FRESNO, Calif. (BP)–“A meeting like this may never come to Fresno again,” Billy Graham told an overflow stadium crowd Oct. 12 in the heart of California’s San Joaquin Valley.
“This is your one moment; come while you can,” the evangelist urged.
Many responded to Graham’s invitation to accept Jesus Christ into their lives. They streamed out of the stadium seats and onto the football field that is normally home to the nation’s eighth-ranked Fresno State University Bulldogs. There, Graham and counselors prayed with them and offered spiritual guidance to help them in their new Christian walk.
Southern Baptists from all over California were among the thousands of volunteers and tens of thousands in attendance at Graham’s Central Valley Crusade Oct. 11-14 in Fresno.
[Attendance at the four-day outreach totaled nearly 200,000, according to organizers. At each service when Graham extended an invitation, upwards of 2,000 “inquirers” publicly professed faith in Jesus Christ or registered some other spiritual decision.]
Virtually all of the Baptist participants who spoke with The California Southern Baptist expressed excitement about the crusade experience.
“Fantastic,” was the description Wayne Aranaz gave. Aranaz, a volunteer usher at the Graham event, is a member of Woodward Park Baptist Church in Fresno.
“To see these numerous people on this field is fantastic. I expected to see this many people and [here] it is. With the numerous people on the field who accepted Jesus Christ, it’s even greater.” Aranaz said.
Fouad Yacoub, a member of Fresno’s Trinity Southern Baptist Church said he felt entirely welcome at the nightly services. A native of Iraq, Yacoub said he was not aware of any of his fellow believers of Middle Eastern descent experiencing problems while participating in the evangelistic outreach.
“It has been a blessing, in fact,” said Yacoub, who volunteered as a counselor for the Billy Graham Central Valley mission. “It’s really a revival — especially for the Arab community — and I hope that God is going to touch the Arabs here,” he exclaimed. “They know there is only one God, one Savior – Jesus Christ.
“God is using us to preach the gospel to a lot of the Arab community here and tell them that there is going to be no peace in this Earth, no personal peace except through Jesus Christ,” Yacoub declared.
Pat and Kathy McNally drove more than 300 miles from San Diego County to attend Graham’s Friday night service. The couple, members of Bethel Baptist Church in Escondido, agreed experiencing the Graham outreach was worth the trip.
“It’s the most spectacular thing I have ever seen,” Kathy McNally said. “I was absolutely speechless watching all those people come down. It’s just the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.
“All I could think of was the scripture in Acts where it talks about the 3,000 being saved in one day, and I think there were more than that down here tonight,” she added, punctuating her comments with an enthusiastic “Praise God!”
Gerald and Imadel Dacus, also from Southern California, had attended four other Graham crusades including his previous Fresno campaign nearly 40 years ago. The couple said their fifth crusade was the best yet.
“It gets bigger every time, better every time,” Imadel Dacus said. “To see [Graham] get up there and speak with such strength – only God could do that.”
“You can’t comprehend it all,” she added, marveling at “God’s blessing and movement in this area, this huge crowd.”
The reason for the capacity crowds and the large number of spiritual decisions seemed obvious to her husband, the interim pastor of Lincoln Avenue Baptist Church in Orange. Gerald Dacus said it was a response to “the situation in the world being what it is [and] people reaching out for some kind of answer to the problems.”
And with the aging evangelist “really less able to carry on a campaign like this, I think I see the greater hand of God revealed in all this and it’s the greatest one I’ve been to,” Dacus declared.
The Central California outreach was Graham’s final crusade of 2001, but the evangelist recently agreed to conduct a similar mission in the greater Cincinnati area next summer. And just before the Friday evening service in Fresno, Graham received a delegation from the Lone Star State. The group included Baptist pastors Jim Denison of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas and Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano.
The group traveled to California to invite Graham to hold an evangelistic outreach in Texas Stadium in October 2002.
“He told us he would pray about it and let us know his decision,” said Daniel Sanchez, a member of the delegation and professor of missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.
As a show of faith in what they hope Graham’s decision will be, Sanchez said the group has already reserved the 65,000-seat stadium in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.