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My Hope has lasting appeal, Billy Graham’s pastor says

SPARTANBURG, S.C. (BP) — My Hope America with Billy Graham is promoted as the 95-year-old evangelist’s final sermon, but Graham’s pastor Don Wilton is keeping the message alive.

Wilton worked with Graham a year in developing My Hope and is incorporating it into the many ministries and missions of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C., where Wilton serves as pastor and Graham is a member.

“[First Baptist Spartanburg is] designing and devising a multiple approach to continue sharing My Hope with Billy Graham with small and large groups as well as individuals,” Wilton told Baptist Press, “and we see no end in sight. The reason we see no end in sight is because the message which he preached is a timeless message. It’s about the Jesus who is the same yesterday and today and forever, and the cross is everlasting.”

About 900 First Baptist Spartanburg members received training to host My Hope events in their homes and at other venues in preparation for My Hope’s debut on Graham’s birthday in November. Already, First Baptist has shown the My Hope DVD, “The Cross,” in members’ homes. The church has shown it to the homeless in public parks, at various church meetings and sporting events, in nursing homes, businesses and a detention center.

When First Baptist, in cooperation with other groups, delivered 8,600 meals to the needy at Thanksgiving, a copy of The Cross and the Bible were left with each of the 1,860 families fed. Church funds and special contributions covered costs.

Wilton has initiated the translation of My Hope into Chinese for distribution of at least 300,000 copies in Beijing, where he preached in November and has accepted an invitation to return.

“The cross is about the grace of God and about the love of God for all people and God’s redemptive purpose,” Wilton said. “So if we accept that, that has a timeless truth. We have noticed again the great respect with which Dr. Billy Graham is held by young and old. And of course My Hope in particular with the testimonies with Lecrae [Moore] and Lacey [Sturm] woven into Mr. Graham’s powerful, timeless message on the cross, and his input from today’s perspective, makes the presentation of My Hope ageless.”

First Baptist Spartanburg members Darrell and Vicki Kendrick, with the help of about 30 volunteers from another church, showed The Cross at Camp White Pines juvenile detention center in Jonesville, S.C. Of the 38 boys in attendance, about 25 accepted Christ, Darrell Kendrick said.

“You don’t have many days like that,” said Kendrick, who has led a weekly Bible study at the center for nearly five years. “For the guys, I think they related to Lecrae’s story about the drugs and alcohol, sex outside of marriage. When he gave his testimony, they connected with that and it moved their hearts. I think the Holy Spirit just got a hold of them.”

Kendrick offered the invitation to Christian discipleship.

“I said we’re going to have a prayer and I said if we get through with this prayer or during this prayer, if you feel the need that you want to come up and talk more about accepting Christ, if you feel the Holy Spirit drawing you, I said please raise your hand or come up and get me. Get somebody out of this group of people and we’ll be glad to pray with you,” Kendrick told Baptist Press. “We started praying and didn’t actually get through with the prayer until we were covered up, and we just started taking them off in different sections of the place and praying with them.

My Hope America with Billy Graham was born out of the aging evangelist’s passion to continue preaching, Wilton said, and involved a year of interviews with Graham at his home in Montreat, N.C.

“He’s so used to me having lunch with him every week, which I have for over 20 years, and so he’s used to conversations with me at length. At his age, [the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA)] asked me to engage Mr. Graham concerning The Cross and My Hope,” Wilton said. “I was very deeply privileged to be the one who worked with Mr. Graham for over a year in putting it all together.”

My Hope was designed to engage individual lay members in a relationship-based evangelism model, encouraging them to invite neighbors and friends into their homes to hear The Cross and give them an opportunity to accept Jesus as Savior.

My Hope is an excellent tool to encourage evangelism among lay members, said Eddie Robertson, First Baptist Spartanburg’s minister of recreation and evangelism.

“Lay members are the ones doing it. And that’s another beauty of this; it’s lay driven,” Robertson said. “Sometimes church members feel like it’s just … the pastor’s job to share Christ. But it’s every believer’s responsibility and joy really to be able to share what God has done in their life and the My Hope video… it’s just a wonderful tool … that can be used.”

Robertson is encouraging members who participated to expand their outreach and disciple new believers.

“On the DVD itself, under bonus material, you do have Lose to Gain and also Defining Moments, which are both excellent, excellent videos,” Robertson said. “One of the things that we’re trying to do now is encourage the people that had groups in their home or whatever, is to find a way to show Defining Moments to a group, whether it’s the same group, or whether it’s going out a little bit [farther] to invite their immediate neighbors or go on out a little bit [farther], to houses three and four away from them.”

Members are also encouraged to share their personal testimonies of salvation.

“That’s what I try to challenge my people with, just sharing what exactly God’s done in your life and your heart,” Robertson said. “And I do believe in our churches it helps do two things, not only… the joy of doing that and being obedient, but also it helps us examine ourselves to realize, do I really have a story. … There are people in our churches that have been members for 30 or 40 years and they may realize they don’t really have a story, a personal relationship with Christ.”

The church of 7,500 believers, with 3,000 in attendance among four Sunday morning services, is committed to follow up with all who accept Jesus through the church’s My Hope events.

“It’s very important that churches don’t drop the ball,” Robertson said. “Don’t just let this happen and [not] follow up with those that are making decisions, so that’s why we’re trying to get names and exactly what took place so that we can organize to be faithful to visit, call, to invite them to be a part of what’s going on.”

Wilton said Graham has always promoted follow-up efforts and engagement by the local church.

“We believe that the local New Testament church is God’s design for all people as they grow personally in God’s grace and in His knowledge and admonition and as I put it, as they grow from becoming just disciples to disciple makers,” Wilton said. “That lies at the heart of Dr. Graham’s whole approach to ministry.”

“In my over 20 years of very close and personal conversations with him, therein lies the reason why at the end of every crusade message you would hear Dr. Graham say, ‘Be sure to go to church on Sunday,'” Wilton said. “That’s why he said that, because he believes so strongly in the local New Testament church and has told me many times that that’s what Jesus was talking about when He said the gates of hell will not prevail against my church.

“He was talking about the local body of believers, not a building or even a denomination. As proud as we all are to be Southern Baptists, He wasn’t referring to a denomination,” he said. “Jesus was talking about the fact that it’s within the context of the local New Testament church that Jesus made that powerful statement at Caesarea Philippi.”

First Baptist Spartanburg’s local, national and international outreaches will benefit from My Hope, Wilton said. These outreaches include: ministries to students, youth, the homeless, the addicted, the disabled, the handicapped, the hungry, mission churches and national and international missionaries.

“I think it has become interwoven into the fabric of our multiple presentation of the Gospel through many means in our church, through Christian social ministries,” he said. “I think it’s very important to say this. BGEA … has really been the fountainhead and has been extremely helpful and most generous in every regard concerning My Hope.

“I must give tremendous credit to BGEA, because in typical BGEA fashion, they have allowed the local churches to develop ownership over My Hope in their own individual churches. And one of the great lessons that we have in the local church is the whole issue of dividing and multiplying, saying, ‘Look, God has given this to us, but we’re giving it to you.'”
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).