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The Journal Gazette

  • The Rev. Will Graham is the grandson of famed evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham. (Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette)

Friday, October 06, 2017 1:00 am

Following in granddad's shoes

Will Graham brings ministry to city

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

If you go

Who: Celebration with the Rev. Will Graham, grandson of the Rev. Billy Graham

What: Three days of events featuring contemporary Christian musicians and aimed at adults and youths.

When: 7 p.m. today and 4 p.m. Sunday; open to all ages, but planned mainly for adults; 9 a.m. Saturday, KidzFest with bounce houses, balloon artists, face-painting and a petting zoo; 10:30 a.m. Saturday, live drama “The Greatest Journey”; 7 p.m. Saturday, youth night with contemporary Christian music with the Afters, Jimi Cravity and Aaron Shust

Where: Memorial Coliseum Expo Center, 4000 Parnell Ave.

Cost: Free. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. Doors open one hour before evening sessions and 30 minutes before KidzFest. Parking is $5, main lot; $8, preferred lot; and $15 for buses and RVs.

Information: www.facebook.com/gfwcelebration

He's still just “Daddy Bill” – a man who adored his grandchildren and didn't mind when they were offered forbidden fruit – “sweet cereal, Hawaiian Punch and lemonade” – by their doting grandmother.

That's how the Rev. Will Graham recalled growing up with the Rev. Billy Graham.

Now approaching his 99th birthday, Billy Graham famously counseled presidents – and defined evangelical Protestant Christianity for decades during the last century as he crusaded nearly nonstop, imploring people to come to Christ.

Middle grandchild Graham knows it's a big shadow in which to walk. But the 41-year-old nonetheless is following in his grandad's footsteps, preaching the same message while aiming it at younger generations.

“I just think that people gravitate to people who are their generation,” Will Graham said Thursday during an interview with The Journal Gazette at Fort Wayne's Holiday Inn.

“But the gospel message applies to every generation because the same needs, the spiritual needs, are there.” 

This weekend, Graham will bring a contemporary version of his grandfather's stadium-filling mass revivals – he calls them “Celebrations,” not “Crusades” – to Memorial Coliseum.

The events have been planned over more than three years in conjunction with 150 congregations within a 50-mile radius of Fort Wayne, said Erik Ogren, spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Thousands are expected to attend.

According to Will Graham, attendees are still asked to bring a friend who hasn't received Christ and will still hear personal testimonies. And, Graham said, he still preaches a sermon – he calls it a “message” and does the altar calls that his grandfather made famous.

The climax of the event is still asking people to stream down the aisles to the altar to begin a changed life in Christ.

“They are going to be closely the same thing,” Will Graham said when asked if people should expect anything different from what would happen at a Billy Graham crusade.

“The big difference is going to be the music. We (mostly) won't be using choirs. We'll have bands. It will be more like a praise-and-worship (service), except youth night on Saturday, there will be more of a rock 'n' roll feel to it.”

Music choice is but one way the Graham organization – which includes the Rev. Franklin Graham, oldest son of Billy Graham, and Will Graham's father – has changed in recent years.

The organization stresses partnerships with local churches that take on the task of making disciples of the newly called Christians.

And the group also is closely aligned with Samaritan's Purse, founded by Franklin Graham. The group concentrates on bringing humanitarian aid worldwide. 

Another aspect of the group's ministry is a rapid-response chaplain outreach started in response to Sept. 11. Trained responders are sent to disaster areas to bring comfort and prayer to the emotionally and physically suffering – including 311 chaplains now in Florida and Texas ministering to hurricane victims and 18 in Las Vegas dealing with the aftermath of the shooting rampage Sunday night.

“I don't know how to say this, but we don't want to be deployed. ... When we're called out, it's a bad time,” Graham said of that ministry. “Unfortunately, right now, we're stretched a little thin.”

Millennials and Gen-Xers like himself tend to respond to such outreach work.

“Millennials love wanting to help and do things. Sometimes it's not Jesus; it's the serving (they find attractive). Sometimes you could take Jesus out of it, and it wouldn't be much different,” he said.

He wants to strike a balance between that and personal salvation. 

“I want to see people come to Jesus Christ,” he said.

rsalter@jg.net