News Articles

Southern students serve as Graham crusade counselors

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Tormenting tears blurred his vision as he stumbled toward the arena floor. Thousands of other people walked in the same direction. Countless steps lay before him. But the 38-year-old man didn’t care. One thing consumed his thoughts as he responded to God’s call at the Indiana Billy Graham Crusade — his own sin.
Reaching the floor, he could contain his emotions no longer. Cleansing tears came in torrents.
He wiped his eyes to see the warm smile of John Girdley, a crusade counselor. Burying his head in a handkerchief offered by Girdley, the man also buried his heart in the arms of Jesus.
After repenting, believing in Christ and reading Scriptures of assurance, he responded: “Was it that easy? Is that all I had to do?”
In the same arena, a 35-year-old woman walked quickly toward the RCA Dome floor. Instead of tears, she could barely suppress her joy in speaking with crusade counselor Susan Barnes.
“A burden has just been lifted,” the woman exclaimed. “I never thought I would do this. I go to church. I attend regularly. But I never thought I would take this step.”
She prayed with Barnes and received Christ.
“Thank you, Susan, for coming and being here just for me tonight,” the woman said.
Girdley and Barnes joined more than 100 other students from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., who served as counselors at the June 3-6 Billy Graham Crusade in Indianapolis. As counselors, students guided respondents through the plan of salvation, explained crusade literature, prayed with them and sometimes cried with them.
The counselors will also follow up with those who made decisions, making sure converts find a local church home.
“For our students, it was beneficial to be involved with the ministry of the pre-eminent evangelist of the 20th century and the most widely heard evangelist in the history of the church,” said Don Cox, coordinator of Southern’s crusade participation and assistant professor of evangelism and church growth in Southern’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth.
Chosen as a source for counselors because of Billy Graham’s close ties to Southern Baptists’ flagship seminary, Southern Seminary both trained and prayed for the students-turned-counselors before the event. The Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth is one of Southern’s four graduate schools and is the only school to which Graham has given the use of his name.
Some 162 Southern Seminary student counselors prepared for the opportunity at a one-day instructional seminar on March 22 led by Gary Cobb, coordinator of counseling and follow-up for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The association trained a total of 4,000 counselors and 20,000 volunteers for the event.
“I was excited about opportunity to counsel — to be a part of that wonderful experience in peoples’ lives,” said Mary Nell Nacke, a master of divinity student from Louisville, Ky. “Words can’t describe it.” Though many students received academic credit for their assistance at the crusade, a desire to spread the gospel drove their participation. “The crusade’s given me more of a fire for evangelism. I want to see people saved. That’s why we’re here anyway — to lead people to Christ,” said Girdley, a master of divinity student from Greensfork, Ind.
“It made me more excited about my walk with Christ,” said Barnes, a master of divinity student from Tucson, Ariz. “It’s good to know we’re putting into practice what we’re learning.”
Students expressed awe at the privilege to observe the great evangelist present the simple message of the gospel.
“Dr. Graham just preached Christ,” said Girdley. “He stuck to that every night. I’ve heard better sermons. But just the way he puts it, saying, ‘You need to come to Christ.’ And people do. I’ve never seen people come forward like that.”
“Behind the scenes, Dr. Graham looks so weak and frail. But, when he gets in the pulpit, there’s this power and authority,” said Bob McNeil, another counselor and a master of divinity student from Marietta, Ga.
“You want to say, ‘Lord, please use me in such a way as that — to inspire people to love the Lord, to be a messenger and to be light.’”
Student participation did not come without sacrifice, Cox said. “They had the cost of their room, the cost of food, the cost of parking. Many of them have very limited budgets. It was a thrill to see them willing to pay that cost to be involved in evangelism.”
To watch the average of 3,400 people a night come forward during the invitation also made the experience worthwhile.
“The whole floor of the RCA Dome was full of people,” McNeil said. “It was amazing seeing people come down every aisle of the dome. God just called them.”
“The excitement on the faces [of the people responding] rubbed off on me. I learned as much from them as anything — just their newness and their excitement,” said Nacke.
That the crusade may be one of Graham’s last made the event even more momentous.
“Dr. Graham has been doing this for 50 years. To see a man that still has the hand of God on his life to empower him in the pulpit to share the gospel with power and authority … oh, to be like that,” McNeil said.
“Our hope is that God will give him many more crusades to share the gospel,” said Cox.

    About the Author

  • Bryan Cribb