BALTIMORE (BP)–Though frail and ailing, 87-year-old Billy Graham delivered a strong message of hope to more than 33,000 people gathered in Baltimore’s Camden Yards during the last night of a July 7-9 Metro Maryland Festival.
“Unfortunately, I’m getting too old to do this, and I thought on my way out, this may be the last opportunity to preach to an audience like this,” said the elder Graham, who was driven to the platform in a golf cart.
In a historic moment for Marylanders, the evangelist shared the stage with longtime crusade associates Cliff Barrows, now 83, and George Beverly Shea, now 97, in vintage crusade fashion, offering a clear grasp of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through messages and songs.
The trio has ministered twice before in Baltimore, most recently in 1981 and in 1949, the year that Graham’s signature crusade ministry first garnered national attention.
It was then that Graham’s famous Los Angeles tent meetings catapulted him and his associates into an internationally recognized crusade ministry. From there, the team went on to share the Gospel with more than 210 million people in live audiences at hundreds of crusades and rallies in North America and around the world.
“It’s been 60 years of ministry. We have an amazing relationship that only the Holy Spirit could have made,” Graham said. The ministry team members each expressed thanksgiving for the transformation in Baltimore since their last visit, commending the city’s leadership for their hard work in building the Inner Harbor and otherwise beautifying the once-decaying area.
Graham also directed his attention to his 53-year old son, Franklin, noting, “I am happy to have a son preaching the Gospel like he is.”
In fact, in 1952, when Graham’s fourth of five children was born, a Western Union telegram seemed to foretell Franklin’s eventual ascent into ministry.
“Welcome to this sin-sick world and the challenge you have to walk in your daddy’s footsteps,” the telegram read.
“People all over the world admired Billy Graham as a spiritual leader. I suppose it only seemed natural to them that his firstborn son would eventually plant his tiny feet in those large footprints,” another note read.
Now president and CEO of both the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, an international humanitarian ministry, the younger Graham has continued the tradition of stadium-sized evangelism events.
Over three years in the making, the Metro Maryland Festival, held in the Camden Yards home to baseball’s Baltimore Orioles, represents the combined efforts of 655 area churches — 125 of which are churches associated with the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware — working with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
All together, more than 80,000 people attended the three-day festival, which also featured Christian rock band the Newsboys, gospel legend Andrae Crouch, former American Idol contestant George Huff, country western superstar Randy Travis and a 1,500-voice choir from area churches.
KidzFest, a special event for children on Saturday morning, featured the popular superhero Bibleman.
Franklin Graham preached on Friday and Saturday nights, before yielding the pulpit to his father on Sunday.
“I am going to tell you what I am going to do,” Franklin Graham began each of his messages. “I am going to invite you to come forward in a few minutes to give your life to the Lord Jesus Christ…. It’s the most important decision you’ll ever make in your life.”
In their typical sermon fashion, the Grahams surveyed current events — recent floods across the world, the threat of nuclear war, even the Baltimore’s Preakness horse race — leading to a heightened awareness of man’s need to be saved from God’s holy judgment.
“We all have a terminal disease called sin,” Billy Graham preached. “The end of that road is death, judgment and hell.”
He emphasized other politically incorrect words in his message: “… lost, perished, condemned, punishment, hell, torment,” before explaining how God came to earth in the form of a man to take on the sins of the world through His death on the cross.
“But the cross was not the end of the story,” Billy Graham continued. “The end of the story is when you come to Christ and when Jesus Christ comes again. This may be the day.”
Each evening culminated with the characteristic call to Christ accompanied with a chorus, beckoning people to leave their stadium seats and go to the outfield to indicate their interest in beginning a relationship with Christ.
Thousands of people poured onto the baseball field each night, an answered prayer to event organizers.
“May souls be saved, backsliders reclaimed, and the part of the body of Christ that is here be revived,” prayed Bishop Clarence Johnson, senior pastor of Baltimore’s Mount Pleasant Church.
Since beginning to meet more than three years ago, the organizing multi-denominational group has never had one moment of dissension and has been unanimous on every decision regarding the festival, said Thom Thornton, consultant/specialist in evangelism and collegiate ministry for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.
“This speaks volumes to our ability to work together with the concentration on the Gospel and nothing more than that,” Thornton said. “With over 1.27 million people lost [in the Maryland/DC area], we just don’t have the time to waste on things that are not eternal.”
Thornton said the group is going to continue working together to seek ways to reach Baltimore for Christ. “That’s been the most exciting thing … to be able to continue to be a part of this ministry long after the festival is gone,” he added.