Billy Graham Visits San Diego

May 05, 2003 03:39 PM EDT

SAN DIEGO, Ca. – Mission San Diego, featuring the Rev. Billy Graham is expected to draw more than 200,000 people next week. Many followers believe the upcoming trip will be the last time Graham will appear in Southern California due to his age and health.

The San Diego sessions with the slogan, “The praying won’t stop until something happens,” are free to the public and members of about 670 churches representing at least 66 denominations are expected to fill the 67,000 Qualcomm Stadium from May 8 –11.

Graham is scheduled to preach each night of the San Diego mission.

Graham’s evangelical career began in 1949 in Los Angeles when he set up a tent on a downtown street corner for eight weeks and pleaded with the crowds to accept Jesus as Christ. Since then, Graham has preached to more than 210 million people in 185 countries.

In last year’s mission event, more than 15,000 people stood in a parking lot and listened to Graham after they couldn't get into an already jammed football stadium in Dallas.

Graham, 84, diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and hydrocephalus, has been on farewell tour of sorts for the last few years.

"It's amazing. He's 84. Most mass evangelicals who travel like he has don't live past 60 because the travel is so hard on them," said the Rev. Jim Garlow of the Skyline Church in the San Diego suburb of La Mesa.

Many of Graham's followers said they are compelled by their faith to proselytize.

Youths are being encouraged to attend the San Diego mission and to bring friends who may not yet be believers in Christ, said Michelle Livingston, the associate director of high school ministry at the College Avenue Church in San Diego.

Thousands of teens are expected to attend and at one point to encircle the stadium while holding hands and praying. Livingston said teens are often more comfortable in church than at home or in school because church is a place they can "ask the hard questions and be forgiven."

"We're always encouraging kids to build relationships with those who don't know the Lord," Livingston said. "I think, with Billy Graham, so many of our believer kids are starting to catch on to the vision that they need to love their friends enough and care for them enough to introduce them to Jesus."

At times, the proselytizing has caused problems, said the Rev. Geoffrey Brown, of the Fletcher Hills Presbyterian Church in El Cajon.

"We have to admit that at times we're impolite," Brown said. "Rev. Graham's intent is to address those who haven't given their lives to the Lord Jesus, so Christians who already have can at times be aggressive because they want to share the chocolate cake."

Along with Graham’s sermons, a Christian rock concert is scheduled for teens on Saturday night. There will be a time of testimony by people in the crowd and an invitation period for them to come forward and accept Jesus. There will also be a large choir — more than 4,500 singers have volunteered — and the mission will be syndicated to television stations around the world.

Brown said that it is Graham's relentless drive to deliver a simple message about Christ that continues to draw thousands to his missions.

"He's holding the same message year in and year out that Jesus is the way we come to God," Brown said.

"In the midst of a cultural time that is so filled with abundance, he's offering something supernatural in the midst of an American people who are internally wired to receive from God."

By Pauline J.