- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2005

FLUSHING, N.Y. — Evangelist Billy Graham began his final American crusade last night with a multi-ethnic extravaganza translated into 21 languages and supported by 1,424 churches nationwide.

More than 85,000 people attended the revival, filling five overflow sections, jamming the Long Island Expressway and swamping the local transportation systems to get here.

“I have stars in my eyes,” Mr. Graham said in opening his 30-minute speech. “It’s great to be back in New York.”

Mr. Graham, 86, who ascended to the 8-foot-high stage via a hydraulic lift, was given a lengthy standing ovation by the enormous crowd. It was the first of three rallies this weekend.

“After all this music and all you’ve read and heard, I am probably a anticlimax,” he said.

“Nooo,” the crowed cheerfully responded.

Mr. Graham welcomed new Christians attending the event and urged others to atone.

“We are Christians, maybe. We go to church. We’ve been baptized. We’ve been confirmed. But deep inside we need something else, and that something else can be brought about by Jesus,” he told the crowd.

The new converts represented a cross-section of the world that has moved to New York. Seating sections under the trees surrounding the stage at Flushing Meadows Corona Park were designated for Hungarian, Arabic, Thai, Polish, Armenian, Korean, Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese speakers.

When introducing Mr. Graham, the Rev. A.R. Bernard, the Panama-born pastor of the 24,000-member Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn who headed the crusade, commented on how diverse Mr. Graham’s audiences have become since he began preaching some 50 years ago.

“In 1957, his chairman was white,” Mr. Bernard said regarding Mr. Graham’s first crusade in Madison Square Garden. “In 1991 [in Central Park], it was a white business executive. Here it is in 2005 and it’s a pastor of a mega-church who is a person of color.”

Mr. Bernard sat alongside Mr. Graham last night on the main stage surrounded by an acre of Kelly-green carpet, where inquirers stood before Mr. Graham in answer to his call to become Christians.

“He’s reached beyond denominational and racial lines,” Mr. Bernard said. “In 1957, he invited Dr. Martin Luther King to share the platform with him. He’s had the most integrated meetings for people of color and this is how he’s closing out 60-plus years of ministry.

“For me, it’s a changing of the guard, a passing of the mantle. It’s also the entering of a new season, the 21st century, with new sets of leaders to emerge.”

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s decision to locate its last crusade in polyglot Queens, home to speakers of some 130 languages, was a strategy crafted on the understanding that evangelism’s future is multicultural by necessity.

“Queens is considered a microcosm of the world,” said Ralph Castilla, chief marketing officer for Christ Tabernacle, a Spanish- and English-speaking church in Brooklyn. “Everyone is here. Proverbs 11:30 says, ‘He who wins souls is wise.’ It is wise for the Billy Graham association to be deliberate about outreach to people groups in the area.”

One subway stop away in downtown Flushing, the service times for St. George’s Episcopal Church are listed in Spanish, Chinese and English. Across 39th Street from the church at the Sheraton LaGuardia East, one of the breakfast specialties is scallion pancakes, Shanghai style. ATMs at banks a half block away carry instructions in Chinese, English and Braille.

The boroughs east of Manhattan have fueled an amazing growth in Christianity, chronicled by a late 1990s Columbia University survey that turned up 7,100 evangelical Protestant, charismatic and Pentecostal churches with an average membership of 212 persons in New York City. In South Bronx, one new church opens every three weeks.

“That’s 1.5 million New Yorkers who attend Protestant churches,” Mr. Bernard said. “For too long, New York has been painted as a city in spiritual darkness, a stronghold of Satan. The reality is things have changed dramatically. There’s a spiritual transformation taking place in New York City.”

Translators for the event were provided by the participating churches, said Art Bailey, crusade director. “As word got out in these communities that Mr. Graham was coming, most of them came to us to ensure there’d be an outreach in their language,” he said.

In order to reach everything from the largest Korean assembly to the smallest African Pentecostal storefront, crusade organizers had 153 organizational meetings with local churches, “three times as much as we’ve done elsewhere,” Mr. Bailey said.

Organizers also recruited volunteers from churches separated by two rivers and four states.

“There’s eastern New Jersey, southern Connecticut, Philadelphia, Long Island, the five boroughs, Westchester County — there is no central location for people in a 50-mile radius of here. People don’t cross those boundaries. It’s hard to get someone from the Bronx to come down to Staten Island or someone from Staten Island to go to Brooklyn.”

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