evangelist Billy Graham told them that "Jesus said it's possible to start life all over again," organizers reported Sunday, June 26. At least an estimated 2,200 people have so far become born-again Christians during the three-day Greater New York Billy Graham Crusade, a revival meeting the 86-year old preacher said "will be the last in America, I'm sure."
On Friday, Graham told a crowd of over 60,000 gathered across 95 acres in Flushing Meadows Corona Park that Jesus said "you must be born again."
Preaching a sermon for the first time since last November’s Crusade in Los Angles, Graham admitted he was anxious, comparing the moment with sermons he gave when he was just starting his career. "This is like my first night," he said at the start of his roughly 35-minutes sermon.
However he managed to bring the same message of God’s love that he has delivered six previous times in the New York City area.
"We are Christians maybe. We go to church. We've been baptized, we've been confirmed. But deep inside we need something else, and that something else can be brought about by Jesus," he told the crowd, many of whom had arrived hours early at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens for a last chance to see him. They gave Graham a standing ovation when he stood to speak.
Organizers originally planned to hold this week's meeting in Madison Square Garden, where in 1957 Graham held a legendary crusade that was so popular it was extended from six to 16 weeks. It remains his longest revival meeting ever. "I ran out of sermons after a week or two," Graham recalled in an interview with The Associated Press (AP).
However, due to expectations of large crowds, this week's event was moved to a bigger venue, Corona Park in Flushing Meadows, near Shea Stadium. Seating is available for 70,000 people, with room for overflow.
"Unprecedented" media coverage surrounded the Crusade, as national and international outlets have broadcast live from Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), said.
Reporters from around the globe filled press rooms, and Billy and his son Franklin Graham have conducted interviews for major networks and newspapers in recent weeks. Talking about the promise of heaven and, looking at the crush of news photographers surrounding him ahead of the event, Graham reportedly said, "I hope I'll see all of you there. And bring your cameras."
Graham also said he knew many people attended the meeting because they believe it will be his last rally. However "I look forward to death. I look forward to see God face-to-face," he stressed.
"Since this is his last one, I want to be here to honor him," said Mary Jo Noia, a nursing supervisor from Brooklyn in an interview with KFMBTV, a local network. "I hope that after he dies, his work will continue."
The preacher said he was returning to New York because Christian leaders here had told him the city was more open to a spiritual message after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Franklin Graham, now President of the BGEA, stand by as substitute preacher in case of an emergency. A pulpit has been designed for the elder Graham with a movable seat hidden from view, so he can sit if he feels tired.
Graham is suffering from a host of ailments, including hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain, prostate cancer and has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He uses a walker due to a pelvic fracture.
On Friday night, Franklin Graham introduced his father following worship times by Christian music artists Salvador and Steven Curtis Chapman, and a testimony from Mel Graham.
Longtime associates Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea, who have each been at nearly every one of Graham’s 417 crusades dating back to 1947, shared time on the platform as well. Barrows hosted the evening and Shea sang the hymn, “O Love of God.”
More than 1,300 churches from more than 90 denominations have come together to support the Crusade, providing hundreds of counselors who went through the BGEA’s Christian Life and Witness training course in preparation for this weekend’s meetings, the organization said.
Among the counselors are representatives of more than 20 language groups prominent in New York, including Spanish, Aramaic, Punjabi, Mandarin Chinese, and Russian, marking this Crusade "as one of the most internationally focused in BGEA history", organizers said.
Juanita—bedridden for most of the last few months—had been listening to Crusade announcements on Spanish Christian radio from her home in Queens for weeks, and had been hoping to attend. She came to the Crusade Friday night, having just regained the strength to walk on her own the day before, the BGEA said.
In need of a Spanish-speaking counselor, the BGEA reported that Juanita wandered through the large crowd gathered before the platform, unaware of the specially designated area for people who did not speak English. Myrna, a counselor who was able to help people in both Spanish and English, "felt moved" to leave her designated area and search the main crowd for anyone in need of her abilities, the BGEA said. "In the midst of the huge crowd, Myrna met Juanita and prayed with her as she rededicated her life to Jesus."
7- year-old Su-Yeon came forward at Billy Graham's invitation, according to BGEA, accompanied by her mother. She spoke to her counselor about missing her father in Korea, before quietly praying to receive Jesus Christ as her savior. For her, and thousands like her, "that time in the dusk descending on New York City was a turning point."
"You may never have another moment like this in your whole life," Graham told the crowd when the child and others came forward. "There may never be a thing like this in New York again."
Graham is considering a request to hold a rally in November in London, but Franklin Graham said his father no longer adjusts well to time zone changes and does not like to be away from his wife, Ruth, who is also in ill health.
Graham has preached to more than 210 million people in 185 countries. He has been sought out by United States presidents and leaders worldwide and, more than any other religious figure has come to represent the American evangelical movement.
US President George W. Bush has been on record as saying that Graham's evangelical message "changed his life." (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from New York)