Evangelist to lead four-day crusade

Billy Graham group to hold October event

Posted: Monday, June 26, 2000

Many Juneau churches are gearing up for a Billy Graham-style evangelist crusade set for October.

Ralph S. Bell, an associate evangelist in the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, is scheduled to lead Celebration 2000, four days of religious services and other activities Oct. 5 through Oct. 8 at Centennial Hall.

The services, intended to renew Christians' faith and draw new church members, are like a fulcrum. A lot takes place in the local community before and after them.

Beforehand, local churches raise funds; recruit a large choir, ushers and other volunteers; arrange the events; and train some congregation members in how to help the new Christians who are anticipated. Church members also will ask friends and co-workers to attend the celebration.

The vast majority of people who decided to become Christians at crusades were invited to the meeting, said Bill Marti of the Minneapolis-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He's directing Celebration 2000.

After the meetings, church members follow up with new Christians with Bible study groups. Eventually, they are referred to a church.

Evangelistic events draw people to a neutral place who aren't yet religious and may not feel comfortable in a church, said Pastor Johnny Reimer of the Douglas Island Bible Church. He's chairman of the Celebration 2000 Executive/General Committee, and he organized two previous Graham-associated crusades in Juneau -- in 1985 and 1989.

The crusades also revitalize people who already go to church, Reimer said. ``It's a known fact we get so caught up in daily routine or climbing the ladder that the spiritual is pushed to the background,'' he said.

Doreen Shaw, this year's advertising and publicity committee chairwoman, was affected by a crusade in Juneau in 1985, when evangelist John Wesley White spoke. At the time, she was a high school sophomore who didn't attend church. It wasn't the music or the crowd that influenced her. It was White's words, she said.

``I discovered the truth, so to speak,'' Shaw said. ``I just found a peace or a place where I learned that the Bible was the truth and that's where I could go to base my decisions on. It made my life a little less scary, a little less uncertain.''

About 15 percent of Juneau's population attends church, Marti said. That's about half the national average, he said. But 21 of 35 local churches are participating in Celebration 2000, a higher than usual percentage for the association's crusades.

The Graham association gets 300 inquiries a year from communities in North America about crusades, but it accepted only 18 this year, Marti said. The decision on where to bring an evangelist isn't based on money or population, he said. It's based on prayer by the evangelist and local commitment across denominations and ethnic groups.

Juneau pastors were looking for an evangelist who was non-denominational and clear in presenting the gospel message, Reimer said.

But this is likely to be the last crusade by the Graham association here, Marti said. The organization has decided not to go to small communities anymore because it costs so much more than the towns can pay.

The crusade in October is budgeted at more than $300,000, of which $158,000 is expected to be raised locally. So far, Juneau organizers have raised about $13,500. The association will bring about 40 performers, stagehands, technicians and administrative staff to town. And it requires prior work at the association's Minneapolis headquarters.

Three hundred thousand dollars sounds like a lot of money, Reimer said. ``Then you think: What's the value of a family coming back to be a family that was ready to disintegrate?'' he said.

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