Sunday, June 09, 2002

Security won't be left to faith


Extra guards scheduled for Billy Graham mission

By Richelle Thompson, rthompson@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Each night of the Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Billy Graham Mission, strains of “Just As I Am” will rise from the 4,000-voice choir, and hundreds of people will respond to the Rev. Mr. Graham's spiritual message that Jesus Christ accepts them without conditions.

        But in these post-Sept. 11 days, the song also resonates a more practical message: Come to the event just as you are. No backpacks. No umbrellas. No strollers or coolers.

        Purses are OK — as long as they fit inside a 4-inch deep, notebook paper-sized box. Security guards will search them, along with Bibles and any person who looks suspicious.

        “We just need to be wise,” said Suzanne Byrne, a mission associate. “We all live in a different world since 9-11.”

        At the June 27-30 mission at Paul Brown Stadium, about twice as many law-enforcement officers as originally planned for the mission and an additional one-third as many security guards will man the entrances. Volunteer ushers will be told to exercise extra caution and report suspicious activity.

        Unlike the last Billy Graham event in Fresno, Calif., a month after the attacks, guards won't use metal security wands on everyone who enters. They'll rely mostly on visual inspections with occasional searches.

        Canine units will conduct a complete sweep of the stadium before the event and search all incoming packages throughout the four days of the mission. Parking lots below the stadium will be closed to the public.

        “It's like people have told us: "We're living in a time when we can expect terrorist activity,'” said Eric Brown, managing director of Paul Brown Stadium.

        “This is a huge Christian event. We want everybody in the building to make sure they feel safe, and we want to make sure nothing gets in the building.”

        Increased security added $93,000 to the original $2.5 million budget. At the same time costs were increasing, fund-raising efforts lagged behind. Organizers said the slow economy coupled with donations diverted to Sept. 11 charities contributed to slower fund raising at first.

        Donations are on target now, mission director Jeff Anderson said. So far, the mission has raised $1.375 million of the updated $2.785 million budget. Supporters hope to reach $2 million by the beginning of the mission. Collections during the event are expected to help meet the budget.

        The shadow of Sept. 11 lingers in other ways, too — from the change of “crusade” to “mission” to what's being called a spiritual awakening.

        “Sept. 11 stirred the spiritual sensitivities of people in a deep way,” said Rick Segal, spokesman for the Cincinnati mission.

        ""The field for the mission is substantially more ripe because of the questions people are asking themselves. There's a new readiness in the heart to contemplate a message like Billy Graham's.”

        He expects more people will come to the mission. Total attendance is expected to top 200,000.

        For months, hundreds of volunteers have participated in Project Andrew, a campaign of daily prayer and encouragement to family and friends to attend the mission. Mr. Segal prays for the 10 people on his list each morning.

        He cites a mission statistic that 80 percent of people who answer the altar call have been prayed for by name and personally invited to the mission.

        Mr. Segal also anticipates more people will come forward each night at the evangelist's invitation to commit themselves to Christ. Between four and 9 percent of the crowds typically come forward during the mission.

        In Fresno, more than 14,700 people over four days made commitments — about 7 percent of the 201,000 crowd. Last summer in Louisville, 5 percent — 10,321 people — responded to the call.

        Jim Taylor of Williamsburg, Clermont County, said Sept. 11 made the mission more important.

        “It shows us we need to fall back on the roots we founded the country with,” said Mr. Taylor, 58.

        “Maybe more people will listen to his message. It's like the saying, there's no atheists in the foxhole. When something like 9-11 happens, people realize they need faith.”
       For information about the Billy Graham Mission, call 351-6040 or go online at www.cincymission.org
       

       



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