Prior to standing before a few dozen pastors at a luncheon in Fukuoka, Japan, Thursday, Will Graham received a cryptic email from his mom. In it was a photo of him as a child—his brothers, Roy and Edward, on each side sitting in the laps of his grandparents, Billy and Ruth Bell Graham.
“I didn’t understand why she sent it until this afternoon,” Will said.
The picture is from 1980, the same year his grandfather first visited Fukuoka to preach the Gospel. Now, more than three decades later, Will is back in the city to do the same at the Celebration of Hope, March 15-16.
Celebration Chairman Rev. Yokota Takeyuki also stood with a keepsake of his own—a poster from that 1980 Fukuoka Crusade. He served on the finance committee back then. Now, Takeyuki’s son, who was a small child at the time, stands alongside his father helping with Will’s event.
“It’s neat to see how God works through generations,” Will said.
Planning for the 1980 Crusade was very similar to how it is today. Takeyuki remembered rallying support from churches and promoting the event. They also got a lineup of popular artists to perform at the Crusade. The same took place for Will’s upcoming Celebration.
Among this weekend’s performers is Lena Maria. Born with no arms and one leg, her testimony has impressed countless Japanese, especially young people.
And local pastors are hoping for that generational impact to continue in Fukuoka and throughout Japan where, according to Executive Chairman Rev. Irie Kikuo, the average age of a pastor is 61.
“Soon those pastors are going to retire. This means churches are in very, very critical positions,” he said.
The Will Graham Celebration of Hope has been eight years in the making. In 2006, 45 pastors, including Rev. Kikuo, gathered and began praying for BGEA to return to Fukuoka.
“We feel like we are living in the days of Noah,” he said. “Drinking, partying, destroying buildings … so many Japanese don’t have true hope in their hearts.”
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has visited Japan several times, bringing the Gospel to Tokyo, Okinawa, Osaka, Sendai, Fukushima, and now twice to Fukuoka. Franklin Graham will also return to the country later in May to preach in Sapporo.
Will reminded the group of pastors they never know how one message can change lives for generations to come. He noted that had it not been for a Billy Graham Crusade, he might have never met his wife Kendra.
Will’s in-laws met after they made decisions for Christ while watching separate Crusades on television in the 1960s.
“They led their one daughter to Christ. And I married their daughter,” Will said. “My life has been impacted because a man and a woman gave their life to Christ.”
“What takes place this weekend is not just this weekend only,” he continued. “For those who call upon Christ, they’re going to start to marry other Christian men and women, and they’re going to raise their families in a Christian home. And then they’re going to have grandchildren that can call on Christ, just like in my family.”
Will likened the work in Fukuoka to God’s promise to Abraham that the number of stars in the sky would be his seed.
“When the clouds clear, we can see the stars here in Fukuoka and those are going to be the number of people to come to Christ for years to come,” Will said. “By faith we can see that.”
Follow updates from the Will Graham Celebration of Hope in Fukuoka, Japan, on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Also, visit billygraham.org for more stories from the event March 15-16.