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Jaguar players, Graham’s daughter build momentum for Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Nearly a dozen Jacksonville Jaguar football players lined up ahead of quarterback Mark Brunell at a Billy Graham crusade rally demonstrating that teamwork in the Christian life is as important as on the football field.

The All-Pro quarterback was the keynote speaker for the “On Your Mark” rally May 23 that targeted Jacksonville’s Christian men. He urged the 4,000 in attendance to work together to bring success to the evangelistic crusades set for Nov. 2-5 at Alltel Stadium.

Brunell also stressed participation in Operation Andrew, a plan to cultivate friendships as opportunities to reach non-believers with the gospel message. He spoke from experience. Brunell himself has led several of his teammates to the Christian faith.

Prior to the quarterback’s talk, the Jaguars lined up across the Prime Osborn Convention Center stage to give their own personal testimonies. Players included defensive end Joel Smeenge, tight ends Rich Griffith and Kyle Brady and guard Todd Fordham.

Saying he was inspired by Brunell’s presentation and the singing group 4Him, John Harmeling, minister of singles at Southside Baptist Church in Jacksonville, said he found the player’s testimonies “the most powerful thing of the whole evening. They spoke of the accountability they have as teammates as they live out their Christian convictions. I think that’s something the men in our churches need to hear,” said Harmeling, a former Florida State University football player.

More than 5,000 women attended the May 22 women’s rally that featured Billy Graham’s eldest daughter Gigi Graham Tchividjian and Grammy winner CeCe Winans.

Tchividjian, who lives in Coral Springs, Fla., asked for prayers for the health of her mother, who has had “five major surgeries since January,” and father, who has “spent more time at [Jacksonville’s] Mayo Clinic than home.”

Seeming to sense the women’s needs, Tchividjian spoke of her own failures and difficulties, including three bouts of clinical depression. “I am grateful God does not use perfect women. All my life I’ve tried to be perfect. I haven’t got there yet. I’m grateful God uses ordinary women committed to the process of the Christian life.”

Tchividjian noted that many of the women present had walked “deep dark paths” through incestuous relations, abortions and failed marriages which “left you battered and bruised. God stands ready to forgive our past.

“God never forces us into obedience and submission,” Tchividjian said. “He puts us in circumstances if we will be available, but he will never force us.” While living through the valley, she grew closer to God, she recounted.

“When Jesus Christ is all you have, you discover that Jesus Christ is all you need.”

Other events held throughout the week included a youth rally, May 20, and a senior rally, May 21, featuring singer George Beverly Shea and Baptist layman Truett Cathey, founder of Chick-fil-A. The purpose of the rallies was to foster involvement of Jacksonville’s churches in the crusade, which will require thousands of volunteers and trained counselors. Offerings were taken to defray the costs of bringing the crusade to Jacksonville.

Dave Clay, a member of Jacksonville’s Kernan Boulevard Baptist Church who served as usher throughout the four events, said he was especially impressed how each rally spoke to the targeted segments. “Each speaker and musician knew how to reach that particular group,” he said. “Although I’m tired, I’m really excited about the crusade. Attending the meeting was like a four-day revival.”

    About the Author

  • Barbara Denman

    Barbara Denman is communications editor for the Florida Baptist Convention. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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