Crusade aims to offer spiritual freedom

Posted: Thursday, October 05, 2000

After a year of prayerful organizing and fund-raising, Juneau Celebration 2000 is coming to pass.

Ralph S. Bell, an evangelistic associate with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association since 1965, admitted to a few butterflies as he prepared for the crusade's opening service, scheduled for 7 tonight at Centennial Hall.

"It's always a point of wonder to me to see how many people will be there, so I am waiting on pins and needles until I get the first service under my belt," Bell, 66, said.

This is the third time in the past 15 years that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has held a crusade in Juneau. Franklin Graham, Billy's son, did his first preaching in a crusade here.

Signs around town urge Juneau residents to attend the free crusade, which will continue through Sunday. The signs read "Come free. Leave freed."

"A lot of people are in bondage or prisons of their own choosing," Bell said. "We hope those people will find their way to the crusade. If they are in search of purpose, meaning or direction, we hope they will find it as a result of being in a celebration service like this.

"They might come tonight with a sense of hopelessness and being in search of answers to their needs, and leave with a sense of hope that they can find those answers in the person of our Lord," he said.

Bell was raised in Ontario by an older sister. He came to the United States 30 years ago to attend Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and Taylor University in Indiana, and "just stayed on."

When he was attending Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., a professor asked him to profile an historical evangelist such as Billy Sunday. Because he'd already done such an assignment, he asked to write about a living one, Howard Jones, a Graham associate.

"I became very interested in Jones' life and testimony and we became friends. I was pastoring a church in Los Angeles (in the early 1960s), and Jones invited me to go on a tour with him in Africa. After that he recommended me to Graham's team," Bell said.

Bell has visited Sitka and Anchorage on past crusades, but this is his first time in Juneau. Although hunting is one of his hobbies, he's not sure he wants to stray far from downtown after seeing the mounted bears at the Juneau Airport.

Bell is gratified the effort to put on this crusade has 30 different churches talking.

"As they are organizing, pastors and lay people begin discovering they have more in common than they thought," he said.

Bell's crusade team numbers about 15, including sound and lighting technicians, a music director, four singers, three instrumentalists and a director. For overflow crowds, extra rooms at Centennial Hall have been equipped with closed-circuit television, he said.

Upcoming Juneau Celebration 2000 events, all at Centennial Hall:

* Opening Service, 7 to 9 tonight. Vocalist Walter Arties will sing. Pianist Huntley Brown and Ekklesia, a musical praise group, will perform. Then evangelist Ralph Bell will speak.

* Family Night, 7 to 9 p.m. Friday. The lineup of the evening is essentially the same as the opening service.

* Kids Fest, 10 to 11:30 a.m., Saturday. For kids from kindergarten through middle school. Free tickets are available through various churches.

* Youth and Student Night, 6 to 10 p.m., Saturday. For kids from middle school through high school. Pizza and beverages served 6 to 7 p.m. From 7 to 10 p.m., the program will include a talk by Bell, plus contemporary Christian music from The Kry.

* Closing Service, 4 to 6 p.m., Sunday.

For details, call 586-3737 and ask for the Celebration 2000 office.

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