Sunday, June 30, 2002

Graham reveals weakened health


Physical limitations weighing on evangelist

By Richelle Thompson rthompson@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Rev. Billy Graham says he feels weaker during this mission than ever, that he almost fainted here Friday night, and that he has no plans for missions after a four-day event in Dallas-Fort Worth in October.

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The Rev. Billy Graham wears sunglasses Saturday night to shield his eyes from the setting sun.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        In his first extensive interview in nine months, the 83-year-old evangelist spoke Saturday about his ailing health, the struggle of good and evil in Cincinnati, the spiritual impacts of Sept. 11, and the duty of Christians to convert Muslims and others to Jesus Christ.

        “I have felt within me a battle that Satan is opposing these meetings, as he always opposes the Gospel, and I've sensed it a little more here than I have in other places,” the Rev. Mr. Graham said.

        “It may be something within me, my physical condition, which is the weakest it's ever been in holding meetings. It could be the problems that have been here, and the devil doesn't want us to make a positive contribution. I just don't know.”

        But the Rev. Mr. Graham was both upbeat and philosophical in the 30-minute interview, saying Cincinnati would be a good place for his mortal life to end.

        Suffering from the neurological disorder of Parkinson's disease and other problems, the Rev. Mr. Graham said his failing health poses a major obstacle to future ministry. Often in the afternoons, numbness sweeps through his body, he said.

        But he said he eagerly awaits the eternal reward of heaven. When Christians die, their spirits leave the body and go straight into a new body that Christ has prepared, he said.

        “All glory lies ahead. And I'm looking forward to it with great anticipation. I wish it would happen while I was here. It's going to be a tremendous and glorious experience.”

        The Rev. Mr. Graham said he felt a pull to Cincinnati even before April 2001, when three days of race riots erupted and a citywide curfew was declared. The Rev. Mr. Graham has touched on racism and urged racial unity in sermons that have focused on the message of salvation through Jesus Christ that he has preached for more than five decades.

        Like so many around the world, the Rev. Mr. Graham was deeply shaken by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 and believes they caused a “radical change” in society. The attacks have spurred a spiritual awakening and interest in the second coming of Christ, he said.

        The evangelist said he considered preaching about the end times, but decided his final message to Cincinnati this evening will focus on the Biblical story of the prodigal son — “how the father waited for him and loved him and welcomed him.”

        In the wake of interfaith efforts since Sept. 11, the Rev. Mr. Graham said Christians should spread the Gospel and convert Muslims.

        “As a Christian, we are to present the Gospel to every group,” he said. “But I never target a group like Jews or Muslims. They're all welcome to come to our meetings. I hope that many of them will come. But I never target them. That's up to God, the Holy Spirit.”

        The Rev. Mr. Graham made a public apology a week ago to local Jewish leaders for negative remarks he made 30 years ago to President Richard Nixon.

        “We need to do everything we can to be friends and neighbors to those chosen by God to be his people,” the Rev. Mr. Graham said in his sermon Friday.

        The Rev. Mr. Graham said he appreciated the reception he's received in Cincinnati and the efforts of so many volunteers and community leaders to prepare for the mission. Attendance has been lower than local and national mission organizers expected, but the Rev. Mr. Graham said he's pleased overall.

        “I think Rick (Marshall, the head of missions) and some of them felt there would be more, but my experience is that with the population you have, we have a very large attendance,” he said. “When you look at that big stadi um and they said it was going to be filled, I knew it was not going to be filled. I've been in too many stadiums.”

        He didn't expect the heat.

        “I need an air-conditioned pulpit,” the evangelist said. “I didn't know it was going to be this hot, and heat takes it out of you, you know, when you're speaking.”

        The Rev. Mr. Graham said he prays that the spirit of cooperation continues after the mission ends. He's heard of many people who commited their lives to Jesus at his last crusade in Cincinnati in 1977 and have become community leaders.

        “It will be five years I think before you can see the real results of these meetings.”

        He knows his legacy will live on in the thousands who were saved on the field of Paul Brown Stadium and through the more than 210 million people worldwide who have heard him preach.

        “Many people have come to Christ as a result of my participation in presenting the Gospel to them,” the Rev. Mr. Graham said. “It's all the work of the Holy Spirit.”

       



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