- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 13, 2002

AUSTIN, Texas Before Dallas Cowboys fans cheered for the likes of Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett, a star of a different caliber brought thousands to their feet at Texas Stadium.
The Rev. Billy Graham, the world-famous evangelist who is considered one of the most influential preachers of his time, will return to Texas Stadium this week, marking his first Dallas area mission since he christened the new football arena with a 1971 crusade.
It may well be the last evangelical event in Texas and perhaps anywhere for the 83-year-old North Carolina native who suffers from Parkinson's disease and underwent brain surgery last year.
As Mr. Graham nears the end of his career, a devoted flock is all too aware that his evangelism and universal appeal will be hard to replace.
"Without question, Billy Graham has been the most effective [evangelist] because of mass communication," said the Rev. Steve Washburn, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Pflugerville, Texas. "There is no one now. God has not raised up another evangelist to come up behind Billy Graham."
Thousands are expected to attend the weekend crusade, which begins Thursday and includes a prison outreach, youth ministries and musical performances by Randy Travis and others.
As it does with every mission, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association chose a particular community project to emphasize in the months before the event. Participants have been working to donate cars, bikes, bus and rail passes to people in the Dallas area who lack adequate transportation to get to work.
Though Mr. Graham comes from the Southern Baptist tradition, his message resonates with Christians from a variety of backgrounds.
"He transcends denominations," Mr. Washburn said. "He's an evangelist. He never comments on political issues. He never gets into those areas of disagreements between denominations. He focuses on the basics that most of us agree on: Without Jesus, we are lost."
Mr. Graham's organization claims the evangelist has preached the Gospel to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history more than 210 million in more than 185 countries and territories.
Bill Bryant, a longtime member of Great Hills Baptist Church who was involved in Mr. Graham's last Metroplex mission in 1971, described Mr. Graham's ability to inspire with a simple message as "awesome."
"When we saw him at that time he was younger, a vibrant person with a great personality," Mr. Bryant recalled. "The charisma was there that attracted all types of people. By that time, he was well established and had the respect of just about everyone."
Mr. Bryant remembered well the sea of Christians who packed the stadium and eagerly waited for Mr. Graham's altar call.
Then living in Fort Worth, Mr. Bryant was one of many local organizers on hand to record the thousands of people who came forward to answer Mr. Graham's call and accept Jesus Christ as their savior.
"He still has the appeal, I think," Mr. Bryant said. "Of course, he doesn't participate in the crusades now at the same level he did back then."
As Mr. Graham's health deteriorates, his son, Franklin Graham, takes on an increasingly involved role in the evangelist movement his father began more than half a century ago.
Billy Graham also relies on his extensive and highly trained organization to rally people in mission cities, prepare for crusades and coordinate follow-up with local churches.


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