Just as hundreds decided to take the narrow road through Jesus Christ, the Gulf Coast Festival with Evangelist Franklin Graham came on no easy and wide path over its two year planning.
Tornado warnings and downpours welcomed thousands to the first night of the Franklin Graham festival in Mobile, Ala. Before that, plans took major turns with the landfall of the August 2005 hurricanes. Still, the three-day evangelistic event drew 19,287 attendants with 935 people responding to the stage call.
"It was very interesting for us because this [festival] has been about two years in the planning stages, so that tells you it was long before Katrina ever hit," said Terri Wilken, festival director of the Gulf Coast event. "We had kind of a timeline of preparation process all planned out."
The first year was marked with development work and an official public announcement about the festival coming to town was made in May 2005. Two months later, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association opened its local office.
And in the midst of it all, all of the planning involved the local churches, said Wilken.
Once Katrina swung by the Gulf Coast in August, however, all of the churches were diverted to relief efforts, thus affecting festival plans. BGEA, nevertheless, commended the churches for their outreach and support to the hurt.
"That was the right thing to do," Wilken commented.
Although slightly delayed, festival preparation was divided into two areas - what Wilken labeled "physical rescue" and "spiritual rescue."
Preparations went into full swing beginning January with 330 cooperating churches. Although festival crowd turnouts were unpredictable, considering the hurricane-affected communities, the final day drew 7,969 people who spilled into overflow areas in the Mobile Civic Center.
Despite the rough road leading into the festival, Wilken commented, "We're very pleased with the way things went over the weekend."
Franklin Graham's next festival stop is Baltimore, Md., on July 7-9.