Between March Madness and St. Patrick’s Day, the upcoming weekend offers plenty of opportunities for drinking and gambling. But the “lucky” residents of Gainesville, Texas, have an alternative for more wholesome activities as the Red River Will Graham Celebration kicks off this Friday, March 16 and concludes on Sunday, March 18.
Local pastors are excited about the Gospel outreach that includes music by The Afters, Rend Collective Experiment and Tedashii. Johnny Leftwich, the chairman of the local committee, said the Celebration is one of the bigger things to hit Gainesville in a long time. “The last big thing was when World Wide Pictures released a film here called The Restless Ones.
“While there is a lot of excitement,” said Will Graham in an interview at the Celebration office Thursday, “like any community, there are people who are apathetic. They don’t care one way or the other. They are more interested in March Madness— in watching the games that will be on this weekend.
“I enjoy basketball too,” Graham added. “But I am more excited to see what God is going to do here. What is more important than March Madness—we are going to forget these games in a few weeks anyway—is sharing the Word of Jesus Christ and seeing lives changed for eternity.”
A Cowboy at Heart
Not that Graham doesn’t love sports. An avid Dallas Cowboys fan, he expressed great admiration for former coach Tom Landry: “What a great coach, a great man, a great role model. He’s a personal friend of my grandfather and so I have a lot of appreciation for him.”
Family ties run deep in the heart of Texas. Will’s grandfather, Billy, preached in Fort Worth in 1951, and in Dallas in 1953, 1971 and 2002. His great uncle Clayton Bell was a pastor in Dallas. Will himself preached in Burleson, Texas, just outside of Fort Worth in 2008.
“I’ve always loved Texas,” said Graham. “I was planning to attend Dallas Theological Seminary but after fulfilling a promise to visit Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (in Wake Forest, N.C), I heard God tell me, ‘This is where you are going to raise your family.’ And I wasn’t even married at the time. I got excited because it meant the girl I was dating–my wife now—would marry me and we would have children.”
All three of Will and Kendra Graham’s children were born in the Raleigh area.
Far from the borders of the Lone Star state, Graham recently shared the Gospel in India. Later this year, he will travel to Australia and Thailand. “Although the audiences in the distant nations are different,” said Graham, “the spiritual needs are the same.”
Gainesville typifies the All-American city, with more of an agricultural and ranching flavor than the corporate world found in nearby Dallas and Fort Worth. “At the same time,” said Graham, “there are still a lot of spiritual needs. Many people think if they just go to church or do good things, that makes them a Christian.
“Most people around here believe there is a God. They are not atheists or follow other religions. Instead the biggest challenge is apathy.”
Texas is a big center for Christian ministries, said Graham. “A lot of great churches call Texas home. But it numbs people to God speaking to us in the sense that we’ve become apathetic and lethargic in our Christian lives.
“That is not just true in Gainesville; it is true in many parts of our country. When religion has been in a place for a long time, the message sometimes goes in one ear and out the other.”
The Gospel Transcends
Graham said one aspect of Gainesville that is a bit unusual is the large segment of German Catholics. Most people associate Texas with Baptists or Pentecostals. “But the Catholic churches have been supportive of the event,” said Graham, “and we look forward to ministering to all people here.”
A strong and growing segment of the population is Hispanic. Graham’s message will be translated into Spanish in one area of the venue. “We will be hitting all audiences and multiple generations,” Graham added. “We usually always see someone over the age of 60 come forward at these events.
“The beauty of the Gospel is that it transcends age. That’s what I love about preaching. When a sermon comes from the Bible, God will use His Word to accomplish His desires for that particular person. God will bring a person under conviction and it may not have been the crux of the sermon or the text.
“That is God calling people,” said Graham. “And that is exciting to see—God moving through the generations, all in one night. We pray we’ll see just that in Gainesville.”
As we concluded our interview, Graham shared the following prayer requests: