SOWS SEEDS IN OTTAWA
Is Billy Graham important for the United Church?
To Part 2: The Five Mission Services
By Tony Copple
To Part 2: The Five Mission Services
By Tony Copple
Before I tell you my personal story of the June 1998 Billy Graham Mission to Ottawa, first, here is some background on my own credentials. Billy Graham was in the UK in 1984 and I went to see him at the Norwich City stadium. This was partly out of curiosity because I had never seen an evangelist before. At the culmination of his message, he invited the crowd to leave their seats, and make a personal and public commitment of inviting Christ into their lives. This was unexpected! I of course did nothing. Though I found his message compelling and sincere, I was already a regular ‘church-goer’ at that time, and had been for eight years. This commitment was surely for the un-churched.
A few weeks later, I began to notice posters around London for someone called Luis Palau. There was no indication who he was or what he did. Then I saw him in a television interview, and something about him held my attention. He too was an evangelist, and he mentioned that Billy Graham was a guest speaker at one of his services in June.
On June 19, I went to Queen’s Park Rangers stadium in Hammersmith to see Luis. This time when the call came, I did not hesitate. I had regretted not having the courage to go forward at the Graham mission. From that powerful moment when I got out of my seat, and walked in front of the crowd to the front of the stadium. When I admitted my need for Christ to a counsellor, my faith journey moved to the ‘fast track.’ Looking back, I regret the arrogance and lack of moral courage that held me back in Norwich. Following the Palau mission (which I was drawn to attend on eight nights during the six weeks that he spoke), I sought out and found a home group in Hammersmith. I needed to get into a new lifestyle. Jesus was not just for Sundays! Unless we grow in the knowledge and love of Christ our faith becomes sterile. Graham and Palau were my catalysts. I now consider Palau to be the other major evangelist of our era. When the Graham organization ran a satellite television campaign later in 1984, I took the training and became a counsellor myself! I can still recall encounters with the people I counselled. Before 1984 I merely attended church regularly. From then on I was a Christian, born again in Christ’s love for me personally.
The 180 degree turnThe teenaged Billy Graham was not seriously interested in spiritual matters. An evangelist, Dr. Mordecai Ham, was scheduled to speak in their town. Albert McMakin (one of his friends) persuaded some of their buddies to go, but Billy was not keen to go. However, Albert, who owned a vegetable truck, offered Billy an incentive of driving the truck to the event. Truck driving was more in line with young Billy’s idea of a night out, so he agreed to drive the others. At the mission he was captivated by Ham’s sermon, triggering the "180-degree turn" that his life took, as he describes it in his autobiography "Just as I am". What’s interesting about this story is that almost no-one remembers the name of the young man who invited Billy to the mission, yet Billy Graham’s name is one of the best known in the world. Without the enthusiasm and persistence of Albert McMakin, we may never have heard of Billy Graham. There’s a biblical precedent for this story. The apostle Andrew is documented for one act: that of bringing Peter to meet Jesus. This is why Billy Graham missions include "Operation Andrew," where involved Christians list the names of those who need to hear the Gospel, and then pray regularly for the opportunity of invitation.
An extraordinary lifeGraham has preached to more people than anyone in a single lifetime. Those who have come to Christ through him hold a special place for him in their hearts. He has also been in Ottawa three times before. These were: in 1949, in 1955 (when 23,000 attended a one day rally at Landsdowne Park), and in 1956 when he spoke here during a Council of Churches meeting. Currently he does two city missions a year, and since he is 79 with Parkinson’s disease, this is a feat of physical endurance. He only accepts invitations from mainstream churches, most of which are hardly evangelical. In Ottawa’s case, the mainstream are the Roman Catholics which are 60% of the population, and the United Church. For many years the wider church community was interested in inviting him, but their efforts were somehow never coordinated. They were concerned about some of the trends of modern society and were being forced to re-think the way they delivered God’s message. Finally, two years ago, the local Christian leaders connected interdenominationally, and were at last successful in inviting Graham to Ottawa. Those included several major Protestant denominations, and the Roman Catholics.
The Spirit working in OttawaIn the past 12 months, the National Capital Region has shown a relatively high capacity for interest in Christian matters, especially in the media. This phenomenon included Bill Phipps’ "I don’t believe Jesus was God" interview with the Ottawa Citizen October 24, 1997. Bob Harvey (who broke that story on the front page) had a succession of follow-up articles in subsequent weeks. He then began writing about the forthcoming Billy Graham mission early this year. Harvey is the religion/ethics editor of the Citizen, and an evangelical Christian. He also chaired a national conference at Carleton university on June 7-9, 1998, attended by 200 journalists who were exploring the relationship between faith and the media. For over a year, CHRI-FM has been broadcasting Christian music 24 hours a day in Ottawa, and is the first full strength station in Canada to do so. In March 1998, Lloyd Mackey published the first edition of Christian News Ottawa, and brought out three editions prior to the Graham mission. For the past two years, Alpha Courses have also been proliferating across the region. An example of this exponential growth is that by February 1998 there were seven courses running in the Kanata region alone where I live (one of which I was attending as a group leader). In short, we were getting our share of signs and wonders announcing Billy Graham’s arrival in Ottawa. This was timely, because the last region-wide evangelistic mission here was in1906, when R.A. Torrey was the speaker, himself a convert of D.L. Moody. The then middleweight boxing champion of Canada, Alf Allan, was converted by Torrey, and it was Allan who went on to found the Ottawa Union Mission for Men. Torrey was one of Billy Graham’s professors and was a lawyer. His evangelistic approach was mainly intellectual. He was a lecturer rather than a ‘screamer or shouter,’ and he may well have influenced Billy Graham’s own style.
Church involvementThere are 854 churches within 75 kilometres of Ottawa, and 470 (or 54%) were participating in the mission, representing 46 denominations. They posted information and announced events, and raised financial support. 54 of this group are UCC, and 60 are RC, including 46 of the 56 anglophone Catholic churches. These figures are impressive. But this leaves 384 churches which are non-participating (although in most of these there are individual participating members). I’ll guess that in a few of these it may have been a case of the minister’s encouragement ‘falling on deaf ears.’ In the main, however, I suspect that the enthusiasm of some members of the congregation was unable to break down the minister’s and elders’ feelings for what they still perceive as a version of PTL. Thus the word evangelist is not revered in their vocabulary. Yet leaders such as Catholic Archbishop Marcel Gervais, and Dr. Allen Churchill (of Dominion Chalmers United, the mission committee chairman), were giving a strong message to the ‘rank and file’ and the secular community, even if it were not being heard within certain churches. In February, I attended an Ottawa Presbytery workshop. During a review of appropriate discussion material, I sensed discomfort by some ministers with what they called "Billy Graham’s theology." Some of these ministers had been identified by Bob Harvey in a Citizen article (on November 19) as generally congruent with Bill Phipps’ beliefs. Their theological leanings included the notions of a spiritual resurrection rather than a physical event, as well as the view of Jesus as a spiritual guide rather than the only way to God. I have seen this combination documented as an indication of a cult. I fear the direction we are headed. Give me Graham theology anytime in preference.
At the start of the visible activity of the Ottawa mission (behind the scenes dedicated planners had been ‘beavering’ away for many months) were two events. These were as follows. The first was a women’s night, on March 21, which attracted 3,700 to a downtown location. Gigi Graham Tchividjian, (Billy Graham’s daughter), was the speaker at this event in the Westin Hotel, supported by Ruth Fazal’s music and worship. The second - the men’s event - was also successful. The speakers were Paul Henderson, Gerry Organ and David Sweet, and 3200 attended. The atmosphere at both venues was intense and the organizers knew exactly how to publicize them. They also knew that they must not disappoint the crowd at this critical stage. Instead they further inspired them. On April 4, a "Go Make a Difference in Ottawa" concert was held where Christian rock groups The Kry and Eager played to a crowd of more than 6,000 teens. At this event, 1,000 young people went forward to publicly make a stand for Christ, some to the surprise and joy of their parents. Thus, the momentum was on.
Modern technology is redeemed in the service of the Lord. The Corel Centre (where the main events were to be held) has some of the best PA equipment currently available to project the message to the 18,500 crowd capacity contained within, as well as a further 15,000 without, from a Jumbotron screen. The mission web site at www.billygraham.on.ca was also designed to provide detail on all aspects. CHRI-FM and CKCU-FM also were promoting the mission steadily. Around early June, posters were appearing around the city and on car bumpers. These posters were designed for impact by a professional ad agency. Therefore it was not possible to live in Ottawa and not know Billy Graham was coming here!
Prayer in actionOperation Andrew had been running from the start. The Graham organization had distributed cards for people to write down the names of friends they would love to see come to the mission, but needed God’s help to invite them successfully. Statistics indicate that 80% of attendees are invited this way by their friends. Think back to how you became a Christian and there was probably someone who cared enough about you to encourage you towards a relationship with Jesus. By praying daily for the opportunity to invite those on your list, God would surely take a role here. This happened to me. I dropped in to see a friend, Alan, who was not yet ready to put himself in God’s hands. However, there was no harm in telling him about my involvement, and he was also on my ‘Andrew’ list. As I had expected: my invitation was politely declined. Two hours later I received a call from Alan’s friend Neil, who did want to come, and it was Alan who told him and suggested he call me!
Prayer was a crucial aspect of the mission from the start. Prayer and dedication services were held during April and May in a dozen churches across the Region. Intercession was optimized by issuing daily "persistent prayer’ schedules. Thus all volunteers prayed tactically for specific aspects in synchronism. On June 13, for example, we were to pray for "each special (musical) guest to be a pure vessel, filled with the Holy Spirit, to be ready for our Lord’s use in this Mission."
Graham himself stated during the crusade that if you want to help try to make this mission a success, that he asks us to do three things: 1) Pray. 2) Pray, and 3) Pray. (People now are gathering and organizing and praying for this Fall's Crusade in Tampa Florida and the one in Indianapolis next June.) Well before the start of the evening's meetings, a group of 50 - 100 people assembled in the arena's press lounge to carry on the 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." Can you imagine groups of prayer warriors from 470 churches in Ottawa praying since last year for this Mission? No wonder we see God's hand moving in these events! From June 25 - 28 the Corel Centre was expected to be the most-prayed-for place on Earth as hundreds of thousands around the globe joined our mission in spirit.
Christian Life and Witness courseThe Christian Life and Witness course is for those who might become counsellors or minister otherwise at the mission. These were scheduled in many venues, weekly across the region. Imagine my surprise when I drove up to Kanata Baptist Church at 7:30 pm on April 14 (where Doug Ward, a committee vice chairman was hosting the local course), and I could not even find parking space - in the Farm-Boy next to the church! There were 600 people there and I had never seen so many Christians together in Kanata before. I went to the overflow area and watched Gary Cobb lead the training. Gary rapidly became my local hero. I then cancelled Tuesday night appointments for the following five weeks. This was a man that I was not going to miss. He is as ‘down-to-earth’ and practical as my next-door-neighbour, but at the end of an hour with Gary, everyone in the congregation was closer to God. Other course leaders Jeff Anderson, Jack Humphreys, Rick Marshall and Charlie Riggs evoked similar praise from attendees. I realized that the Graham organization employs the very best, and in no point during the complete course did I detect any shaky spiritual philosophies. On the contrary, Gary explained with clarity many key aspect of Christianity, and freely provided abundant written material for us to continue our studies. These course leaders also handled other major organizational responsibilities. These men were busy! This year I have already completed an Alpha course and the Reconciling and Making New course. The UCC could really learn from Gumbel and Graham. If through misfortune, the mission were cancelled at this stage, this course alone would have justified the efforts of the organizers.
A weekly average of 7,900 across the region attended the Christian Life and Witness series. In Kanata there seemed to be as many on the final night as on the first, (which Gary said is very unusual). As a church elder I was asked to take a role in first-level screening of counsellor applications, and I saw the care and precision put into the selection process. 3,300 candidates turned in counsellor applications. Of these, a proportion who were ministers or elders in our churches (including myself) were invited to become supervisor counsellors. We were also encouraged to take on other roles. I also applied to join the co-labour team to do nightly data processing of commitment cards (which is one of about ten distinct roles for co-labour volunteers ensuring follow-up for the newly committed Christians). As the time drew closer to the services themselves, I sensed an awareness and acceptance across the city that was ‘getting the better of ’ people despite themselves. Many with whom I spoke said they would like to attend! A sense of potential loss is there; for if they do not, they may never have the chance again. So, they accept the leaflet that gives the details of the crusade. The fact that even one may go as a result of a conversation with me is my reward.
Rehearsal timeThe next two nights were counsellor and choral "dress rehearsals.’’ Gary Cobb led the counsellor training. Supervisors were told how to allocate inquirers to counsellors, and then Gary took all councellors again through the counselling process that we had learned on the Christian Life and Witness course. He told us that one of the greatest thrills you can experience is to lead someone to Christ, and then detailed how to do it with the help of the excellent written materials that we would be giving to inquirers. We were 3,000 or more strong in the Corel Centre, and we felt like a cohesive group. On Wednesday 24 June the full choir practised for the last time (the first time for some later members!) Both of these preliminary events earned prominent coverage in the Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Sun the next day, as did the press conference. I linked the articles to my Billy Graham website and sent an e-mail to the people on my list across the country. I asked for their prayers to be added to the multitude of other intercessors that will make the Corel Centre a world target for prayer.
The first day of the mission arrived....