Graham Wraps up Four-Day Crusade
Posted June 25, 2001 6:29 a.m. EDT
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Rev. Billy Graham, rejuvenated by his first crusade since last year, wrapped up four nights of preaching Sunday evening with a service that attracted a record-setting crowd that overflowed outside a college football stadium.
The 82-year-old evangelist, who has been slowed by health problems that limit his preaching, told the crowd of 57,500 that ``heaven is one glorious place,'' and said he someday will be there. Graham said others could reach heaven by accepting Jesus as their savior.
``There is an eternal destiny for every soul, and it's determined by the choices we make here on earth,'' Graham said. ``The loss of a soul is tragic because death renders it permanent for all eternity. The good news is that God offers eternal life to every soul.''
Graham said he appreciated the outpouring of support for the crusade, which attracted 191,500 people for five services over the four days, exceeding predictions from organizers. They had predicted crowds would total between 150,000 and 175,000.
The evangelist said the crusade's conclusion marked a beginning for people, to carry out the faith they publicly professed when they came forward at each evening service.
``It's not over. It's going to continue in the churches,'' Graham said.
Before the service, Graham said through a spokesman that he felt rejuvenated by his return to crusade ministry for the first time since last November in Jacksonville, Fla.
``I feel stronger than when I first arrived, and have gained strength each day I have preached,'' said Graham, who has battled Parkinson's disease.
A couple of days before the crusade, Graham held out the possibility of sitting down to preach, or turning over the pulpit to his son, Franklin. But Graham stood each night to deliver his message to an adoring audience that gave him standing ovations, and his baritone voice resonated throughout Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, where the University of Louisville football team plays its home games.
Graham's final Louisville service focused on the constant struggles that people confront in making choices that determine the ultimate destination for their souls.
He warned that many people are following paths leading toward eternal damnation.
``You're on a cruise, it's the voyage of the damned,'' he said. ``You're having a pretty good time now, but one day it will snap and you'll find yourself in a totally different environment. There's no return route out of hell. It's a one-way street.''
At the end of the service, an estimated 3,100 people came forward at Graham's urging to commit their lives to Jesus, bringing the four-day total to an estimated 10,770. Those coming forward were greeted on the field by counselors and they will receive follow-up guidance in the weeks to come as they seek to solidify their lives as Christians.
Attendance grew each night of the crusade, capped by the 50,000 who crammed into the 42,000-seat stadium Sunday night and another 7,500 who watched and listened to the service outside the stadium in an adjoining parking lot. Once all the stadium seats were occupied, hundreds of people filled half the football field while the service was under way. The attendance exceeded the stadium's previous record of 48,000 for a country music concert.
After Saturday night's event, which resembled a rock concert as young people thronged in front of the stage to hear ear-splitting contemporary Christian music, the wrapup service returned to more traditional musical fare.
The huge audience Sunday night clapped in unison to a Southern Baptist quartet, swayed to contemporary ballads from another group and soaked in a violin solo performance of ``Amazing Grace.'' George Beverly Shea, a mainstay of Graham crusades, and a choir numbering in the thousands capped the music by singing the Gospel standard ``How Great Thou Art.''
The Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., chairman of the local crusade executive committee, said the Graham crusade will bring together people from different ethnic, economic and geographic backgrounds. He said the crusade's legacy will also live on in churches.
``It really is an opportunity to extend the momentum of the crusade into their own ministries and in the task of working together in the testimony for Christ,'' said Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.
The Louisville crusade is one of two planned this year by Graham, who has been slowed by Parkinson's disease. The other crusade is set for Oct. 11-14 in Fresno, Calif.