In a community with more than 100 language groups—and houses of worship for seven different world religions within a four-block radius—Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens was a venue perfectly suited for the Greater New York City Billy Graham Crusade to reach the world with the message of Jesus Christ. Over the three-day event, 242,000 people heard the Gospel message live, and 700 media representatives reported on that same Message to countless others across the United States and around the world.
World of Prayer
Bolstering the outreach that canvassed the greater New York City area was the prayer support of more than 35,000 intercessors.
“We’ve been praying, praying, praying,” said Lezlie Austin-Kennedy, pastor of Cadman Memorial Church, in Brooklyn. Cadman Memorial is a small church–only about 30 members–but it was part of a worldwide network of thousands who have been praying for New York and for the Crusade.
Intercessors around the world kept informed about Crusade prayer requests through e-mail. Many of the prayers participate in a New York-based prayer ministry called the Christian Hope Network, which mobilized its intercessors to pray for the Crusade. Churches devoted prayer meetings to the Crusade, and on June 4, thousands participated in a prayer walk through every zip code of New York City. On June 11, hundreds gathered at the National Tennis Center, adjacent to Flushing Meadows Corona Park. They prayed that God would touch people’s hearts powerfully through the Crusade.
It all came together June 24-26 at Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The park, sprawling across 93 acres near the National Tennis Center and Shea Stadium, may not be as well known to non-New Yorkers as Central Park. But on summer weekends this grand old urban park throbs with activity. Skateboarders practice kickflips and ollies. Bicyclists cruise along wide walkways and shaded streets. Soccer fields are intense with games. Young men shoot baskets, and police officers stop and buy lunch from vendors who sell spicy sausage and other tasty treats.
During Crusade weekend, those activities continued even as thousands of people exited the subway at Shea Stadium and thronged through the park to the Crusade site. For three evenings and one morning, the park became holy ground as 242,000 people heard the Gospel proclaimed and as more than 9,400 came forward in response to the message.
On Sunday, spray from the fountains surrounding the 140-foot-high Unisphere sculpture gave some relief from the sweltering June day. “We’re right in front of South America–it’s a good place to meet,” a woman said into her cell phone. Hours before Mr. Graham’s final message, she and thousands of others filled the walkway around the perimeter of the sculpture–the symbol of the 1964-65 World’s Fair–to head toward the massive platform at the main site of the Crusade or one of three overflow areas. In all, the areas were equipped with 70,000 chairs and seven large video screens. Water bottles were everywhere, and visors, sun bonnets, caps and umbrellas were out in force to protect from the blistering sun.
Each night the Crusade featured a rich diversity of music, with offerings from Salvador, Steven Curtis Chapman, Nicole C. Mullen, Jars of Clay, the Gaither Vocal Band, MercyMe and Michael W. Smith, as well as George Beverly Shea, a 1,200-voice Crusade choir, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and others.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg greeted the crowd Saturday evening, saying, “It is truly an honor for our city to host this historic gathering, and it’s also a tremendous privilege to welcome Billy Graham to New York City.”
Mr. Graham’s longtime associates Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea joined him at the podium Sunday evening for a moving moment as the crowd applauded three servants of God who have labored together for 60 years.
On Friday evening Mr. Graham based his message on the story of Nicodemus, a man who was intrigued with Jesus. “He was a great teacher, a great professor, a very rich man,” said Mr. Graham. “He asked some spiritual questions, and Jesus said to him, Nicodemus, you are a great man, but you lack one thing: you must be born again. Jesus said that it’s possible to start all over again. … The greatest need in the world today is a transformation of human nature.”
Mr. Graham spoke of a peace and a joy that Jesus brings to the heart. He invited people to find new life in Christ, saying, “Tonight, open your heart and say, ‘Lord Jesus, come into my heart’–and He will.”
More than 2,200 people came forward that night.
A 29-year old Harvard graduate who works in the financial district of Manhattan said that he was brought up in a Christian home but that he rebelled at an early age. When Mr. Graham spoke about Nicodemus, the man identified with him, for he too had wealth and status-but also a big hole in his heart. In tears he accepted Christ into his life.
A 12-year-old girl accepted Christ Friday. “I’ve been doing a lot of sins,” she said, “and I want Jesus to come and forgive me so that I won’t go to hell. I want to go to heaven and stay with Jesus, and I want Him to come to my heart, so that I can be like Pastor Billy Graham when I grow up and preach the Word of God. Something in my heart told me I have to be born again, and I have to be different.”
The last night of the Crusade a counselor felt a tap on his shoulder. “Do you remember me?” a woman asked. “You invited us to the Crusade on the subway, and we both accepted Christ tonight.”
Another counselor spoke to a police officer outside the venue well after the Crusade meeting had ended. The officer had not heard Mr. Graham’s message and said that he was turned off by religion. Also, he had lost his partner in 9/11. The counselor shared the Gospel with him and gave him a packet of counseling material. After their conversation and prayer, the officer, with tears in his eyes, said that he had gotten more out of their 15-minute conversation than he had in 35 years of attending church.
Steve Wilson, 44, counseled all three nights. “This has given me a whole new heart for the Gospel,” he said. “It’s real simple. It’s all about spreading God’s Word. It has challenged me.”
Heading Toward Home
Not unlike the reports from those who took the subways home from Billy Graham’s Madison Square Garden meetings in 1957, the No. 7 train out of Flushing was filled with songs of praise and thanksgiving after the Crusade meetings. One counselor reported that on Friday night nearly a whole subway car was singing together after the Crusade for the half-hour ride into Manhattan. And several hours after the final meeting on Sunday, two choir members started singing on their train:
Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you over evil a victory win?
There’s wonderful power in the blood!
There is power, power, wonder-working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder-working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb!
When the choir members got off at their stop, a few other Christians exited the train as well, all bidding a fond farewell to their fellow subway singers traveling on toward the city. The humidity of the day still hung in the air as the small group stood at the Queensboro Plaza stop. One of the choir members who had begun to sense God calling her to be an evangelist exchanged information with a Christian she had just met on the subway. Tears of blessing streamed down her face, and she was so full of joy she could hardly speak. She embraced her new friend, who prayed that God would equip her and fan into flame–as He had for so many others in the greater New York City area–the passion for evangelism that He had begun.
Jim Dailey and Chris Blumenfeld contributed to this report.