Opening night: Famed evangelist presents the Gospel
By Bob Baysinger
October 12, 2004
KANSAS CITY – There wasn’t much power in Billy Graham’s voice at the opening night of the Heart of America Billy Graham Crusade at Arrowhead Stadium. But that didn’t stop the 85-year-old Southern Baptist evangelist from preaching a powerful message.
Graham, weakened by age and a pelvic fracture sustained in a fall at his North Carolina home on May 20, delivered a short sermon from John 3 about starting life over again. Noticeably absent from the presentation was the booming voice that Graham had displayed in the past, preaching to 80 million people worldwide during his career.
The opening night of the crusade also marked the first time in 60 years that beloved vocalist George Beverly Shea did not sing prior to Graham’s sermon. Shea is at home recuperating from an illness.
Graham, with his silver hair attracting the light from the stage spotlights, began slumping 15-minutes into his message and finished the sermon seated.
Graham’s son, Franklin, seated on the platform behind his father, rushed to his father’s aid and helped him get seated when he began to slump. A specially-built podium had been prepared that enabled him to preach while seated.
“I’m doing a lot of things I never did before,” Graham said after taking the seat. “I’ve never preached a sermon sitting down.”
The crowed responded with applause.
Graham seemed to regain some strength after sitting down and continued his appeal for people to be saved. “Jesus died on the Cross for you,” he said. “He shed his blood for you.”
The crusade opened Oct. 7 and is scheduled to conclude with a message by Graham at 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 10.
The evangelist’s weakened state did not hamper the power of his message as hundreds of people streamed onto the rain-soaked football stadium to respond to Graham’s appeal to accept Christ as Savior. Trained counselors recorded 704 decisions.
“Some people are ready to give up on life,” Graham said near the end of his 20-minute message. “Two people have told me in the last two days they are ready to give up. Jesus makes it possible to have a new life.”
Heavy rains blanketed the Kansas City area throughout the day and continued to fall as Cliff Barrows, long-time Graham associate, led the opening hymn. Crusade officials announced the first night crowd at 7,750.
The Kansas City crusade is one of three planned by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Graham has announced that the Kansas City preaching engagement, a crusade in Los Angeles in November and a June crusade in New York City will conclude his crusade preaching efforts.
“I’ve had a burden on my heart for this area,” Graham told the crowd at the opening of his message. “Kansas City has been on my heart for five years. I believe this (crusade) is an answer to prayer.”
Graham met with media representatives the day before the crusade opened. He said he had spent most of the year in bed resting, continuing his recuperation from surgeries to repair fractures suffered in two falls.
The last fall forced a postponement of the Kansas City crusade, which was originally scheduled for June 17-20.
According to Sherman Barnette, crusade director, the postponement has both a negative and positive impact.
“From the negative side,” Barnette said, we had to reschedule everything and reprint all promotional materials. On the positive side, the delay gave us a little more time to encourage more churches to become involved in the crusade.”
Some of the rescheduling included working out new dates with the Kansas City Chiefs, replacing nearly 100 billboards in a five-state region, reprinting hundreds of thousands of pieces of crusade materials and keeping the crusade office open and paying staff for and additional four months.
The rescheduling also drove the crusade budget up $1 million to more than $5 million.
Kansas City crusade supporters had bathed Graham’s last Missouri preaching engagement in prayer. Since August, the crusade committee has been leading Saturday prayer walks through various parts of the Kansas City area.
About 12,000 Kansas City-area residents completed a Christian Life and Witnessing course last April. Crusade officials said the crusade has already had an impact on the city and its churches. About 1,300 churches in the Kansas City and surrounding areas are supporting the crusade effort.
Graham predicted at the press conference that some people would come to the crusade out of curiosity because he had been around for so many years. His prediction was accurate as a sampling of the crowd found people from as far away as Utah and Minnesota who had flown to Kansas City just for the crusade.
Mike Kycek, Winona, Minn., said he traveled to Kansas City just to see Graham and see what he has to say.
“Anytime he speaks, it is a message from God,” Kycek said.