Billy Does It Again
Can a Billy Graham crusade restore one's faith? That is what Kevin Murray and his girlfriend from New Hyde Park, Long Island, wanted to know on Saturday night. "I have lost a lot of faith," Murray said as he waited for Graham to appear. "I am Catholic. When my girlfriend and I talk, we ask ourselves, How could the priests not have known about the child abuse scandals? I don't go to church anymore."
Murray is like a lot of folks I interviewed this past weekend in New York. They had heard of Billy Graham and decided to check him out as a last pit stop before they lost hope.
President Bill Clinton also came to the crusade that night to tell what Billy Graham has meant to him. Clinton told the audience that he had visited several Graham crusades, starting 46 years ago. As a 9-year old boy, he was impressed with Graham's insistence on preaching to an integrated audience in Arkansas right in the midst of a bitter fight over school desegregation. "I'll never forget it. I've loved him ever since," the former President said. "He's about the only person I know who I've never seen fail to live his faith." Clinton asked his wife, Hillary, to attend the crusade with him. From South America, he faxed his wife (in South Africa at the time), urging her to return to see Graham. Arriving at the crusade, the former President declared, "I want to tell you what an honor it is to be here as a person of faith with a man I love."
On this greatest stage in the world, New York City, Billy Graham demonstrated that he is still a man of singular importance in bearing Jesus Christ's message of love and hope. Hobbled by multiple illnesses, the 86-year-old Graham seemed to gather strength as his three day crusade in the 1964 World's Fair grounds in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park of Queens brought people from around the globe to pay tribute to what the evangelist means in their lives. At the end of the Sunday evening crusade he told the 90,000-person crowd, "I'm not finished yet!" During six decades in public ministry, Graham has counseled 11 Presidents and conducted 417 evangelistic crusades in 185 countries.
According to New York City police and park officials, 230,000 people attended the three days of meetings. Graham officials totaled about 9,400 people coming forward to the evangelist's invitations to commit to Christ.
To accommodate the large crowds, all 93 acres of the park grounds were transformed into one main crusade venue, with three overflow areas equipped with Jumbotron screens. At the last moment, Graham staff brought in 25,000 square yards of Astroturf and matting to cover the ground that was growing more dusty as the weather grew hotter.
Nearly 20,000 volunteers helped to minister to the crowds. The volunteers ranged from off-duty cops acting as security to church leaders distributing crushed ice to the sweltering crowd at the hot Sunday afternoon service. More than 1,400 churches of 82 denominations provided volunteers. Musical performers like Jars of Clay, Salvador, Nicole C. Mullen, Michael W. Smith, and Steven Curtis Chapman created a rock festival atmosphere at each event.
The media also converged on the crusade. The Graham organization granted 700 press credentials to reporters from around the world. The national television networks gave Graham good coverage. Talk-show hosts Sean Hannity, Joe Scarborough, and Chris Matthews broadcast live from the crusade.
Back in 1957, Graham approached New York City with "fear and trembling" before launching what turned out to be the historic 16-week crusade at Madison Square Garden. The churches in the city told him that they were "discouraged and frustrated." The 1950s church growth that the rest of the country had experienced had passed the city by. Graham said that if he failed in media-rich New York, all the world would know it. Further, there were some critics who hoped he would fail.