Proclaiming Christ in the Land Down Under

Franklin Graham preaches to more than 59,000 in six-city Tour

Christians across Australia are rejoicing at how God moved in hearts during the Graham Tour Feb. 9-24. Coming 60 years after Billy Graham’s historic 1959 Australia Crusade, the Tour proclaimed the Good News of Christ in six of Australia’s state or territorial capitals. More than 2,600 responded to the invitation at the Tour events, with another 1,715 indicating decisions for Christ either through a livestream or by texting their decision to BGEA. In all, 4,386 people registered spiritual decisions through the Graham Tour. 

Perth, Western Australia

With its population of nearly 2.3 million, Perth—the gleaming, robust capital of Western Australia—is one of the most isolated cities in the world, 2,136 km away from Adelaide and a very long way from any other large city.

Local Christians pointed out that Jesus instructed His disciples to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8, KJV); and the Graham Tour began in this “uttermost” city before moving on to less remote locations.

Believers prayed for months that God would change hearts and save souls. Numerous prayer events culminated in 40 days of prayer and fasting that concluded on Feb. 9, the day of the Tour stop and the 40th day of 2019. At 5 a.m., a dozen prayer warriors gathered in the darkness outside RAC Arena to pray once more. First standing in a circle, then walking around the grounds, then kneeling on the hard pavement as the morning star shone bright and the sun cracked the horizon, the group cried out for God to open the heavens, pour out His grace and bring His Kingdom to Perth.

“I long to see the manifest power of the Gospel for the salvation of souls,” said Candace Lahr, prayer coordinator for the Perth event and director of HOPE WA (House of Prayer for Everyone, Western Australia). “To see hearts of stone become hearts of flesh.” 

During the months leading up to the event, God was already changing lives, Lahr said. One woman who attended the Tour’s Christian Life and Witness classes reported that someone brought a young man to her house for spiritual help—he was experiencing demonic oppression. The woman used the Biblical teaching in the Christian Life and Witness materials to lead him to Christ, and then over the following weeks she discipled him using the Bible lessons in BGEA’s “Growing in Christ” booklet.

On the day of the Tour’s Perth event, hundreds of believers arrived early to serve as ushers, prayer volunteers and in other support roles. They were passionate about seeing Perth won for Christ. 

“The prayer right now is for people to be saved, to actually come to know Christ,” said prayer volunteer Belinda Madgen. Suddenly, tears welled in her eyes as she exclaimed, “I don’t want anybody to be lost anymore! Three years ago, I prayed a prayer: ‘Lord, break my heart with what breaks Yours.’ I get really sad that people don’t know Him—very sad. They’re in danger, and they don’t know it.”

More than 13,000 heard the Good News that evening as Franklin preached about Bartimaeus, a blind man from Jericho who had an encounter with Jesus. 

“Sin is a robber,” Franklin said. “It steals your joy. It steals your happiness. It steals your fellowship with God. All that sin leaves behind is emptiness, depression, hopelessness and despair. And here, Bartimaeus was sitting on the side of the road, and he was hopeless. There was nobody who could help him. … He expected to die in his blindness. And there is nothing you can do to rid yourself of your sin outside of Jesus Christ.”

At Franklin’s invitation, more than 500 people came forward to pray, many committing their lives to Christ for the first time. 

One woman who prayed to receive Christ, Nathalia, struggled to express what was happening in her heart: “I’ve got no words,” she said. “It was a beautiful night.” She described her thoughts on when Franklin gave the invitation: “It was like, You know you have to. You have to. Tonight, I knew I couldn’t be on the fence anymore.”

Darwin, Northern Territory

The tropical, northern city of Darwin was the smallest on the Graham Tour. While the other Tour cities were Australia’s five largest, Darwin—capital of the Northern Territory—ranks no higher than 16th. Its population of roughly 140,000 is only about a tenth the size of Adelaide, the next smallest Tour city.

But the spiritual need is as great in Darwin as in any city, large or small. On a typical weekend, only about 2,000 adults attend any church within 250 km of Darwin. Christians point to alcoholism, homelessness, aboriginal spirituality and a transient population as challenges confronting the churches. But the biggest problem, many say, is apathy—a result of hearts hardened by sin.

“People are just indifferent to spiritual things, especially to Christianity,” said Mark Woods, pastor of Potter’s House Christian Church. His wife, Robyn, added: “They won’t even necessarily engage in a conversation. They’re on their mobile phones. They’re in their own worlds.”

Darwin has a significant indigenous population, and much Christian outreach has focused on reaching them for the Lord. Indigenous ministers Bunumbirr and Vanessa Marika mobilized groups throughout the region to attend the Tour event. They also came to Darwin several days before the Tour to minister on the streets and invite people to attend. 

“My prayers are for souls, souls and more souls,” said Bunumbirr, who recently discovered that his grandfather received Christ during Billy Graham’s 1959 Crusade in Melbourne. “I’m just excited for the results, seeing people come into the Kingdom of God.”

More than 3,100 attended the Graham Tour event at the Darwin Convention Centre. Some 800 of those came on buses from more than 250 miles away. By God’s grace, buses were able to traverse unpaved roads that in most years would have been flooded and impassable at the time of the Tour. 

Franklin told the story of the Prodigal Son, and he challenged the crowd to consider their own lives. “My question to you tonight is, have you been running?” Franklin asked. “It’s time to stop. It’s time to come home tonight. To come to your Father in Heaven.”

At the invitation, 360 people came forward, with 203 of them receiving Christ as Savior. Local leaders were thrilled that, considering the small number of church attenders in the region prior to the Tour, the inquirers could potentially boost church attendance by as much as 18 percent.

One teenage girl rested her head on a prayer volunteer’s shoulder as they prayed together. The volunteer explained that last year, the girl had been a student of hers at a Christian school. She had been learning about God at school, but after hearing Franklin’s message, she thought, Yes, I want to know God.

One man who rededicated his life to Christ struggled to express his thoughts in English. He said he came forward because of “so many bad stuff that I’ve done. That’s what made me come back.”

“This was a good opportunity to see the uncompromising Word of God being preached by Franklin Graham,” said Bunumbirr Marika. “That touched people’s hearts.” 

Melbourne, Victoria

Throughout the Graham Tour, many people participated in part because of past connections with BGEA’s ministry—in particular, Billy Graham’s 3½-month 1959 Crusade. The 59ers, as they have come to be known, have been serving the Lord for 60 years, and they wanted to see God change hearts during Franklin’s Tour. 

Jenny Kemp is one whose BGEA connections began at the 1959 Crusade in Melbourne. As a young girl, she attended with her mom, brother and sister. Her brother accepted Christ during those meetings. Jenny committed her life to Christ two years later, and in the following years she often listened to “The Hour of Decision” on the radio; her sister received Decision magazine. 

The connections continued: Jenny sang in the choir when Billy Graham returned to Melbourne in 1969. Her son committed his life to Christ during Billy Graham’s Global Mission in 1995. Jenny served as a counselor during Franklin’s 2005 Melbourne Festival, and she met Will Graham when he was in Melbourne in 2008.

Now on disability and using a walker, Jenny was determined to attend the Graham Tour, even though she needed to take three trams to make it from her home to the Melbourne Arena. “The third tram was packed with folks heading to hear Franklin Graham,” she said. 

Tim Moyle, another 59er who received Christ as a young boy, attended with his wife, Nancy. The Moyles’ nephew received Christ and was saved from drug addiction as a result of Franklin’s 2005 Melbourne Festival. 

“I’m praying that the Holy Spirit will just move and stir hearts and that people would see how much Jesus loves them,” Nancy said before the Melbourne event.

The crowd of more than 9,100 reflected Melbourne’s multicultural makeup. Long lines snaked through Olympic Park as people waited to enter, and when the arena filled to capacity, music artist Steve Grace went outside to play for those in the overflow section. 

Franklin told the story of King Manasseh of Judah, one of the most wicked men who ever lived. The Bible says that at one point Manasseh was captured and taken in chains to Assyria. While imprisoned, he humbled himself and repented, and God restored him. 

“If you’ll humble yourself tonight, God will forgive you,” Franklin said. “He’ll set you free from whatever prison you’re in. What prison are you in tonight? Is it drugs? Alcohol? Sex? Your temper? Dishonesty? Jealousy? Maybe it’s just plain bitterness—you can’t let something go, and it’s become a prison. And it’s eating you up, destroying you. You can be set free tonight.”

Among those who responded was a 43-year-old man who wanted to be sure of salvation. At one time he had become so depressed as to be suicidal; now he feared that in saying that he wanted to die, he had somehow cursed himself. “But when I heard Franklin Graham say today that God loves me, I just wanted to take those words back,” he said. “I just want to believe in Him again.” 

Brisbane, Queensland

Along Australia’s east coast lies Brisbane, Australia’s third-largest city and one of its oldest. It’s a region known for its lush beauty, and here the Graham Tour had its lone outdoor venue: Riverstage, located in the
City Botanic Gardens, along the Brisbane River. 

On a picture-perfect Feb. 18, nearly 9,000 people filled the grassy hill in front of the stage, some on chairs and many others spreading blankets on the ground. 

Before the meeting began, local Christians talked about the challenges of presenting the Gospel in this comfortable, laid-back city.

“In some ways,” said Owen Nichols, “you can go to a developing country and speak to desperately poor people, or you can talk to people in a drug rehab who have got no hope in life, and it is easier to convince them about Jesus than it is to convince rich Australians who feel that they have no need for Jesus. So Franklin’s got a tough task here. That’s why we’re praying that people’s hearts and minds will be open to what he’s saying.”

Local resident Dave Godby, who helped organize a number of previous BGEA events in Australia and elsewhere, pointed to Australia’s secular culture. “Like America, we have a divided government,” Godby said. “One of the parties is almost anti-God. It is so sad. They are pushing so many things that are anti-Christian.”

Franklin spoke about the soul: “Your soul lives forever,” he told the crowd. “It’s either going to be in the presence of God or it’s going to be separated from God. The Bible calls that hell. You say, ‘Franklin, what do you think hell is like?’ Well, the Bible gives some description. It’s a place of darkness. It’s a place of sorrow. It’s a place of memory. It’s a place of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. It’s a place of misery. It’s a place of torment. It’s a place without God. And it’s for eternity. And tonight, you can choose between Heaven and hell. My prayer is that you’ll put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ.”

The message struck home for hundreds.

James, the teenage son of a pastor, came forward and accepted Christ. “I felt like it was time for me to get my life on track,” he said. “I’ve been going through a lot of stuff recently. I needed changes.”

University students and best friends, Maddie and Olivia could barely contain their excitement after talking with a prayer volunteer in front of the platform. Maddie has been a Christian for three years, but on this night Olivia also accepted Christ. 

“I recently had a lot of family problems and heartbreaks, and I’ve just been all over the place,” Olivia said. “I found a lot of clarity and joy when I was going to church with Maddie, but then life got busy again and I dropped off. … I was in a dark place. And with what Franklin was saying hell is like, I’ve had days and nights that felt just like that. I want to break out of that.” 

Adelaide, South Australia

Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia, has been known since the 1800s as “the city of churches.” Yet studies show that it is one of the least religious cities in the nation, with nearly a third of the population claiming no religious affiliation. 

The trend toward secularization has been a long time coming. As far back as 21 years ago, when Franklin Graham held a Festival at Adelaide’s Football Park, local Christians spoke of the many church buildings that had been closed down and converted into restaurants, offices and even homes.

Still, 155 churches, representing 25 denominations, came together as one to proclaim the Gospel through the Graham Tour. Local believers prayed that God would move many hearts to follow Jesus Christ. 

On the day of the Graham Tour stop at Titanium Security Arena, as volunteers were making final preparations before the doors opened, prayer volunteer Sue Bellette was on her knees on the hard concrete walkway overlooking Section 107—face to the ground, hands outstretched, pouring out her heart to God. 

“I was praying for a good flow in traffic and practicalities so there would not be the congestion and frustration that often happens for those trying to get to an event,” she explained later. “I was praying for Adelaide and for some of the people I know who haven’t come to Christ. I was praying for this particular row, this area, and for lots of people to come down. … I’m praying for soldiers of Christ to be made tonight.”

Meanwhile, outside the arena, event volunteer Rumbie Gaura was greeting people as they arrived. “I love to help facilitate people coming to Christ,” she said. “I might not be the one preaching, but I can lend a hand. I pray that whatever seed is going to be planted today may take root and grow.”

Hundreds ended up staying outside, as the arena filled to capacity. In the overflow area, people sat in chairs, on the ground or on the guardrails along the driveway as they watched the meeting on a large screen.

Franklin told the crowd about Nicodemus, a Pharisee who came to speak with Jesus one night. 

“He was religious,” Franklin said, “but he did not have a relationship with God. And there may be some of you here tonight—maybe many of you—who don’t have that relationship with God. Maybe you’re religious, but religion in itself cannot save you. Tonight you can have that relationship with God by putting your faith and trust in His Son, Jesus Christ.”

More than 430 people came forward at the invitation, including a 25-year-old woman named Rachel. “It feels like there is a whole weight lifted off my shoulders,” she said after praying to receive Christ.

Not far away, a family held hands and prayed. The parents were rejoicing that their 14-year-old daughter had just given her life to Christ. 

Sydney, New South Wales

The Graham Tour came to a triumphant close with two meetings in Australia’s largest city, Sydney. 

On the first day, not even a late-afternoon downpour could stop more than 8,500 people from descending on the International Convention Centre, umbrellas in hand. Inside, they quickly filled the towering, four-tier theater.

Believers had worked and prayed for months in preparation for the Tour stop in Sydney. Gayle Hardiman, a senior sales executive with Hope 103.2 radio, said the Christian station had run on-air spots for the Tour, an interview with Franklin Graham, web articles, social media posts and mentions in newsletters that were shared with other radio stations across Australia.

Gayle herself is one of the 59ers who came to Christ at Billy Graham’s first Sydney Crusade. In 2004, she organized a group that traveled from Australia to Mr. Graham’s Crusade in Kansas City. There, Gayle befriended a waitress who came with her to the Crusade and accepted Christ. “I love to talk to people about Jesus,” she said.

Daniel and Eva Wong came to serve as prayer volunteers at the Graham Tour because, Daniel explained, he became a Christian during Billy Graham’s 1979 Crusade in Sydney. “This is my opportunity to contribute for how God has blessed me through the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association,” he said. “My life totally changed because of the Lord. I used to be Buddhist before, but then the Lord changed me.”

Best friends June Scifo and Ashley Prinable also came to Christ at the 1979 Crusade. “We are celebrating this weekend 40 years being Christians,” June said. “So we decided to come this weekend and give back because we’ve been so blessed in our Christian walk.”

On the first evening in Sydney, Franklin talked about the dilemma that afflicts people who don’t know Jesus Christ. 

“Maybe some of you came here tonight, and you’re looking and searching,” he said. “And you don’t even know what you’re looking for. But there’s an emptiness in your life, and you just can’t explain it. … [God] will give you a new life, a new beginning, if you come to Him through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.”

And they did come—hundreds each night—to make sure their souls were right with God. 

Yendi Benitez, who served as the office manager for the Graham Tour in Sydney, said that her in-laws attended on the first night and went forward to receive Christ. At the invitation, they ran to their son, who was a prayer volunteer, and he was able to lead them to Christ. The following night, his sister drove three hours from Newcastle, and she also prayed to receive Christ. 

“Being part of this Tour has been an incredible experience and a real blessing,” Benitez said. “And having three members in our family make a commitment has made the journey and the experience that much extra special.”  

 

The Scripture quotation is taken from The Holy Bible, King James Version.