God's Love Is BIG in Texas
December 1, 2002 - Elizabeth touched the "play" button on her answering machine. Having studied materials from the Christian Life and Witness Classes in preparation for the Metroplex Mission with Billy Graham, Elizabeth had prayed that God would help her to be an effective witness. But she never imagined the mission that God had in store for her.
by Bob Paulson and Amanda Knoke
The message on her answering machine was from a church secretary urgently seeking a priest to administer last rites to a dying man. The secretary left directions on how to get to the retirement home where the man was living. (Elizabeth later found that the secretary had been off by one digit when she dialed.)
Elizabeth returned the call and explained that she had received the message by mistake. But she couldn't rest; she was sure that God was calling her to action.
With the driving directions in hand—and praying all the way—Elizabeth went to visit the dying man.
She asked the man's daughter for permission to talk to him, then sat at his bedside and asked, "Do you know Jesus?"
He stared at her.
"Daddy, she wants to tell you about Jesus," the daughter said.
And so Elizabeth did.
In the man's final hours he heard the message of Christ's love. When Elizabeth asked if he wanted to pray to accept Christ, the man squeezed his eyes shut, as if in prayer. The man had seemed unable to speak, but after the prayer he summoned the strength to say, "That was wonderful. ...
A few hours later, the man passed away—peacefully.
And the Metroplex Mission hadn't even begun.
Or had it? The Mission, after all, was much more than four days of meetings at Texas Stadium, located in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The Mission also encompassed months of prayer, mobilization and personal evangelism. For weeks before Oct. 17, when the meetings began, Christians prayed for friends and neighbors, talked with them about Jesus Christ and invited them to attend the Mission. One of the most far-reaching aspects of the Mission was the Christian Life and Witness training, through which more than 16,000 people learned practical ways to live for Jesus.
Most of the classes were held at area churches, but specially structured sessions of the Christian Life and Witness Class also were held at Southwestern Seminary, in Fort Worth, to accommodate students' schedules. Scott Seeley, husband, father of three, seminary student and pastor, said he was grateful that God arranged the timing so he could attend. "Students want to share their faith; the Mission gives us an audience," he said.
Fellow student Katie Khuc said, "The training for the Mission motivates me. I realize how many lost people are out there."
The Mission reached thousands of such people, and the thousands of Christians who participated will continue to reach out for years to come.
"This Mission will have a lasting effect on our community," said Jim Nichols, Mission co-chair. Co-chair Boone Powell added, "The enthusiasm that will penetrate the Christian community will be tremendous—you've got the unity of spirit among believers, the spiritual uplift that all of us have felt, and also all of the new Christians who are here as a result of the Mission."
The Mission meetings brought together more than 255,000 people to hear the Good News of Christ. In addition to messages from Billy Graham, the people heard from music artists CeCe Winans, Caedmon's Call, Jaci Velasquez, Randy Travis, Jars of Clay, dc Talk, Kirk Franklin, the Gaither Vocal Band and Michael W. Smith. In addition, former President George Bush, sportscaster Pat Summerall, Billy Graham's brother Melvin Graham and son Franklin Graham all told the Texas Stadium crowd about the difference that Jesus can make in one's life.
Texas Stadium has a roof, but the roof was built with a hole—a Texas-sized one—over the playing field. On Friday night, the rain poured in. The seats remained fairly dry, but anyone going forward to make a decision for Christ had to brave the downpour.
During the invitation, Mr. Graham suggested that people stay near the sides of the field, where the roof might offer some protection. But hundreds came to the front of the platform. Eager to find salvation through Christ, they seemed undaunted by the rain and the puddle-laden tarp covering the field.
One woman stood without an umbrella, her face turned upward into the pouring rain. She had made a decision to follow Jesus. She told her counselor, "I'm going to let Jesus wash away all my sin."
Filled to Overflowing
The Mission set a new attendance record for Texas Stadium on Saturday evening—then set another record on Sunday. Both evenings, the stadium filled to capacity and the gates were closed. But a large screen and 10,000 chairs were ready in the parking lot to handle overflow.
And even the overflow area overflowed.
Once the chairs were full, people stood, or they sat on parking barriers or pick-up trucks—or even on the pavement. On Sunday, while 68,000 people packed the stadium, another 15,500 gathered in the parking lot to watch the screen and to hear about Jesus Christ.
What God Has in Store
"The Mission was a catalyst for getting more prayer in our church," said Karen Pennington, who with her husband, Rich, was a Mission prayer coordinator at Windsor Park Baptist Church. "When we see people coming forward, we see it as a result of our prayers," Rich reflected. "We've been praying that people will be tender to the call of God."
Each evening, Billy Graham preached a simple message of salvation. "Do you feel your life has been a failure?" he asked. "Is your life turned upside down? Do you wonder which way to turn? The choice you make now, tonight, will affect your whole life. And where you spend eternity can be decided tonight."
More than 11,000 people made decisions about eternity during the Mission. A 69-year-old man said that he had been attending church all his life and had thought he was a Christian. But after hearing the message, he realized that he did not have a personal relationship with Jesus. He came forward and said, "I'm not leaving the field until I settle this." He turned his life over to Jesus.
A woman who was part of the stadium's cleaning crew saw a counselor carrying the booklet that is given to people who make a decision for Christ. "I'd like one of those booklets," the woman said. The counselor replied, "I'll be glad to give you one if you'll let me explain it to you." She proceeded to do just that, and the woman committed her life to Christ.
A 16-year-old gang member whose life was in disarray from drugs and alcohol said that he had been doing all the wrong things. "If there was a sin to commit, I've committed it," he said. "I need Jesus—that's the only way to get through it."
They all left Texas Stadium having been changed by God's grace. And only God knows the missions He has in store for each one of them.