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Grahams, father & son, discuss passing the torch

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (BP)–Billy Graham acknowledged his days as an evangelist are numbered, but he expressed his confidence in his named successor, his son, Franklin Graham.
Billy and Franklin Graham faced reporters during a news conference at the University of New Mexico arena, The Pit, in Albuquerque May 8, in the midst of New Mexico Festival ’98 featuring the preaching of Franklin Graham May 6-8 and Billy Graham May 9-10.
Franklin Graham, 45, has been named by the board of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association as his 79-year-old father’s successor, when the elder Graham allows his son to take over.
When will that be? Billy Graham said he will retire “when the Lord retires me.” Indicating he did not expect that day to be too far in the future, he affirmed his commitment to continue as head evangelist for his evangelistic association for “as long as I have the strength.” When he is no longer able, Billy Graham continued, “I’m going to step aside and let Franklin take over.
“Franklin’s a far better preacher than I am now,” his father said. “Maybe I’m a little bit better known, but he is becoming known in various parts of the world.”
Billy Graham quipped that he is getting asked to preach less and less but to pray more and more. He came to Albuquerque from Washington, where he prayed at the dedication of the new building named for former President Ronald Reagan May 5.
Billy Graham said one reason he believes the transition will go so well is that he and his son believe and preach the same thing — that Jesus Christ is the only way to God.
Acknowledging some people consider that viewpoint “narrow,” he noted it is what the Bible says.
For the time being, Billy Graham is still preaching the gospel. He said he feels a little weak when he stands nowadays, but the moment he puts his hands on the pulpit, he feels the prayers of Christians and strength from God.
When asked what one message he wanted to leave with New Mexico during his visit, Billy Graham answered, “God loves them.”
“I make many mistakes,” the famed evangelist admitted, quickly adding he was assured of God’s love for him and everyone.
Franklin Graham said the festival marked the second time he had the privilege of working in Albuquerque with the man he affectionately called “Daddy” repeatedly during the festival. The first time was in 1975, when Franklin and his new bride drove down from Bible college in Colorado. Franklin was a “gopher” (going for this and going for that) that week. The second time, 23 years later, the two were working together sharing the responsibility as evangelist.
Franklin Graham expressed his surprise at the crowds that poured into The Pit during the first two nights of the effort — more than 14,000 both nights. He said when he was told of the meeting place, he had expressed his doubts that he could fill one-third of the 17,000-seat arena.
The evening following the news conference, attendance was the best yet, 18,320.
The media were extremely polite to the two evangelists during the week, and the news conference was no exception.
The only question that seemed to sniff out a controversial answer was one asked of Franklin Graham. When he takes over for his father, he was asked, would he get involved in politics? He replied he had no desire to get involved in politics, but if a politician asks for spiritual advice, he would give it.
Franklin Graham said he hopes that the benevolent organization he now heads, Samaritan’s Purse, will eventually become “the passion ministry” of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
The five-day evangelistic effort, which yielded nearly 6,000 decisions for Christ, gave every indication that things are going to be different when Billy Graham retires and Franklin takes over preaching responsibilities at major crusades. Not only was the effort called a “festival,” both father and son showed up Friday night in denim and leather coats and blue jeans, with Franklin wearing a ball cap.
During the week, Billy Graham affirmed the use of the name “festival,” noting the negative connotation the word “crusade” has in some places of the world.
Even the use of the invitation hymn that has followed Billy Graham’s sermons for decades, “Just As I Am,” was jettisoned during the week in favor of the more contemporary-sounding “Come Just As You Are.”
This year, Franklin Graham has conducted other festivals in Australia, Peru and Charlottesville, Va. He will lead one in Greenville, N.C., in September. Billy Graham is scheduled to conduct major crusades this year in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, in June and Tampa, Fla., in October.

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  • John Loudat