Proctor and Gamble, Kroger, Fifth National Bank, and Cinergy Corporation. The International Air Transport Association rates the Greater Cincinnati International Airport as the number-one gateway in the United States. The area contains thirty hospitals, including the world-renowned Children's Hospital Medical Center, and has numerous cultural institutions, including a symphony, ballet and opera companies, three major art museums, and a regional theater. It also sponsors the oldest musical festival in the Western Hemisphere. Just two weeks before the mission's opening, in the presence of First Lady Laura Bush and boxing great Muhammad Ali, the groundbreaking was held for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. This major facility, expected to open in 2004, will commemorate the nation's first human rights movement-the Underground Railroad, which provided networks to freedom for African-American slaves during the period of the antebellum South.
Despite these apparent achievements, a palpable sense of racial tension existed in the city. The African-American community regarded itself as the victim of both police brutality and official indifference. A series of shootings by police-the latest occurring less than three months prior to the mission's opening-resulted in the deaths of fifteen young African-American men since 1995. It had polarized the city.
An organization calling itself "Boycott Cincinnati" actively sought to discourage Billy Graham from coming to the city, winning support from a number of black leaders, including the controversial Reverend Al Sharpton. Upon visiting the city, Sharpton stated, "He [Graham] can see what kind of controversy is going on here. He doesn't need to get himself involved in that." Taking a slightly different position, the Reverend Steven K. Wheeler endorsed the boycott in a column in the Cincinnati Herald, acknowledging that some individuals felt "the Billy Graham revival will bring racial harmony and healing to our city." He cautioned, however, "Not every revival is of God." Wheeler concluded his article by stating, "The Lord is in this boycott and this revival will not bring healing. It will bring the illusion of unity, and when the revival is over, the White folks will go their way and the Black folks will go their way."
Although the organizers of the boycott had been successful in causing the cancellation of past events, such as the annual meeting of the Progressive National Baptist Association, they were not able to prevent the Graham Mission from taking place.
The Concerned Clergy, a group of twenty-four pastors that was formed following the April 2002 riots, took a more moderate stance regarding the validity of the mission. Reverend Clarence Wallace, pastor of Carmel Presbyterian Church and member of the Concerned Clergy, appreciated Graham's motivation in coming to his city, but claimed "the problems that affect Cincinnati are much more severe than Billy Graham understood." He conceded that the city's 2002 mission was more inclusive than the 1977 crusade had been; however, it could not be considered a "cure-all for Cincinnati." Wallace maintained that while the area's white clergy believed Graham could make a difference, the fact remained that their churches were largely suburban and not engaged in many racial issues. On the other hand, black clergymen did not have the same level of expectation as their white counterparts, and, as Wallace said, "They did not believe this could be a turning point in the life of the city."
Whatever the mission's long-term impact, the black pastors who were involved in the meetings were generally pleased by the African-American turnout, comparing it to the attendance at the city's 1977 crusade, at which, as the Reverend Rousseau O'Neal told the Cincinnati Enquirer, "There were almost no people of color in the audience."
In the sermons Graham would deliver during the mission's four evening services, he condemned racism and bigotry as sins and obstacles to a relationship with Christ. Noting their existence in various areas of the world, he specifically pointed to Cincinnati as being troubled by this plague, and stressed the importance of unity and reconciliation. During his Saturday night sermon, for example, which he delivered to an audience of mostly young people, he stated, "You may not like people of another race; you may not like people of another culture; but you can love them if you accept God in your heart."
THE DAYS BEFORE THE MISSION
Typically, on the days before and during a mission, Billy has very little free time. The opportunities he has to venture from his hotel room are usually for mission-related appointments and other scheduled activities. However, a few days before the Cincinnati Mission began, Billy found himself with some downtime. Knowing that the evening services at the stadium would be just about the only moments he would be spending outdoors, he decided to enjoy these precious moments relaxing in one of the local parks.
It was a hot afternoon, and when his car stopped at a traffic light on the way to the park, Billy encountered a group of church members, who were busy distributing cold drinks to people on the streets and in cars. Representing 360 congregations, these volunteers had joined together to distribute over 300,000 cans of soft drinks, fruit juice, and bottles of water on that hot summer day as part of one of the Cincinnati Mission's outreach programs. When one of the participants reached into the car to offer its occupants some juice, he was startled to discover that the person in the front passenger seat was none other than Billy Graham.
In earlier years, as part of his usual routine, Billy would have saturated a city. He would speak several times throughout the day, attend crusade-related events, and even hold full-court press conferences. Over the course of many decades, however, the aging evangelist had to curtail the weight of such activities, conserving his energy for the actual mission sessions. In the words of his press representative, Larry Ross, Billy Graham "is like Tiger Woods, who concentrates on the majors."
Recognizing the power of the media, however, Billy did meet with reporters on the Tuesday before the mission began. Neatly attired in a sport coat and slacks, he spoke to the assembled group, which included correspondents from Washington, D.C., Dallas-Forth Worth, and the Associated Press, as well as a large local delegation from Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. "My goodness!" he began, "I'm not used to facing so many cameras. I haven't given a talk or a speech in nine months, and I certainly haven't met the press." During the conference, he spoke of his basic message for the mission, stating, "I'll talk about some of the issues that face this area, but my main message is going to be Christ and what He can do in the individual life, in the family life, and in the community life. And I hope you will pray for me as well. God bless you all."
Billy also attended a reception for the board of directors of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (the BGEA), where he greeted old friends and briefed them on the Cincinnati venture. Graham's son Franklin represented him at a reception for state and local dignitaries, during which Ohio Governor Bob Taft stated, "We are blessed that Billy Graham has decided to return to Cincinnati for his third Mission here. And we are grateful to God for giving him strength. We hope this Mission will strengthen our resolve to unite towards reconciliation of our families and our communities."
As the week progressed, current and former team members and other mission participants arrived in the city. The sense of excitement swelled with the anticipation that the 2002 Cincinnati Mission was going to be a great success.
MONTHS OF PREPARATION
Back in his hotel room on the mission's opening day, Billy continued to read his Bible and pray. Final touches were being added to what had been a ten-month period of preparation. And although his associates were thoroughly familiar with the drill-one that was formulated in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1947-they painstakingly attended to every detail of their game plan. As with all past crusades and missions, Graham's dedicated staff members considered the four days of this mission to be the centerpiece of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's overall program. They did not believe they served Billy Graham but a higher power, and they must not fail in their efforts.
The Graham mission has two basic goals: to seek to evangelize the community with primary emphasis on personal evangelism; and to seek to strengthen the local church for its continuing witness and discipleship through renewal and training activities during the mission's preparation period.
Every Graham mission is the result of a cooperative effort involving the evangelist, his team, local Christians and churches. Once the site and date of a mission have been confirmed, a BGEA staff member is assigned to that city to serve as mission director. The person in this position first sets up an office to serve as the mission's headquarters, and then, along with a small number of associates, begins laying the groundwork for the anticipated event. Utilizing the methods, materials, and knowledge that have been gathered during decades of experience, the director organizes local committees to assist with the extensive preparations involved. As the liaison between the Graham organization and the local community, the director is also responsible for seeing that specific policies are established in the areas of organization, finance, and follow-up in order to maintain the mission's integrity and fairness to all.
To be successful in performing the many functions involved in launching such a large-scale event, the mission director must rely on the involvement of a great number of volunteers. It has been estimated that without volunteers, thousands of professional staff members would be required to conduct a Graham mission.
The mission director works in close coordination with an executive committee, which is comprised of local clergy and laity. This committee is responsible for determining the budget of the mission, and then raising and disbursing the required funds. Its financial report, which is prepared by an independent auditing firm, is made public at the end of the mission.
In Cincinnati, the executive committee was chaired by former Bengals football star Anthony Muñoz. The officers and members of the committee represented a wide cross section of the area's spiritual and business leadership. It also reflected the racial diversity of the Christian community. The Reverend Damon Lynch, Jr., pastor of one of Cincinnati's largest African-American churches, served both as a vice chair and finance committee co-chair. Ironically, his son was active in the mission boycott movement. Before the mission began, Reverend Lynch said, "Never before in the history of our city have so many people come together, united in one common cause. Over the past year, we have built new and significant relationships as individuals, and, cooperatively, as churches."
Those who are involved with a mission-committee members and volunteers-are aware of the theological beliefs of the Graham organization, which include the standard themes of evangelical faith concerning the Bible; the Trinity; the mediating work of Christ, His resurrection, and second coming; and the need for personal salvation.
Increasingly over the years, as the outreach of his ministry has broadened, Billy, while remaining thoroughly committed to the fundamentals of evangelical doctrine, has expressed greater concern for social justice. To some of Billy's critics, his is an untenable juggling act. Those to his theological right attack him for compromising his message and insist that he stick to the old time religion of sin and salvation. Those to his theological left attack him for placing the Gospel first, at the expense of the social implications of the Christian faith.
In recent years, Graham crusades and missions have featured a new outreach program called "Love in Action: Showing God's Love in a Practical Way." It is an aspect of the Graham ministry based on Matthew 25:35: "For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in." The Graham organization believes that, in addition to the preaching ministry, all missions should seize the opportunity to "put feet and hands to the Gospel." This is done through visible short-term and ongoing projects that encourage the development of caring relationships between Christians and their neighbors. The Love in Action Committee was engaged in three major programs in Cincinnati-Broad Impact, Deep Impact, and Tangible Impact.
Excerpted from A Day in the Life of BILLY GRAHAM by DEBORAH HART STROBER GERALD S. STROBER Copyright © 2003 by Deborah Hart Strober and Gerald S. Strober. Excerpted by permission.
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