Sunday, June 30, 2002

Mission Moments: Grahamania moves the merchandise

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For the third night in a row, the hottest selling items at the stadium — after the nicely iced bottles of Dasani water — was what one visitor called Billy-a-bilia.

        Becky D'Agostino, a volunteer in the merchandise tent on the plaza, said her hottest seller has been the Rev. Mr. Graham's Christian Workers' Handbook. “It's a really hot seller,” she said.

        “Oh, and Bibles. We've sold as many of them as the handbook. Some of the people told me it was their first Bible.”

        Inside, the big seller was the Billy Graham Mission 2002 red or blue golf shirts for $15.

        “They're leftover choir and usher shirts. We're selling them so the Graham organization doesn't lose any money,” said Jimmy Davis, frantically running along the table trying to keep up.

        The big mystery Saturday was a CD — free ones (PC compatible only) in plastic cases with a strap so people could hang them around their necks.

        Which they did, but no one knew where they came from or what was on them. The only clue was “” on the strap.

        Joe McCarthy, usher supervisor inside Gate C, said “someone just brought them up and dropped them off. Said give them to everyone. I heard there were 40,000 of them.”

        There were indeed 40,000, said Rick Segal, spokesman for the local mission. “Passageway is part of Billy Graham's ministries. Giving them away is reflective of the way the organization uses the technology of the moment to attract new audiences.

        About four blocks uptown at the Cincinnatian hotel, where the Rev. Mr. Graham is staying, the lobby was busier than a usual Saturday afternoon, but only one person said she was there for a Graham sighting.

        “I know he's staying here, and I know he has to come out some time,” said Doreen Tolden, 51, of Nashville. “I want to see him close and thank him for changing my life. That's all I want to say, then I'll be happy. So I'm going to wait forever if I have to.”

        What's a kids' event without street entertainers? Like clowns, jugglers, mimes, storytellers and, of course, a balloon-ologist.

        That's why Matt Praechter, a 17-year-old senior from Northwest High School, showed up with a team from First Baptist Church of Mount Healthy at Kidz Gig on Saturday morning.

        Armed with 2,000 balloons, a tank of compressed air and big floppy hats to ward off the sun, they started working the stadium plaza long before the 10:30 a.m. event began. When it got too hot there, they moved inside.

        “These are just gifts to make the kids smile,” Mr. Praechter said. “We can make lots of other things, but today we're only doing hats.”

        While everyone else in Paul Brown Stadium was there to raise voices in glory and praise, the Soldiers For Christ were there to maintain total silence.

        They're mimes, all from Avondale's New Friendship Baptist Church, where they practice twice a week, says coordinator Angela Wooley, and perform every chance they get.

        The seven-member all-male troupe, done up in black T-shirts, camouflage pants, white gloves and white-face mime paint, run from 7- to 19-years-old and tell the Gospel story without words.

        Their first routine re-created Christ's journey with the cross to Calvary, trudging forward, faltering, trudging more.

        “You know, you really can see it and feel it when they do it like that,” said Rita Salter, one of the large crowd watching the group.


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