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Billy & Franklin Graham give spiritual
boost to New Orleans pastors & spouses

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Billy and Franklin Graham were welcomed to the sanctuary of First Baptist Church in New Orleans by a standing ovation from pastors, spouses and special guests March 9 for a time of prayer for the Grahams’ March 11-12 “Celebration of Hope” in the hurricane-ravaged city.

[Click on photo gallery to view a collection of images of the Grahams in New Orleans.]

The still strong voices of George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows led the group in worship. Barrows pointed out that the three men, Graham, Shea and Barrows, represent 267 years of collective ministry.

Franklin Graham stood behind the pulpit where his father preached in 1954 to lead a month-long crusade in New Orleans at the old Pelican Stadium. David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist New Orleans, pulled out a pen and invited Franklin to sign the pulpit that his father and the Graham team had signed in 1954.

Franklin Graham mentioned the historic nature of the Celebration of Hope. During the planning for the event, he said, “I never dreamed we would have Daddy, Uncle Cliff and Uncle Bev join us. It is such a blessing, such an honor to have them.”

The younger Graham, who peppered the meeting with self-deprecating humor, told the pastors that they would have to put up with his preaching on Saturday while they were saving the best for last at the two-day outreach, his father.

Billy Graham told the audience, “I am absolutely devastated by what I’ve felt and seen in the couple of days that I’ve been here. I don’t even know how to describe it. I haven’t even called my wife, because I don’t think I am emotionally capable of telling her what I’ve seen and heard since I’ve been here.

“The encouraging thing to me is the wonderful Christians I’ve met and the working together among the pastors,” Graham continued. “I want to thank you for the parts you are playing in this situation that the whole world is reading about and hearing about.

“Out of this disaster is going to grow a new New Orleans,” Graham said. “You [the pastors] are going to be the key to its progress because what is needed is a moral and spiritual renewal.”

Many people have asked him why the storm hit New Orleans to which Grahamn said he has replied, “I don’t know. I don’t know anyone who does know. I just know God allowed it. He didn’t send it, but He allowed it.”

Graham noted: “Jesus is no security against storms, but He is a perfect security in the storm.”

Franklin Graham, who has been in New Orleans five times since Hurricane Katrina, said a local mayor discussing the poor response by governmental and nonprofit agencies following the storm told him, “It was the churches that have saved our cities.”

A Marine who was in Falujah in Iraq and now is assigned to help a local parish told Franklin Graham of the difference between faith-based groups and other groups: “You have something that the others don’t have. It is the spiritual element. I don’t fully understand it, but when people have lost everything, there is a spiritual need in that person’s life and the other groups can’t give it.”

Franklin Graham emphasized that the goal of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is to support the work of the local churches. “Our prayer is that this weekend, hundreds, maybe thousands, will come to know Jesus Christ,” he said.

Local pastors and leaders responded with excitement to the Grahams. Warren J. Riley, superintendent of police for New Orleans and a member of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, said, “The city needs prayer. Hopefully, it’s an awakening for many people in New Orleans. Perhaps they will become more spiritual, put God in their lives, and help turn New Orleans around.

“One lesson is to be learned,” Riley said: “Those people who did not have their lives right, spiritually, maybe [Katrina] will focus them on doing what is right, based on God’s Word.”

Jim Woodard, pastor of The Crossroads in the New Orleans-area Belle Chasse community, said, “I think this is an exciting opportunity. When we first started having meetings, my impression was we are so inundated as church members and leaders, do we really need to be sidelined or distracted with something like this?

“As the meetings progressed, I have become totally convinced that God is going to do something special this weekend in New Orleans, especially to bring us a message of hope and encouragement,” Woodard said. “I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me that this is the message we need right now and this is the man to bring it to us.”

Martha Bailey, a pastor’s wife from Covington, La., said, “I have been praying that we will see that God really does mean what He says when He said, ‘Call to me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things which you do not know.’ That is the Scripture that kept reverberating in my mind as we were in the worship service with the Grahams.”

First Baptist’s Crosby said, “I feel that God has displayed his favor to me in the most concrete way possible, by bringing Franklin and Billy Graham here. I don’t know of another thing that could have taken place that could have been more of an encouragement to me spiritually, and in every way, than for Billy Graham to say, ‘I have New Orleans on my heart and I want to come here.’”

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  • Keith Manuel