KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–There wasn’t much power in Billy Graham’s voice at the opening night of the Heart of America Billy Graham Crusade in Kansas City’s 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 last May, delivered a short sermon from John 3 about starting life over again. Noticeably absent from the presentation was the strong, steady voice Graham has displayed over the years in preaching to 80 million people worldwide during his career.
Graham, with his silver hair attracting the light from the stage spotlights, began slumping 15-minutes into his message and finished the sermon seated. His son, Franklin, seated on the platform behind his father, helped him get seated when he began to slump. A specially built podium had been prepared that enabled him to preach while seated.
Referring to the physical ailments now buffeting his life, Graham observed, “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 results of his message as hundreds of people streamed onto the rain-soaked football field to respond to Graham’s appeal to accept Christ as Lord and 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, longtime Graham associate, led the opening hymn. Crusade officials announced the first night crowd at 7,750.
The Kansas City crusade will be followed by a crusade in Los Angeles in November and in New York next June.
“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.”
Meeting with media representatives the day before the crusade, Graham 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.
Crusade director Sherman Barnette said the postponement had both a negative and positive impact.
“From the negative side,” Barnett 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 an additional four months.
The rescheduling also drove the crusade budget up $1 million, to more than $5 million.
Since August, the crusade committee has been leading Saturday prayerwalks through various parts of the Kansas City area. About 12,000 Kansas City-area residents completed a Christian Life and Witnessing course last April. About 1,300 churches in the Kansas City and surrounding areas are supporting the crusade effort.
Graham predicted at the news 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 of Winona, Minn., said he traveled to Kansas City just to see Graham and hear what he has to say.
“Anytime he speaks, it is a message from God,” Kycek said.