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Third-generation Graham opens inaugural crusade

GASTONIA, N.C. (BP)–Nearly 60 years after his grandfather held his first citywide crusade in Charlotte, William (Will) Franklin Graham IV held his first U.S. crusade just a few miles to the west in Gastonia, N.C.

Will Graham opened his three-day Greater Gaston Celebration Oct. 9, with a crowd of more than 4,500 on hand at Sims Legion Park. He was introduced by his father, a beaming Franklin Graham, who has taken over the reigns of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. After the introduction, Franklin then left the platform to watch from a tent for Graham family members, letting his son take center stage.

Will Graham’s connection to his grandfather’s legacy also was evidenced by longtime song leader Cliff Barrows directing the community choir.

People began flowing into the small baseball field nearly two hours early. The grandstand quickly filled and an overflow crowd ringed the baseball diamond when former “American Idol” contestant George Huff began leading in worship.

With the characteristic Graham look and voice, the third-generation evangelist quickly called the crowd to examine whether they had sin in their lives.

“Have you disobeyed your parents? Have you stolen anything?” Graham asked. “Have you murdered somebody? Have you told a lie? Black lie or white lie, it still breaks God’s law.”

Tackling various issues in today’s society head-on, Graham took a clear stand, for example, on abortion: “Society says that abortion is a choice, but that’s redefining what it is; it is murder.”

Targeting his own generation, Graham noted what he sees as two of the greatest problems today: society’s acceptance of sin and coveting others’ possessions. “The greatest need we have today is to have our sins forgiven, not buy a new house or flat screen television,” he said. “Before we can have a new start, we must first have a new life. The cross of Christ provides that.”

As the warm North Carolina evening air began to cool, Graham declared, “Man deserves death. The Bible says the wages of sin are death. But He bore our sins on the cross.

“The good news is that Jesus Christ took the guilt and shame away. Peace can only come through the cross.”

Nearly 70 people responded to the invitation to meet with crusade counselors about their various decisions for Christ. As Graham walked toward the family tent, his 5-year-old daughter C.J. ran out to lovingly give him a hug.

For Will Graham, the crusade represents a spiritual milestone. “My uncle Cliff [Barrows] and uncle Bev [Shea] will be here,” he told a Charlotte Observer reporter the previous week. “I see this as kind of a passing of the baton.”

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  • Bob Carey