Sunday, June 30, 2002

Graham speaks to young people

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        After the high-volume energy of a night of Christian music, where thousands of teen-agers danced on the floor of Paul Brown Stadium, evangelist Billy Graham took the stage Saturday to try to reach the quiet places in their souls.

Michael Tait, a member of the band dc Talk, points to the Rev. Billy Graham as he walks on stage for his sermon Saturday night.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
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        “Are you a young person tonight, crying for help, deep inside?,” the 83-year-old evangelist asked a crowd of about 50,000, the largest yet of his four-day mission here. “Come to Jesus.”

        And estimated 4,200 did.

        After his sermon to a crowd made up, several thousand people, streamed down the aisles to the playing surface of Paul Brown Stadium to make their commitments to Christ.

        The Rev. Mr. Graham, wearing sunglasses to shield his eyes from the setting sun, waited patiently as they came down.

        “The night I came to Christ as a young person, I think I was the last one who came down,” the Rev. Mr. Graham said. “I'm glad they waited for me.”

        “We're glad too,” a woman in the lower deck yelled.

Young people pray around the stage.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
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        The Rev. Mr. Graham's message of hope and redemption through Jesus came after 90 minutes of Christian rock. Young people were given special credentials to come down and crowd around the stage as singer Kirk Franklin and dc Talk, a bi-racial Christian rock group, performed long and loud set.

        The 90-minute music set began with singer Kirk Franklin, who ran through a half hour of his blend of gospel, rap, R & B and pop.

        “I look out and I see all colors sitting together; it's beautiful,” the African-American artist said. “You all look like a big bag of Skittles.”

        When the Rev. Mr. Graham came on stage, he said he wanted to “welcome all the people here who are under 99.”

        He apologized, too, for the sunglasses.

        “Last night, the sun came right in here and I've just had three eye operations,” the evangelist said.

The Rev. Mr. Graham, wearing protective glasses, points to the sun during his sermon.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
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        In his sermon, he talked about his own youth and how he, at first, resisted the church and religion.

        “I was a young man, milling cows on the farm in North Carolina,” he said. “I didn't like the church; I didn't want to go to church.”

        But as a young man, he came to Christ at an outdoor revival in Florida.

        “I learned that if you yield to Christ, you can have satisfaction, you can have peace,” he said.

        God, he told the young people, “can help you in your sex life. There is nothing wrong with sex. It is a part of life.

        “But if you have committed that sin, something that is to be only within the bonds of matrimony, bring it to Christ,” he said. “He will forgive you.”

        After the sermon and the altar call, as hundreds of young people lingered on the field to talk and pray, many of the teens seemed to have made a connection with the elderly, white hair preacher who had stood before them and asked them to repent.

        Andy Jones, 15, of Florence called the Rev. Mr. Graham “awesome.

        “When he came out I could feel the Holy Spirit all over this place,” he said. “I knew something big was going to happen.”

        Daniel Lucas, 16, of Hamilton said he liked the Rev. Mr. Graham because, “He doesn't get all wild like most preachers do, but he makes his point.”

        The 50,000 attendence figure brought the total number of attendees to 123,000, with one more service scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight. Since the stadium holds only 62,000, it appears the four-day mission will miss its goal of over 200,000 in attendence.

        Steve Eder contributed to this report.


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