Billy Graham's new crusade a last big splash, many feel 2 million expected to view via satellite

March 17, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

ESSEN, Germany -- Starting tonight in a small hall in the heart of the Ruhr Valley, the Rev. Billy Graham begins what some believe is his last great crusade.

Slowed by the rush of years and onset of Parkinson's disease, which grips him more than he publicly lets on, Mr. Graham is no longer the fire-breathing preacher who first wowed the world 45 years ago.

Instead, he is a silver-haired evangelist whose hands often shake, whose time and energy are conserved by conscientious aides, and whose ministry continues along a dramatic new course this week in Germany.

Relying on modern technology to send out his message, Mr. Graham begins a five-night crusade expected to reach more than 2 million people in 59 countries and territories. The United States is not included.

Whatever he's done before -- and whatever he does over the next year at crusades planned for Pittsburgh, Columbus, Ohio, and Tokyo -- those who know Mr. Graham believe the Charlotte, N.C., farm boy who long ago left the farm is about to make one more big splash.

"I fully don't expect to see another major crusade like this," said David Neff, managing editor of Christianity Today magazine. "In some ways, this is the crowning event."

Where once he preached to stadiums full of folks yearning to hear God's word, Mr. Graham speaks this week to an audience of just 7,000 in Essen, while millions more watch via satellite.

The Essen event is the fourth and largest of Mr. Graham's satellite crusades meant to minimize the wear and tear on him as he reaches out to

new people in such far-off places as Iceland and Siberia.

Mr. Graham, 74, met with 100 reporters Monday in the German capital, Bonn, and addressed 2,000 crusade volunteers last night in Essen's Grugahalle.

"It's not Billy Graham," he preached. "It's the message and power of the Holy Spirit. It can help people who are out of jobs in the steel industry. It can help those people thinking of war. This is the message we've come to Germany to proclaim."

Mr. Graham's son, Franklin Graham of Boone, N.C., also an evangelist, said this is the type of general message his father now favors.

"He wants to preach Jesus on the cross," said Franklin Graham, who is seen widely as a possible successor to his father. "It's sin that makes man hate fellow man. There is hatred in every culture."

Franklin Graham believes Parkinson's disease has helped his father in at least one respect. The central nervous system ailment that has left Billy Graham with a shuffling walk and unsteady hands forces him to prepare that much harder.

Privately, though, Billy Graham has told friends that the disease and medicine he takes for it have saddled him with high blood pressure and other side effects.

"He seemed on Sunday a little depressed about his condition," said Bob Evans, who went to Wheaton College with Graham in the 1940s and is writing a book about Graham's work in Europe. "When he preaches, at least he has the ability to bounce back physically. But there's a valley in there."

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