Sunday, April 15, 2001

Graham crusade is eagerly awaited

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — As a teen-ager yearning to build on his Christian faith, Les Hughes was captivated by the lanky preacher with the booming voice and powerful message of salvation.

        Nearly a half-century later and now a minister himself, he still lives by the message Billy Graham delivered at his 1956 Louisville crusade to seek out God in daily life.

        Rev. Hughes credits Rev. Graham's words with pulling him closer to God.

        “I had never really heard such practical application of the Bible and who Jesus was,” Rev. Hughes said. “Billy Graham made that so plain and so clear. I was just so enthralled by his message, his mannerism, his delivery, the power with which he spoke.”

        Now 63, Rev. Hughes will take his own children and grandchildren to hear Rev. Graham when the evangelist preaches this year at Louisville's Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Organizers expect overflow crowds totaling up to 200,000 for the June 21-24 crusade, one of only two planned by Rev. Graham this year.

        “It will be kind of nostalgic for me,” said Rev. Hughes, a minister at Southeast Christian Church.

        The other crusade is set for Oct. 11-14 in Fresno, Calif.

        Although Rev. Graham has ties to a Louisville seminary, it will be his first full-scale crusade here since 1956, when he spent four weeks and attracted 500,000 people. Rev. Graham returned for a one-day crusade in 1964.

        “I believe God has called us back to the Bluegrass State to continue that work,” Rev. Graham said in January when the crusade was announced.

        Rev. Graham's name is a constant at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where a school that prepares ministers for evangelism and missions work is named for him. The Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., the seminary's president, said the crusade will have a tremendous impact for years to come.

        “There is potential for reaching many thousands of people with the Gospel, and strengthening thousands of churches in the Louisville region and beyond,” said Rev. Mohler, chairman of the crusade executive committee.

        The 82-year-old Rev. Graham has said he hopes his words at the Louisville crusade plant the seeds of Christianity in today's youth.

        “I also feel a burden for the young people ... and an urgency more than ever before to reach them with a message of God's love,” he said.

        Rev. Graham's message has remained steadfast through the years, even as preparations for his crusades have turned into massive undertakings that recruit cross-sections of the religious community.

        The crusade staff in Louisville includes 20 people. One of its chief tasks is mobilizing 20,000 volunteers for the crusade.

        The choir will feature 4,000 voices directed by Cliff Barrows, a mainstay of Rev. Graham's crusades. Another 1,500 people will be recruited as ushers. At least 5,000 people will serve as counselors, leading the newly converted in Bible studies long after the crusade.

        Most volunteers will be drawn from about 400 area churches that are participants in the crusade, said crusade director Jeff Anderson.


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