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When radio shock jock Howard Stern and his entourage rolled into Cleveland June 9, he may not have given much thought to the city's other famous visitor, evangelist Billy Graham. Both came to the Midwestern city to try to teach the area's youth-Stern to push higher ratings for his syndicated program and Graham to save souls. The contest was not even close.
Graham, who has spoken often in recent months of his burden for today's youth and the world in which they are living, made outreach to youth a central goal of the fiveday crusade at Cleveland Stadium on the shore of Lake Erie. The evening of the fourth day was set aside for a first-ever "Youth Special," including Christian rockers DC Talk and Michael W. Smith, testimony by local basketball star Mark Price, and Graham giving "straight talk from a caring adult."
"Young people today don't know which way to turn," Graham told Cleveland adults. "They don't have the role model of their parents; they're not told in the schools; they don't learn it from their peers. They need to be saved."
With neither choir nor George Beverly Shea present at the youth night, the crusade organizers took a "risk," said Rob Cathcart, executive director of Youth for Christ in Cleveland. "I've a tremendous amount of respect for the Graham organization for all the risks they are taking to reach kids."
Those risks include an unusual alliance among the crusade organization, newspapers, Catholic and Protestant churches, and even WZAK, the city's leading secular rock radio station, which cosponsored and heavily promoted the Youth Special. The crusade advertised the Saturday night event separately from the rest of the crusade, taking out ads on MTV, the local FOX-TV station, radio stations, and movie theaters.
While crusade staffers anxiously awaited the Youth Special, they were reaping rewards with their traditional nightly services, which attracted an average of 42,000 people per night.
Near the top of many people's minds was the question ...