OKLAHOMA CITY - Still preaching the same message of God's love and forgiveness, evangelist Billy Graham returned to Oklahoma City for his third mission - following crusades in 1956 and 1983 - held June 12-15 with attendance totaling 102,000 (including overflow crowds) at the new Ford Center and the Cox Center. Mr. Graham spoke each evening emphasizing that the Gospel never changes; nor has his message changed during more than six decades of ministry because the needs of the human heart haven't changed. "Look at the world today with all of its problems and turmoil," Mr. Graham said. "Look at our homes today with all the people hurting - not just from the bomb and tornadoes. We are asking God to save us from terrorism, to save us from deficits, to save us from lawlessness. Jesus said I'm the way out."
The evangelist believes that the return of Christ will be the only solution for peace in the Middle East. "The situation in the Middle East, in my judgment, has no answer but the coming of Christ," he said. "And there is a power stronger than military power and that is the power God wants to give you here tonight."
Crowds averaging more than 23,000 attended the mission each evening, of which nearly 950 came forward at Mr. Graham's invitation to make a commitment to Christ. Thursday evening's audience was the largest of the four-day event, setting a new Ford Center attendance record of 29,000. Those making decisions were counseled by many of the 10,000 volunteers mobilized for the mission, who came from more than 450 area churches representing 49 different denominations.
Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys served as mission chair, providing leadership to the 49-member executive committee for the six months of preparation. Mayor Humphreys emphasized the great influence Mr. Graham's previous ministry to Oklahoma City has had on the community, unifying its citizens and bringing many to faith in both the 1956 and 1983 missions, and expressed his excitement for what the mission could accomplish in the community.
"We feel really blessed by God," Mayor Humphreys said. "This mission is not something we've put together and not something the (Billy Graham) team has put together, but something that has been ordained by God to happen at this time for Oklahoma City, and will impact the city for years to come."
Most recently, he believes that Mr. Graham was instrumental in bringing comfort and encouragement to the city following the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in April, 1995. Ironically, Mr. Graham's mission in the city has overshadowed news coverage of the ongoing trial of Terry Nichols, accused accomplice in the attack.
Mr. Graham's son Franklin, who serves as president of his father's organization, addressed the crowd on Friday evening mentioning the ongoing work of his organization, Samaritan's Purse, to combat AIDS. "HIV/AIDS has infected 42 million people worldwide," he said. "Last year three million died and five million more were infected - which is expected to rise to 100 million more infections in the next five years. We can't win this battle without God, and you can't make it in this world without God."
Former congressman from Oklahoma J. C. Watts made a surprise appearance at Sunday evening's mission, speaking about his own appreciation for God's love. "Man's love says, 'I love you when you do well and I love you when you succeed. But I don't love you as much when you make mistakes and when you don't do well,'" Watts said. "But God's love says, 'I love you all the time. I love you perpetually. I love you in spite of you.'"
Because Oklahoma is home to more Native Americans than any other state, a special effort was made to reach out to area reservations. On Friday evening, Neal McCaleb, who has served as assistant secretary of the Interior and head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, spoke of his own faith in Christ and encouraged individuals of Native American descent to consider placing their own faith in Christ.
"Oklahoma was, and is, Indian territory," McCaleb said. "We are not here to separate by race or ethnicity. We are here to unify as God's children by faith in Jesus Christ; to reunite by God's grace with each other and with Him."
Mr. Graham referenced the Native American heritage of the state mentioning many of the tribes represented. "Jesus came from a tribe," he said, "the tribe of Judah."
Mr. Graham commented that Native Americans are also a very spiritual people, many of whom know Christ, and he credited that for saving Oklahoma City some of the turmoil of other communities. "Many cities are turning into jungles of terror. You have been spared that in Oklahoma City because you are a spiritually-minded people."
Various ethnic groups were able to hear the mission in their own tongues, as translation and counseling were provided in nine languages, including Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Farsi and Russian, among others.
The Operation Starting Line prison outreach conducted in conjunction with the arena meetings saw the Gospel presented to more than 2,000 area inmates, of which 375 made commitments to Christ and another 350 indicated their interest in learning more about such a decision.
This mission was part of a two-city outreach to Oklahoma, with a Franklin Graham Festival to follow in Tulsa in September. While in Oklahoma City, Mr. Graham continued to express his commitment to God's will in his ministry. While no plans have been announced for further missions Mr. Graham said that he is considering a few invitations. "I never say never," he said, "because in God's work, I'm under His direction."
By Albert H. Lee