June 26, 1998



By DONNA CASEY -- Ottawa Sun

  Despite ourselves, God loves us.
 That message was at the heart of a sermon delivered by Billy Graham to 20,000 people at the Corel Centre last night on the first night of the evangelist's four-day mission.
 Graham said a biblical verse taught to him as a boy when his mother bathed him in a "tin tub" became the cornerstone of his life.
 "I want you to go to John 3:16, where it says 'For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,' " said Graham.
 Graham delivered his message to 18,000 people inside the Corel Centre and to 2,000 seated outside in an overflow area who watched the evangelist on a jumbo screen.
 The preacher pointed to the gospel verse as the source of many questions asked by "a writer in the newspaper"-- Sun columnist Earl McRae -- who asked for scientific proof of God.
 "It was a very friendly, very cleverly written column and I appreciated it," said Graham.
 "No, I don't believe the existence of God can be proven by science. You can't put God to the test," he said.
 Recent scientific discoveries of new galaxies only give further proof of God, said Graham in his 40-minute address.
 In an up-to-the-minute world with "15-minute celebrities," people are craving a transcendent reality, said Graham.
 "Our souls need to breathe and grow," Graham told the crowd in a gentle and assured voice.
 "Why do school children start shooting each other? We don't get any answers from psychologists or commentators. The Bible has the real answer. The Bible says we're all sinners and we all stand in judgment before God."
 "We're alienated from God, we're separated from God," he said, adding that contemporary social problems are based in "man's terminal disease" -- his sinfulness that goes back to when Cain slew Abel out of jealousy.
 The entire audience rose to their feet when Graham took the podium for his message.
 "I know you're giving the standing ovation for George Beverly Shea to have him sing and not to have this North Carolina hillbilly talk to you," joked Graham.
 At the end of his talk, the evangelist invited those who wished to commit their lives to Christ to come to the arena floor.
 "This is your moment. There's plenty of time. Your friends and loved ones are waiting for you," said Graham, as the choir sang "Just As I Am" in a soft hush.
 About 1,500 people spilled from the stands and walked to the front of the stage, with 45 inquirers approaching the giant screen outside.
 "You are here tonight to say yes to Jesus... You haven't come to say yes to Billy Graham. I don't have any extra power," the preacher told the crowd standing before him.
 Each inquirer was quickly paired up with a counsellor who took down their name and phone number and handed them a start-up discipleship kit. Within 24 hours, each counsellor will follow up with the newly-committed Christian and suggest a suitable Bible study group in their neighborhood. Information from the cards filled out last night will be processed and sent for further follow-up to area churches.
 In the event's opening address, the chair of the mission's executive committee welcomed the packed house to the service.
 "Our purpose as 470 congregations representing 42 denominations is to bring the unique gospel message of Jesus Christ in a in a fresh and dynamic way, both to our communities and to the church," said Rev. Allen Churchill.
 The audience erupted in a round of thunderous applause when Churchill announced "I personally believe we all need a foundation, a framework and a focus in our lives."
 Musical director Cliff Barrows quickly got the crowd on their feet to join the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra in a rousing bilingual rendition of Crown Him With Many Crowns.
 With the stage awash in purple light, renowned Canadian tenor Ben Heppner delivered a stirring rendition of Ne pourvant reprimer from Massenet's Herodiade, followed by Lord, Make Me An Instrument of Thy Peace and Mighty Fortress.
 "It's a delight to be here in Kanata. I'm here to sing for you but I'm able to be public about my faith as well. It's not often I get the opportunity," Heppner told the audience.
 Winchester native and longtime Graham soloist George Beverly Shea delivered a rich rendition of The Love of God before Graham took the stage.
 Heppner and francophone vocalist Lena Di Paolo -- both backed by 45 members of the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, led by London-based conductor Noel Tredinnick -- warmed up the crowd earlier in the evening as mission-goers filed into the stadium about 90 minutes before the service.
 That musical prelude was followed by a half-hour practice by the mission's 3,000-voice choir, decked out in teal green polo shirts and seated behind the stage.
 Choir director Tom Bledsoe put the vocal troops through their musical paces with pianist John Innes tickling the ivories of the $200,000 Fazioli piano.
 The musical army belted out a steady stream of rousing hymns for the packed arena.
 A few minutes before the start of the service, a group of 50 people assembled in the arena's press lounge to carry on a three-week prayer schedule.
 Prayer supervisor Fred Milnes, a United Church minister from South Mountain, led the room's "prayer partners"-- many singing with arms raised and eyes closed - in a gentle chorus thanking God.
 "Jesus is praying for us that we might be one," said Milnes.
 * Tonight's service at the Corel Centre starts at 7:30 p.m. Special musical guests include Inuit singer Susan Aglukark & Band and the Montreal Jubilation Choir. A 2,500-voice choir will perform and Billy Graham will speak.
 * Saturday morning's Kidz Gig kicks off at 11 a.m. with music by Psalty, the Singing Songbook and a 2,000-voice sing-along kids' choir. Graham will not speak at this service.
 * Saturday night has a special youth focus, with alternative rockers Jars of Clay and contemporary Christian singer Michael W. Smith taking the stage at 7:30 p.m. Graham will also deliver a message.
 * Sunday night's service starts at 7:30 p.m., featuring pop singer Amy Grant, Canadian opera singer Tracy Dahl, and a 2,500-voice choir. Graham will give final sermon.