More than 28,000 churches in North America — including 370 in Oklahoma — are participating in an unprecedented faith outreach with a special message from renowned evangelist Billy Graham at its center.
Seven years since the renowned evangelist last delivered a public sermon, he will share a videotaped gospel message that will be broadcast on television Thursday — his 95th birthday.
Organizers said the “My Hope America With Billy Graham” outreach message also will be viewed via DVD and the Internet in addition to TV in thousands of homes, prisons, homeless shelters and on college campuses.
“This is the largest undertaking the Billy
Graham Evangelistic Association has ever done in North America,” Preston Parrish, vice president of “My Hope America with Billy Graham,” said recently.
“It's just really stunning the extent to which people have caught the vision. Oklahoma is right in the middle of the country and right in the middle of ‘My Hope.'”
The Rev. Mark McAdow, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Oklahoma City, said about 30 families at his church are participating. He said he wanted his congregation to hear the special message from a renowned evangelist who has not presented a public sermon in recent years.
“I have personal respect for Billy Graham because I believe he's led more people to Christ in this century than anybody else I can think of,” McAdow said. “When I heard that this might be his final message to America, I knew I wanted to be involved.”
Fresh words of hope
Does “The Cross,” a videotaped message at the heart of “My Hope America,” represent Graham's last sermon to the nation?
“I think you have to say it could be. We're not saying it will be,” Parrish said.
Parrish, in a telephone interview from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's North Carolina headquarters, said Graham's most recent public evangelistic effort was in New York in 2005. Since then, he's preached with his son, the Rev. Franklin Graham, in New Orleans in March 2006 and in Baltimore later that year.
Parrish said Graham now lacks the stamina to conduct a multi-night citywide mission effort as he has done in the past.
Yet, “while his body is wearing out, he is still mentally and spiritually absolutely sharp and engaged in the needs and affairs of our time,” Parrish said.
“He believes God has left him here and given him clarity and energy for such a time as this.”
Parrish said Graham videotaped his message earlier this year in his home in the mountains of North Carolina.
“There's a great deal of fresh material from Billy Graham in his 95th year that people will see in this telecast that has never been recorded or aired,” Parrish said.
“These times when there's so much turmoil in our world on so many fronts, he believes urgently that people need to hear yet again that there is one message of hope that will not disappoint, there is one message of hope that will not fall short, and it is a message of hope that comes in a relationship with a person, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Parrish said he thinks Graham's message will resonate particularly with Oklahomans who experienced the devastating effects of tornadoes in May.
“We think there's special importance for people in a place like Oklahoma who have suffered so greatly so recently to understand that God loves them, that Christ will be with them whatever life holds,” he said.
‘One person at a time'
Parrish said the “My Hope America” outreach is a catalyst to help Christians share the message of Christ through informal gatherings. Each participant is agreeing to become a “Matthew,” as the Apostle Matthew invited people into his home to meet Jesus (Matthew 9:9-10), organizers said.
“Each of us comes to Christ one person at a time,” Parrish said.
McAdow said he has invited friends and family to his home to view Graham's presentation Thursday, which also is McAdow's 55th birthday.
Rick Denny, executive director of the Jesus House, said a “My Hope America” gathering for the homeless will be held at the shelter Thursday in conjunction with the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions.
The Rev. Andy Peck, an associate pastor of outreach at Bethel Baptist Church in Norman, said more than 100 people in his congregation were trained to be a part of the Graham outreach, and about 30 people plan to share the “The Cross” presentation in their homes. He said he and his wife plan to host about 10 people from their cul-de-sac.
Peck, 32, said Graham has influenced several generations of Christians.
“If you just go back a couple of generations in your spiritual legacy, usually there's someone who came to Christ through Billy Graham,” Peck said.
“It's amazing at 95 he's still using every means possible to get the word out about Christ.”
Parrish said the authenticity and humility Graham has exuded through the years is why he engenders so much respect.
“We're used to living in a time when people are heroes for a little while and then under the glare of public scrutiny, we see inconsistencies or great flaws,” Parrish said. “Billy Graham has always been what people see him to be. There are no two Billy Grahams. What you see in private is what you see in public — a man of great humility, a man with great love for people, a man with absolute utter conviction about the importance of the gospel for every human being, and that's what he's given his life to.”