Franklin and Billy Graham Offer Encouragement to Overflow Crowds at Celebration of Hope
"Out of the disaster is going to grow a new New Orleans." - Billy Graham
Five days in New Orleans, two Grahams, one very important message—that even in hurricanes or any other storm you may face in life, there is hope.
"God loves New Orleans, He loves Louisiana...this whole Gulf region, God loves you," Franklin Graham told the thousands of people attending opening night of the Celebration of Hope at New Orleans Arena March 11-12.
"We all face storms in life, whether it is a storm like Katrina, a storm in a marriage, or a storm in our finances," said Graham, who has been heavily involved in recovery efforts across the Gulf Coast as president and CEO of the international relief organization Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. "No matter what storm you face, you need to know that God loves you. He has not abandoned you."
Franklin's father reinforced that ringing message of hope. Touched by the devastation in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, 87-year-old Billy Graham toured ruined neighborhoods, offered encouragement to local pastors, and delivered Sunday's closing message at his son's event. He told an overflow crowd of 17,800 that God can use the storms for moral and spiritual renewal.
"We watched the devastation and the brave men and women who helped carry people in helicopters everywhere, and we knew that a God of love was watching over us. God loves you," said Graham.
The elder Graham reminded the crowd that God is real, that he cares for each person, and that hope is found through Jesus. "Scriptures say that man has a terminal disease because we are all sinners. Every one of us is going to die," said Billy Graham. "War does not increase death, Katrina does not increase death. The wages of sin is death, but eternal life is through Christ."
Sipping from a glass of water, Graham offered thanks to city leaders for "all of the services that are coming back." Graham paused and then added: "and Jesus is also coming back."
Celebration of Hope not only offered encouragement to a devastated city, but also brought history and nostalgia. Billy Graham's friends and faithful partners in his Crusades around the world for nearly 60 years, including the 1954 New Orleans Crusade, George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows, joined Graham once again. At age 97, Shea—still a booming baritone—sang just before Graham's message.
The event was organized in partnership with 215 area churches, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Samaritan's Purse, drawing 30,500 people over two nights with 1,432 people responding to the invitation to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In addition to the Grahams' messages of hope, the weekend event featured music from award-winning artists including Point of Grace, Ricky Skaggs, Nicole C. Mullen, American Idol finalist and New Orleans native George Huff, Dennis Agajanian, the Tommy Coomes Band, and a New Orleans gospel choir.
During the week, Franklin Graham also continued his hurricane relief efforts in the area, visiting with volunteers, meeting families living in some of the 230 mobile homes donated by Samaritan's Purse to Louisiana churches for sheltering hurricane victims, and dedicating one of the five playgrounds Samaritan's Purse is building in New Orleans with the nonprofit group Kids Around the World.
Samaritan's Purse has raised more than $38 million in aid for hurricane victims. As part of that continuing effort, the relief organization has organized and equipped 5,500 volunteers in the Gulf Coast region and helped more than 7,000 families and homes.