As Evangelist Billy Graham closed his three-day Greater New York Crusade, held June 24, 25 and 26 at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, he countered unavoidable media speculation that these meetings might be his last large-scale, domestic evangelistic campaign.
“I was asked in an interview if this is our last crusade, and it probably is in New York,” Mr. Graham told the crowd of 90,000 gathered for the final meeting on a hot and humid Sunday afternoon. “But I also said, ‘Never say never.’
“I will be praying for New York every day when I leave here, that God will continue what He has begun,” said Graham. “With all my heart I love New York and thank God for it.”
According to New York City police and park officials, overflowing crowds totaled 242,000 of which an average of nearly 2,800 individuals responded at each meeting to Mr. Graham’s invitation to come forward and make a commitment to Christ.
More than 1,400 churches representing 82 denominations participated in the yearlong preparations mobilizing nearly 20,000 volunteers from their congregations. Dr. A.R. Bernard, pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, provided local leadership for the Crusade Executive Committee.
“As a result of this crusade New York City will never be the same again,” Dr. Bernard said at the closing meeting. “We are entering a new season in ministry and in the presence of God in New York City and across our country. We are redefining what it means for God to be alive and well in our urban cities. We have a responsibility not to let this transformation stop at Flushing Meadows Park-it must continue long after the Crusade is over.”
Transformed Park for Transformed Hearts
Over five days, 93 acres of Corona Park nestled between Shea Stadium and the National Tennis Center were transformed into a crusade venue consisting of a massive stage and more than 70,000 chairs laid out in open grids at the main site and three overflow areas equipped with large Jumbotron© screens.
Flushing Meadows is surrounded by neighborhoods representing people from more than 130 different language groups within walking distance of Corona Park. In order to reach the multi-cultural mosaic of faces in the crowds representing a cross-section of the multi-ethnic communities of the city, Mr. Graham’s messages were interpreted into a total of 20 different languages—as many as 13 each night.
The 140-foot high Unisphere-the well-known symbol of the 1964 World’s Fair held at Corona Park-stood tall in the background of the crusade site. It reminded attendees of the spiritual unity of the participating churches and the potential of this crusade for global impact as individuals from every race, denomination, and social sphere turn their hearts and lives over to Christ.
Media interest in the evangelist, which elevated his international prominence after his 1957 Madison Square Garden Crusade, surged once again drawing unprecedented news coverage and media attendance at the meetings. More than 700 media representatives were credentialed for the event, including journalists and news crews from more than one dozen countries.
A surprise appearance by President and Senator Clinton was well received by the New York crowd and the former president had some warm words for Mr. Graham. “What an honor it is to be here as a person of faith with a man I love and whom I have followed,” he said. “He is about the only person I know who has never failed to live his faith.”
President Clinton spoke of the first Billy Graham crusade he attended as a child during the Civil Rights era and how the local organizers wanted to have a segregated audience. Clinton recalled Mr. Graham saying, “‘Jesus doesn’t want me to speak to a segregated audience; I’m not coming unless everyone can come to my crusade,’ he said. “I was just a little boy and I never forgot it.”
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also attended the Saturday meeting and spoke of the multi-cultural nature of the Greater New York area. “Every nation on earth is truly represented on the sidewalks of New York City and they are also represented on this lot tonight,” he said. “New York City is a city of many faiths as well as a city of many languages, and we are able to live and work in harmony because of our respect for one another’s faith and culture. In all our diversity New Yorkers share an appreciation for faith—after all, our city was built by people who came here to worship God freely.”
Mr. Graham reminded audiences of the importance of making a decision for Christ using a reference to a recent “Star Wars” film much like he did in 1957 when he used the titles from the Times Square marquees in his closing sermon at that crusade. “In the new ‘Star Wars’ movie we see a young man who made a wrong decision,” he said. “The inner desire to control events and to play god led to his destruction. The decisions you make tonight will affect your whole future. And your eternal future, one thousand years from tonight, will depend in large extent on what you decide tonight.”
Mr. Graham has always been known for preaching about what is going on in the world around him and did so again in New York. Mentioning the great poverty in the world today he also spoke of “another kind of poverty, the poverty of the soul—where longings are never satisfied, where desires are never fulfilled, where hopes are unrealized, and fears are growing,” he said. “Tonight some of you are in that situation. The Bible said God has put eternity in our hearts. We long to know exactly what life is all about. Every day we strive to change our surroundings for the better. This is an inescapable biblical truth—we were made by God to do better, to have a better world.”
Mr. Graham’s son Franklin also spoke from the platform sharing his own need for and experience with Christ and encouraging audiences to make a similar decision. “I went to church and I was religious, but religion cannot save you,” he said. “Being a Catholic won’t save you, being a Baptist won’t save you, being a Pentecostal won’t save you—you must be born again.”
During the final meeting, the Crusade also paid tribute to local rescue workers involved in 9-11. Fireman Joe Picarello of the 21st Battalion of Fire Dept. 10 on Staten Island shared a testimony about the sacrifice of his fallen brothers which resembled the actions of the One who came down from Heaven to make the ultimate sacrifice. “The greatest rescue mission in all of history began at the cross of Christ. It continues to this day and is now reaching out with the same promise it did the very first day, to every person in this the greatest city in the world.”
In addition to sharing a message of God’s love and forgiveness through Christ to New Yorkers the Crusade made an effort to meet an important physical need in the area. With a large homeless population in the city the Crusade’s Love-in-Action Committee encouraged crusade attendees to bring socks for the homeless, collecting more than 250 large boxes of socks, which will be distributed in the coming months by local homeless shelters and ministries.
Area prison inmates were also included in the crusade effort with Mr. Graham’s longtime associate evangelist Ralph Bell bringing the Gospel to those behind bars at Riker’s Island and the Northern State New Jersey Prison system. Nine outreaches were conducted in eight different local facilities with those behind bars also being given an opportunity to hear the message of God’s love and forgiveness and respond to the invitation to make a commitment to Christ.