Judging by the nearly 800 people who gathered for a women’s luncheon organized by pastors in Fukuoka Friday morning and the 700 or so who showed for a banquet later in the evening, excitement is building ahead of the Will Graham Celebration of Hope set for this weekend.
Friday’s festivities included sneak peek performances by some of the entertainers participating in the Celebration. Though the goal was to get the word out about his visit to Fukuoka, Will Graham didn’t miss the opportunity to tell attendees about “the greatest news” they could ever receive: the Gospel of Jesus Christ in John 3:16.
“God desires to have a relationship with you and me … but many here today have not experienced that relationship,” Will said at the banquet.
“Maybe you don’t feel like anyone loves you in the world. Maybe you feel like you’re all alone, even in a crowded room like this,” he continued. “I’m here to tell you, God sees you, God cares for you, and God loves you.”
Prior to leaving, Will took time to pray for those who may not know Jesus. Each table setting included a decision card for people seeking a relationship with God. By night’s end, 70 gave their lives to Christ.
Dr. Robert Cunville, an associate evangelist with BGEA, spoke at the ladies luncheon. Looking out at a sea of women of various ages, he too urged them to “put your problems at the foot of the cross” and submit them to Christ.
“As I travel up and down the world to preach the Gospel, I have found that all the things the world gives us fail to satisfy the deepest need … in our relationship with one another and most of all in our relationship with God.
“We’re living in an age where everyone wants everything very quickly. We want to do the most in the least time,” he continued, adding that no time is wasted when it’s spent with God.
“We can reach God immediately when we go to Him in prayer.”
Baseball is one of Japan’s most popular sports, so an appearance at the banquet by Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks pitcher Jason Standridge triggered a big round of applause. Standridge made it known, though, that his purpose goes beyond the sport.
“Yes, I am a baseball player. But the most important thing in my life is not baseball. It’s my relationship with Jesus,” he said. “I didn’t realize I was going to come to Japan to play baseball. But I know that I have come over here to spread the love of Jesus.”
The Alabama native took a moment to show off one of the bracelets he wears every game and sometimes gives to fans. On it is the phrase, “Jesus is my strength,” in Japanese.
“I wanted to make sure people knew we’re not just talking about any god, we’re talking about the God,” he explained.
Before leaving the stage, 35-year-old Standridge asked for one favor: “Please pray for me.”
Many in the crowd nodded in agreement.
Hard work and dedication are emphasized in Japanese culture and often linked to the measure of a person’s success. Though a typical workday begins at 9 a.m., many may not leave their jobs until well into the night.
Gene Thompson, director of corporate communications at Chick-fil-A, shared his story Friday, in hopes that those listening would recognize putting God first and serving others second is the best way to prioritize.
“When I follow Jesus and stay close to him, I’m able to have success in the most important things of my life,” Thompson said.
He noted that his priorities are Jesus first, followed by family then work.
“[You might ask], ‘How do you have a good job and have success when work is only No. 3 in your list of priorities?’” Thompson said. “Somehow God has honored this, and He has allowed me to prosper.”
Join the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in praying the message of each speaker from Friday’s gatherings sticks in the hearts of the people in attendance, and the Gospel continues to spread at the Celebration of Hope, March 15-16.