Billy Graham's 'My Hope' inspires N.Y. church planter

by Diana Chandler, posted Friday, April 11, 2014 (5 months ago)

LONG ISLAND, N.Y. (BP) -- Crossroads Church of Long Island pastor Sterling Edwards wasn't even born in 1957, but Billy Graham's New York evangelistic crusade that year has inspired the young church planter to host a My Hope America event in advance of Easter.

"The Billy Graham Crusade from [1957] at Madison Square Garden is what spurred the establishment of some of the church plants that we have on Long Island. So it's kind of been this long-term connection point, just with even that vision that was cast then," said Edwards, who will show Graham's DVD "The Cross" at Crossroads' Farmingdale and East Islip locations at 6 p.m. Palm Sunday, April 13.

"It's the same message. It's the same truth. It's the same relevance from [1957] to 2014," Edwards said. "In being a church planter here for a while now, I've just learned a little bit more about that history and what that connection point was."

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association debuted My Hope America with Billy Graham on the evangelist's 95th birthday in November 2013, when 4 million people watched The Cross on Fox News Channel, Christian cable networks and more than 100 local television stations across the nation, BGEA reported. Millions more viewed the 30-minute program online, and thousands more hosted events in churches, homes, businesses and public venues. More than 26,000 churches officially registered to host My Hope events, BGEA said, making it the largest U.S. outreach in the association's 64-year history.

The Cross features a message by Billy Graham and interviews showcasing the testimonies of Lecrae and Lacey Sturm, Christian musicians in their 30s. Edwards, in the same age group, recalls a story told to him by a founding member of a church, then called Manhattan Bible Chapel, that grew out of the 1957 New York crusade.

"I actually met a lady who was in her 80s, who was a part of the first Southern Baptist church plant on Long Island and she even gave me a little bit of that history which was just -- incredibly intriguing is an understatement," he said. "I'm baffled by it.

"She told me more about that and how she was among that original group of people that actually came from Manhattan Bible Chapel," he said of the woman he met five years ago. "And I know that that Billy Graham Crusade was pivotal in part of [the church's] mobilization. ... For me there's a connection point." Edwards isn't sure whether the church still exists.

BGEA is encouraging churches and other venues to show The Cross this Easter, offering free DVDs and downloads from the BGEA website, www.myhopewithbillygraham.org.

"We will never be able to know all of the numbers, but we do know that God did a mighty work and that He changed hearts all over the country," BGEA president and CEO Franklin Graham said of My Hope. "Pastors have told us again and again that the program is Spirit-anointed."

My Hope's message coincides with Crossroads' purpose, Edwards said.

"I think that it's simply the truth of the message of Jesus Christ, that our hope is found in no one else. It's the message that our community, society and country ... have to be rooted in," Edwards said, "that there is no other hope except for the name of Jesus Christ. That's why we're doing it. It's a clear-cut truth for us and we want to encourage that message to everyone that we meet."

Edwards planted the Farmingdale location of Crossroads seven years ago, followed by the East Islip campus just two years ago, and has baptized about 100 people over the past five years. He helped church planter Jason Jasper open Discover Church last year, and hopes to plant a church to reach the 24,000 students at nearby Stony Brook University within the next year.

Edwards believes The Cross outreach will help him evangelize the community and draw additional worshippers to Easter services.

"That's a big part of it. We're gearing up for Easter Sunday and looking again to be able to lead people to come to know who Jesus is and that's exactly the context of this," he said, "looking forward to a big Easter Sunday.

"We do this with the understanding that the Lord loves the people here more than we do, and it's His desire for each one of them to come to know the truth of who He is and that's what drives us."


Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/ editor. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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