Together, As a Family
August 1, 2002 - And to think that some people said this Mission should not be held!
by Bob Paulson
Cincinnati, Ohio, experienced riots in April, 2001; and even while community groups and city officials worked to address racial problems, a coalition of activists sought to accelerate the pace of reform by boycotting events in Cincinnati. Several entertainers and conventions canceled events that had been planned in the city.
The Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky Billy Graham Mission was scheduled for June 27-30 at Paul Brown Stadium, in Cincinnati. People wondered whether the Mission would be canceled as the other events had been.
The answer from the Mission’s executive committee, made up of local pastors and business leaders, was "no." The Mission could address the very root of the city’s problem—the need for reconciliation with God and with others through Jesus Christ.
Bringing People Together
But could the Mission really unite people? Could the family of God indeed come together? Even some pastors had doubts. Some recalled that after the 1977 Billy Graham Crusade in Cincinnati, the churches did not continue to work together as some pastors had hoped.
Mission leaders were determined, however, to bring about real cooperation and fellowship. The Mission brought people together across racial and denominational lines: more than 900 churches, from 67 denominations, participated in the Mission. More than 10,000 people attended Christian Life and Witness Classes; nearly 5,000 served as counselors. The choir numbered 4,000. "We’re all one; that’s the way we look at it," said Jo Egbert, who volunteered at the Mission office.
Why They Came
It was called the Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky Billy Graham Mission, but people came from far beyond Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Some came from as far away as Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Vermont, even California. Some came out of curiosity: "I just wanted to hear what he had to say." Others came to see history in the making: "It’s close to the end of Billy Graham’s career, and I wanted to see him at least one time." Still others were participating in the Mission’s Friend to Friend emphasis: "I brought my friend so she would receive Christ."
Billy Graham challenged the people to be neighbors to one another, no matter the color of their skin. But he focused on the message of salvation through Jesus Christ. "We are all under the penalty of death," he said. "We are all on Death Row. The only way out of Death Row is Jesus."
More than 11,000 people made decisions for Christ during the Mission.
At the invitation on opening night a five-year-old girl grabbed her mother’s hand and said, "Come on, Mom. I want to give my life to Jesus." When the aisles filled with people and the girl had to wait to reach the field, she said, "Move these people! I want to give Jesus my life right now!"
A family of four came from Cleveland, Ohio—about 250 miles—to attend all four days of the Mission. Friends and neighbors had held garage sales to raise funds for the family’s trip. On Friday evening—the father’s 49th birthday—the entire family went forward and received Christ.
One man said that he had survived four heart attacks—God had spared him to give him this opportunity to receive Christ. He took that opportunity.
A woman saw her two nieces, her nephew and a neighbor boy all come to Christ during the Mission. "My cup is running over," she said. "God is blessing in such an abundant way."
Sunday evening, after most of the crowd had already left Paul Brown Stadium, Don Pickett still stood near midfield. Mr. Pickett, a Mission counselor from Dayton, Ohio, watched as technicians dismantled sound and lighting equipment. He spoke of people who had made decisions for Christ during the Mission.
Then Mr. Pickett glanced around the stadium. "The last night here," he said, tears welling up in his eyes. "It’s kind of like—"he struggled to speak; a tear rolled down his cheek—"family, you know? It has been wonderful being here as a family."