Mission San Diego
July 1, 2003 - Desperation. The word often tumbles out of the mouths of pastors in San Diego County, California, when they describe their community. Yet many rank San Diego—with its beautiful weather, pristine beaches and family attractions—as one of the most livable cities in the United States. So why all the talk of desperation?
by Bob Paulson, Amanda Knoke & Brian Peterson
Mayor Dick Murphy mentions economic turmoil, terrorist threats and spiritual decline as three challenges facing San Diego. Local pastors say that the area is spiritually starved; 85 percent of the population does not attend church.
Pastors also point to two school shootings and to the high-profile murder of a 7-year-old girl as contributing to the city's desperation. More recently, 60,000 military personnel were deployed to the war in Iraq—20 percent of the armed forces in the Gulf region were from the San Diego area.
"San Diego is a fair-weather community," said Mark Slomka, pastor of Mount Soledad Presbyterian Church, in La Jolla. "Because the sun is always out, we think positively about the city. We live in a part of the country where creation competes with the Creator on a daily basis. [But] it doesn't take much scratching to see that we really hurt."
The vision for a Mission in San Diego started in 1996 when two pastors, Mike MacIntosh and Bob Botsford, visited the Billy Graham Crusade in Charlotte, N.C., and began to pray and dream about another Crusade in San Diego. Billy Graham had held meetings there in 1958, 1964 and 1976. The 1976 Crusade had deeply affected MacIntosh, whose church grew by a thousand people as a result of the event. As pastors began coming together in larger numbers, they concluded that San Diego was ripe for a message of hope, Botsford said.
So began the planning for Mission San Diego With Billy Graham, a cooperative effort to bring inner peace to many in this beautiful, desperate community.
"What America felt after Sept. 11, [military families] felt every day because they were worried about their wives and husbands," said Capt. David Starkey, command chaplain at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.
Slomka added: "Sept. 11 did not stop for us. It's hard for people outside of San Diego to understand how [deployments] affect our city—everyone knows a family who has someone deployed. The city is a bit raw from all the war coverage."
In conjunction with the Mission, held May 8-11, at Qualcomm Stadium, churches reached out to the families of the deployed. About 9,000 received personal invitations to the Mission and $20 gift certificates to Wal-Mart or Target as a "thank-you." More than 3,600 additional gift certificates were sent out after the Mission.
Each evening of the Mission, a wide range of musical guests paved the way for Mr. Graham's message. Guests included Michael W. Smith, Third Day, Nicole C. Mullen, Dennis Agajanian, Salvador, tobyMac and TAIT of dc Talk, Kirk Franklin, Crystal Lewis, and the Gaither Vocal Band.
The second evening of the Mission had a military emphasis and featured the testimony of Maj. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp. Billy Graham announced that the evening's program would be broadcast on the American Forces Radio and Television Service, which reaches military servicemen and women in countries throughout the world as well as on ships at sea.
"There are many people here tonight to whom the Holy Spirit is speaking," Mr. Graham said. "There's a little voice inside that says, 'You need to make a commitment tonight.' You may be on a ship at sea. You may be in Korea. You may be stationed some other place, and God is speaking to you. You can give your life to Christ right where you are."
A physician had been praying for 15 years that his father, a retired physician, would come to know Jesus Christ. The son had spoken with his 83-year-old father about Christ, and the father had shown some interest but had not responded. But one day the father called the son and said, "I want to go to the Billy Graham Mission." On Friday evening, he came and heard Gen. Van Antwerp's testimony. A former naval officer, the father listened carefully. And when Mr. Graham told the story of the prodigal son and his father's love, the physician's father put his head in his hands and wept. At the invitation, he went forward and accepted Christ.
The same evening a Marine Corps colonel from Camp Pendleton said to his chaplain, "I've got to go down, Chaplain—and I want you to be my counselor." He couldn't wait; he wanted to go right away. "I want to start really living for Christ," he said.
A 54-year-old woman said of Mr. Graham's message about the prodigal son: "I knew he was talking about me. I am the prodigal daughter. I've never known how to accept God's love." After committing her life to Christ, she said, "I feel like I have hope."
A 21-year-old man told his counselor that he was guilt-ridden because his mother had recently died, and he hadn't seen her for nine years before that. "I want to see my mom in heaven," he said, "but I don't know how to get there."
Along with that young man, some 270,000 others heard about how they can have eternal life with God through Jesus Christ.
After the Mission, Chairman Rolf Benirschke said: "Though we didn't score with everybody here, the ball has been moved down the field, and people are closer to knowing the Lord. They'll make their decisions in God's timing."
Henry David Thoreau wrote that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation"—but since Mission San Diego, the desperate are 16,000 fewer.