They came bearing brown bag lunches and Bibles. They came from places as far away as Florida, and they came in caravans from the University. They wore blue jeans, three-piece suits, T-shirts or dresses.
Whether they came on foot or on wheels, people of all races, ages and religions came together to see the most famous evangelist in the world Wednesday at the Metrodome.
Under the dome’s tarp-like roof, The Greater Twin Cities Billy Graham Crusade brought new meaning to the term “revival tent.” But Graham’s old-time religion remained unchanged in the modern setting.
Graham emphasized the Christian belief that salvation for individuals and communities can only be found through Jesus Christ.
He connected racial problems and the recent burnings of black churches to hearts being alienated from God.
“United, we can make a big difference in the state of Minnesota,” Graham said. “This race problem is never going to be solved until we have the love of God in our hearts.”
Followers of Graham at the University say he presents the message of Jesus Christ in an unusual way.
“We encourage students to bring people (to the crusade) who have never heard the word of Jesus Christ,” said Gaylord Tsuei, adviser to the Asian-American Christian organization at the University. “And I think Graham says the word great.”
Tsuei is not alone in his admiration for the simplicity of Graham’s message.
“There’s a magnetism he has,” said follower Ruth Williams. “He doesn’t preach down or up at us. He seems like one of us.”
Graham’s crusades began nearly 50 years ago and have grown both in public visibility and fund-raising power. The Billy Graham Evangelical Association, which has its headquarters in Minneapolis, has become a $100-million-a-year nonprofit organization.
The organization has held two other crusades in the Twin Cities — both at the State Fairgrounds in St. Paul, in 1961 and 1973.
Throughout the history of Graham’s crusades, he has been applauded for the open, ecumenical nature of his revivals.
Tsuei said although there are notable differences among Christian denominations, Graham emphasizes giving the gospel message to everyone. “He has chosen not to be controversial to deliver his message,” he said.
“The Lord has used Billy Graham over the years,” Tsuei said. “He’s pretty humble — he’s just the messenger.”
Elaine Sund, from Coon Rapids, said Christians need to overcome denominational differences.
“People dwell too much on differences,” she said. “They’re not so (different).”
Beth Pollmer, one of 9,000 people who volunteered to be counselors at the event said, “Billy Graham has a way of combining everyone together, the way it should be.”
The coordinators of the event trained counselors to help those who came down to the field at the end of the service, when Graham traditionally calls on audience members to come forward to commit their lives to Christ.
Counselors were assigned to help persons of same gender and age group.
Youth counselor Abigail Reed said it was planned this way to help people feel comfortable and uninhibited.
Others expressed the same intentions.
“If you are a follower of Jesus, it is a great opportunity to express your faith and help others,” said Mike Dickens from Campus Ambassadors.
About 45,000 spectators attended the first night of Graham’s five-day crusade.
Thousands of people answered Graham’s call to come down to the field.
Tsuei, who was sitting near the top row of the Metrodome, said it was amazing to see so many people on the field at one time.
“I think a large percentage were at a point in life where they were ready to make a decision for Christ,” Tsuei said. “A lot of people were praying for their friends.”
Allen Ziemann, a supervisor for the counselors at the crusade, said that Graham’s message has a way of changing people’s lives.
“The first time I attended a Billy Graham crusade,” Ziemann said, “I was an inmate. Now I’m a counselor.”
Minneapolis mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman welcomed Graham at the crusade.
The mayors said Graham brings hope to both cities as they struggle with racial conflict and crime.
“Dr. Graham’s relationship with God transcends religious boundaries,” Coleman said. “Strong faith is not only critical to our personal salvation, but critical to our community’s salvation.”
Sayles Belton used the parable of the good samaritan to illustrate how both communities need to dissolve tensions.
“Rev. Dr. Graham … you have come at a time when we so desperately need to renew our spirituality and connection to each other,” she said.