Will Graham’s first U.S. Celebration opened to over-capacity attendance Monday night in Gaston County, N.C. A crowd of 4,500 turned out to hear Will Graham’s Gospel message, along with music and worship presented by Christian artist Nicole C. Mullen, Gospel singer and former American Idol finalist George Huff, and a choir of local volunteers led by Billy Graham’s longtime choir director, Cliff Barrows.
Presented by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association at Sims Legion Park in Gastonia, N.C, the Celebration was the first of its kind in the area in more than five years. Spurred on by a coalition of three local pastors and the evangelism team of the Greater Gaston Baptist Association, the Celebration was the result of over a year of praying and preparation.
Unity and Youth
Art Duckworth, one of the co-chairs of the Celebration, noted that this event is highly significant on a number of levels. Beyond being Will’s first stateside event, Duckworth said that the preparation for the Celebration has been unifying churches across the county. “Church denominational walls have been coming down. We are seeing an out-pouring of God’s love and spirit and we believe that it will change not only this county, but this state and this nation.”
Duckworth also said that one of the main points of emphasis in coordinating the Celebration was a concerted effort to reach out to a younger crowd. This desire to reach youth was echoed by Ron Caulder, pastor of 1st Baptist Stanley and one of the original three pastors whose hope for community-wide revival in the spring of 2005 was the initial seed for the Celebration. “This was a vision of three pastors that grew into something bigger.” Caulder also cited economic distress, drug abuse, and purposeless teens as many of the key issues in Gaston County that provided the catalyst for this Celebration.
That youth emphasis led the way at KidzFest on Saturday, an event in downtown Gastonia geared towards children. Featured the feats of strength from a Power Team dubbed “The Sons of Thunder” and the musical talents of kid-friendly group Go Fish, the youth of Gastonia were encouraged to make a decision for Christ. With approximately 900 people in attendance, more than 160 decisions were made for Jesus when “kids of all ages” were invited to come forward at the end of the KidzFest activities.
Humanity’s Greatest Needs
Will Graham extended his own invitation to the crowd at Sims Legion Park on Monday night. Drawing illustrations from Isaiah 53:5 (“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed”) and current situations of crisis around the globe, Graham described how all of mankind is in a state of great need. “Our greatest need,” he said, “is that we need our sins to be forgiven.” He continued by pointing out that this presence of sin is the cause of three other great needs: a need for a substitute for the punishment of sin, a need for peace in our war with God, and a need for a divine Savior.
Touching on the issues of particular relevance to Gaston County, Graham said that the spiritual needs of our souls far outweigh the economic or work-related needs of our current existence. “God is reaching down into Gaston County,” he said. “Jesus brings together the division. He is the mediator who brings man and God together.”
At the end of the evening, more than 60 individuals responded to that call for unity with God through Christ. It was a message of hope and love that kicked off the Celebration, one that promises to exceed expectations on multiple levels. Please continue to pray for the remaining events, that the fields would be ripe unto the harvest.