MINNEAPOLIS - Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys and state Governor Brad Henry welcomed Billy Graham team members to Oklahoma City today as plans for a June Billy Graham mission were unveiled. As chairman, Mayor Humphreys will oversee the five-month preparation process, culminating in meetings June 12-15 at the Ford Center in downtown Oklahoma City.
"Billy Graham holds a special place in the life and history of Oklahoma City; none of us will ever forget his leadership of the memorial service in 1995 after the bombing," Mayor Humphreys said. "Multiplied thousands of lives have been changed forever through his ministry in our city over the past 50 years. I consider it a great privilege to be 'front and center' for the blessings our community will see in the coming months as a result of this mission."
"I am overwhelmed to receive an invitation to come to Oklahoma City to preach at an evangelistic mission this June," Mr. Graham said in a statement read at the event. "Although my strength is more limited now that I am in my eighties, my burden to proclaim the Gospel is as strong as ever."
The announcement of Mission Oklahoma City with Billy Graham follows the Jan. 9 announcement of Mission San Diego, which is scheduled for May 8-11. After his strongest preaching in more than five years at the October 2002 Metroplex Mission in nearby Dallas/Fort Worth, Mr. Graham indicated a desire to consider future missions, and subsequently accepted the San Diego and Oklahoma City invitations.
Community and religious leaders gathered at the Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City to welcome the Billy Graham team. Cliff Barrows, longtime program director for Billy Graham missions, and Larry Turner, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association vice president of Crusade Ministries, conveyed Mr. Graham's acceptance to the gathering.
"This is a community that knows about crisis and has learned to come together in unity," Mr. Turner said. "Mr. Graham recognizes that Oklahoma City is still in need of comfort and healing, and he wants to bring a message of God's love and compassion to the entire community."
Metroplex Mission Co-Chairs Boone Powell and Jim Nichols traveled to the Oklahoma City announcement event to present to the mayor and governor a $100,000 seed gift to aid in preparations for the next mission. "Even though Oklahomans and Texans are rivals on the football field, there is no rivalry when it comes to the work of the Lord," Mr. Nichols said. The Metroplex Mission committee also contributed a $100,000 seed gift to the San Diego mission.
Mission Director Scott Lenning noted that this announcement event bridged a political, as well as theological, gap across the region. As the Republican mayor embraced the newly inaugurated Democratic governor, Mayor Humphreys told the governor that he has prayed for him every day since he took the oath of office. The mayor then asked all in attendance to demonstrate their commitment to pray regularly for Governor Henry and for the lives who will be touched by this mission.
Civic and lay leaders from throughout the Oklahoma City area expressed optimism about the impact a Billy Graham mission could have on the community. "We are thrilled at the prospect of having Billy Graham in Oklahoma again," said Tom McDaniel, Oklahoma City University president. "He has a unique ability to touch and change spiritual lives, as he has demonstrated around the world and in our community."
"We are full of anticipation about what God will do in our community when Mr. Graham comes to Oklahoma City this year in June," said Kirk Jewell, general manager of The Daily Oklahoman. "I believe God has uniquely had His hand on our city since the world prayed for us in the days and months following the bombing in 1995. He has already achieved mighty things here, and I expect even more will unfold in our future."
"I could not be more excited that God has provided this historic opportunity for Oklahoma City to hear Dr. Graham proclaim the Gospel again. I believe we will see thousands come to faith in Christ," said Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Oklahoma Baptist General Convention.
Susan McCalmont, director of The Kirkpatrick Foundation in Oklahoma City, expects there will be other benefits to the region, as well. "We are excited about the opportunity for the Body of Christ to become more unified and to work together through this process," she said. "We are anticipating the impact it will have not only on our community and city, but all of Central Oklahoma."
It is estimated that the Oklahoma City mission will mobilize more than 15,000 volunteers from 500 area churches, representing 45 different religious denominations. The preparations will be overseen by a 34-member executive committee, which will be guided by the local Billy Graham mission team under the leadership of Mission Director Scott Lenning.
This will be Mr. Graham's third mission in Oklahoma City, which is the only city in Oklahoma in which he has held missions. The previous two occurred June 3-July 1, 1956, which saw more than 464,000 in attendance, of which 7,000 made decisions; and Oct. 23-30, 1983, with attendance of 130,800 and 3,000 faith commitments.
Mr. Graham held missions last year in Cincinnati, Ohio, in June, and Dallas/Fort Worth in October. Both efforts saw increased attendance each evening, with a high attendance of 65,600 at the final meeting in Cincinnati, which saw 11,200 individuals make faith commitments. The Metroplex Mission set a new stadium attendance record of 83,500 for Texas Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, and more than 11,000 decisions were recorded over the four-day event.
By Albert H. Lee