As he has for 60 years, Billy Graham ended his three-day New York crusade by offering about 90,000 in the crowd a glimpse of heaven.
As he has for 60 years, Billy Graham ended his
three-day New York crusade by offering about 90,000 in the crowd a
glimpse of heaven.
But as in perhaps no other crusade in his long history of evangelism, New York provided heaven’s face.
Tucked into a corner of Queens where more than 130
languages are spoken each day, the June 24-26 Greater New York Billy
Graham Crusade drew more than 230,000 people from every part of the
world – whites, blacks, Asians, Hispanics, people whose families came
to America generations ago and people so fresh they still marvel at
this nation and its freedoms and opportunities.
The remarkable diversity reflects the host city,
home to the sort of integration of God’s people Graham has advocated
for all his evangelical career and fitting for what many consider could
be his lastsuch gathering.
“Every nation on earth is truly represented on the
sidewalks of New York City,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in
his welcoming message on June 25. “And they are all here tonight.”
Tall signs dotted the crusade’s corner of Flushing
Meadows-Corona Park, guideposts for Koreans, Urdus, Arabs, Indians,
Russians, Portuguese, Chinese, Spanish-speakers and many of the other
ethnic groups that make up the patchwork of people in New York. They
answered Graham’s calls to salvation by the thousands, some 8,300
during the three days.
“I see white Christians, Hispanic Christians, Asian
Christians, Jewish Christians,” said A.R. Bernard, chair of the New
York crusade’s organizing committee and pastor of the Christian
Cultural Center in Brooklyn. “I see the body of Christ like it’s never
been seen before.”
And even in that body, where small differences in
teachings can lead to deep rifts, New York embraced all the differences
as Graham preached that belief in Jesus as Lord and savior unites all
Christians as family.
Thelma Hardy grew up listening to Graham in Jamaica.
In her 50s now, she said she would not have missed seeing him for the
first time in person for anything.
“He is a Godsend for New York for such a time as
this,” she said. “Even before he started preaching, New York had
already been touched by him. Just look around, people of all races have
been encouraged by his visit.”
Roman Hernandez moved to New York from Mexico just a
few years ago. He said listening to the evangelist preach in person was
“one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.
“It’s a great honor for all the people who will make
their way here this weekend. It truly is like heaven will be.”
As MercyMe, a Texas-based band of white musicians
performed on June 25, a tall young Hispanic man held his New York
Yankees cap in his hand, his fists clenched in emotion as he sang along.
Nearby, an Indian woman sang as she steered her
young son and daughter to a spot along the fence fronting the stage so
she could take their picture with MercyMe vocalist Bart Millard
providing the backdrop on the large screen behind them.
At Saturday’s gathering, the South African band Tree
63 had played its first few notes when hundreds of young people of
every color rushed to the stage – arms outstretched, dancing, clapping,
singing, even as thousands of voices carried the chorus across the
vastness of the park.
Small children clapped with joy from perches on
their daddies’ shoulders. Moms and dads herded their families forward,
their faces open and smiling. One young man stood in the midst of the
crowd, eyes closed, head bowed in prayer as the music washed over him,
then raised his arms in praise and joined in a song of praise.
And when the band slid into the final words of
“Amazing Grace” – “Twas grace that brought me safe thus far and grace
will lead me home” – many thousands in the crowd joined in that promise
Franklin Graham then led his frail father to the
large wooden lectern, a great effort for the elder Graham who responded
to the cheers of the crowd with a small smile. Suffering from
Parkinson’s, fluid buildup on the brain and prostate cancer, the
86-year-old evangelist shuffles with a walker, the lasting effects of a
hip replacement and broken pelvis. Near him sat New York’s two
senators, Charles Schumer and Hilary Clinton, accompanied by her
husband, former President Bill Clinton.
Clinton called the evangelist an inspiration. “He’s
the only person I know who has never failed to live his space,” the
former president said. “Hilary and I are honored to be here tonight, 46
years after I attended my first Billy Graham crusade.”
That first crusade for Clinton came at the peak of
the segregation battles in his native Arkansas and the rest of the Old
South. When Graham was invited to lead the crusade in Little Rock, he
refused until the organizers agreed the events would be fully
integrated, Clinton said.
“God bless you, friend,” he said to the aging evangelist recently. “Bless you.”
Though he no longer delivers his message with the
fire of his youth and though his last New York crusade seems an
impossible distance from the 100 nights he preached at Madison Square
Garden in 1957, Graham’s commitment to his core message never wavered,
and thousands heard his voice and came forward.
“My old friend George Beverly Shea is 96,” Graham
noted. “I’m 86, on my way to 87. I know it won’t be long before both of
us are in heaven. But the Bible tells us to be prepared, and we look
“You may have many more years, but you never know,”
he told the New York City crowd. “But this might be the last day of
your life. And there comes a time when it will be too late.”
In New York, organizers said Graham went a long way
toward bringing revival to the city, the crusade’s stated goal. But he
only hinted at his own future and left the question of whether this was
his final crusade unanswered.
Others offered hints. Singer Bill Gaither mentioned
that he was first a part of the Billy Graham Crusade 20 years ago.
“So it’s an honor to be here at the last Billy Graham crusade to sing it again,” Gaither added.
Longtime crusade associate Cliff Barrows said his evangelist friend is convinced he could keep going.
“But Billy would be the first to say that over the
years we’ve experienced many physical difficulties,” he added. “It
would have to be God’s indication to go overseas. Billy has the heart
and the desire and the message, but the physical capability needs to be
Barrows also mentioned that Graham is hesitant to
leave his wife, Ruth, and their family. “He has said goodbye to his
family all his life,” Barrows said. “He’d like to spend more time with
them. And I think he should.”
However, on Sunday, after Graham had thanked his two
longtime associates, he also needled them a bit about the future.
“This is not the end,” he said, patting their hands
as they stood beside him on stage. “They may think so, but I don’t.”
He continued, saying he was asked just the other day
if this is the last crusade. “I said, ‘It probably is – in New York.’
But I also said, ‘I never say never.’”
And as Graham introduced others on the stage, he
mentioned one man from London. “We’re going to talk about going to
London for a crusade,” the evangelist said. “But after being here, he
may decide he doesn’t want us.”
And then, he smiled. (BP)