Mission San Diego with Billy Graham marks 413th crusade in half century

SAN DIEGO (BP)--A uniform spirit of urgency has been evident among evangelical churches in preparation for Mission San Diego with Billy Graham May 8-11, according to the San Diego Baptist Association's director of missions.

Dwight Simpson, who also serves on the mission's executive planning committee, said the last time Billy Graham came to town for a crusade in 1976, there was an uncooperative spirit of jealousy and competition among the local evangelical churches, but this time around "has been remarkable" as churches realize the urgent need to take the Gospel to their neighbors.

"God has something going on here, and I believe it's because of the fervent prayer of everyone on the executive committee and the fervent prayer of people all across the nation," Simpson told Baptist Press.

He also said they don't bypass the significance of Graham leading at least one more mission after what many expected to be his last in Dallas last fall.

"We have such a great need for getting the Gospel out to reach a city that has been largely indifferent," Simpson said. "We have not had the same hostility and wickedness toward Christianity as other cities, but there's a pervasive indifference that [faith] is not significant. People say, 'Well, that's OK for you but not for me.'"

The San Diego mission at Qualcomm Stadium, home of the San Diego Chargers and site of the 2003 Super Bowl, opens with performances by Third Day and Michael W. Smith as well as the timeless message of the Gospel presented by the 84-year-old Graham.

"I give a very simple message of the fact that God loves us and that He gives us hope and He is going to put His arm around everyone that will put their faith in Him and love them," Graham said at a pre-mission meeting with the media May 6. "I don't think He is condemning you. He's here to love you."

Marking Graham's 413th mission since 1949, the San Diego event will feature the music of Dove Award-winning artist Nichole C. Mullen May 9 and a night directed toward young people May 10 called "Velocity ... a Concert for Our Generation" featuring dc Talk and Kirk Franklin.

The mission wraps up on Mother's Day, May 11, with music by The Gaither Vocal Band and Crystal Lewis as well as a special message from Evelyn Husband, wife of astronaut Rick Husband, who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

Organizers are projecting a crowd of 50,000 each night, and 14,000 seats in an overflow area of the parking lot will be ready if the stadium fills. Graham's Dallas mission in October drew about 255,000 people.

Simpson said everything done by crusade organizers from the beginning has turned out better than they expected. About 720 churches are involved, and Southern Baptists have contributed to the 20,000 volunteer counselors and the 6,000-member mass choir.

An estimated 3.2 million people have dedicated their lives to Jesus after hearing Graham preach during the last five decades, and he is considered to be the man who has preached of Jesus to more people than anyone else in history.

Because of Graham's age and struggle with Parkinson's disease, many have wondered which mission will be his last.

"Each crusade we've had in the last couple of years we've thought, 'Well, this may be the last one,'" said Cliff Barrows, who is 80 and has been Graham's director of music since 1945.

But Graham insists his one purpose in life is to help people find a personal relationship with God, which he believes comes through knowing Jesus, and he says there is no retirement mentioned in the Bible.

"I think God has called me to proclaim the Gospel as long as I have strength," he has said.

The renowned evangelist cited numbers sent to him from a local survey as a reason why he wanted to lead another mission in San Diego. The survey found that only about 15 percent of the population in East County and South Bay attend church. "I began to realize there was a great spiritual void in San Diego County," Graham said in the San Diego Union-Tribune May 4.

Another mission is planned for Oklahoma City in June.


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