By last March, the sobering effects of COVID-19 had set in, putting BGEA’s slate of 2020 Franklin Graham Festivals and Will Graham Celebrations in doubt. The Celebrations, like Franklin’s Festival events, are typically two- or three-day evangelistic efforts featuring Gospel preaching, special musical guests and children’s events—strategically planned and prayed over by local churches in host cities and by BGEA staff for many months and sometimes years.
But with the pandemic came the first of several Celebration postponements. And Will Graham, who often thrives in tenuous circumstances, was feeling out of sorts about the COVID-caused chaos.
He remembers talking with his wife, Kendra, about an upcoming BGEA Good Friday livestream to be broadcast from the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Disappointed and not entirely comfortable with the shortened, online-only format, Will was mulling over plans for the program when Kendra asked him what his message would be.
“Everybody’s scared to death, and I’m trying to figure out what to preach to them,” he told Kendra. That’s when Kendra piped up: “The Name of Jesus. The Name of Jesus casts away all fear. It’s the Name of Jesus that brings a sound mind.”
“That night, the Holy Spirit, through the words of my wife, really spoke to me,” Will says.
Reflecting back on a year like no other, Will says, “If there’s one word that encapsulated 2020, it’s fear.”
Amid the changing dynamics last year, seven livestreamed, online-only events took the place of the Will Graham Celebrations. The result was more than 1 million viewers, with thousands of them making decisions to receive Jesus Christ as Savior. The Good Friday livestream also included a Spanish-language option.
Those who responded to the Gospel included a man from Massachusetts who viewed the July 4 livestream from South Dakota. Convicted of his lostness outside of Christ, the man responded by email, saying that he prayed for salvation after hearing the message.
“Wow! Thank you for your blood, Jesus. I believe and—like Will Graham asked—I surrender my life to Jesus!” A trained volunteer was then able to share with him some Biblical truths to help him begin his new walk with Christ.
Another man, Isaias from Venezuela, found one of Will’s livestream messages online and reached out to chat with a BGEA volunteer.
“In a world like we are living, how can I have peace and hope?” Isaias asked, following with a statement that applies across the world: “Problems and worries are all around us.” As the volunteer shared verses from Scripture, Isaias grasped his need for the Savior. “I declared from my mouth to Jesus, believing from my heart,” he wrote in broken English. “I repented from my sins.” Despite a slight language barrier, the hope of Christ and the words of Scripture penetrated Isaias’ heart.
Following a Dec. 20 Christmas livestream from The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina, a woman emailed BGEA to say that her 7-year-old granddaughter had prayed a salvation prayer with Will, asking Jesus to forgive her sins and become her Lord and Savior. “Thank you, Lord!” the grandmother wrote.
There’s no guarantee that 2021 will be easier than 2020, despite our expectations and prayers that it will, Will says. Plans are being made for some in-person meetings, but God is sovereign over all human plans. “Whatever happens, we will keep preaching the only Gospel that gives hope in this life and in the life to come.”
If 2020 proved anything, it’s that the Gospel resonates in every circumstance, and especially amid the prevailing fear of a COVID-19 world.
“There is suspicion and distrust,” Will says. “Fear of government, fear of economic loss. People losing their businesses left and right, even as the government tries to help out. People are in debt. There’s a fear of dying. Only God’s Word can calm our fears.”
Will points to Matthew 14:22-33, where the Apostle Peter gives us both a positive and negative example of how to respond to the crashing waves of life. After seeing the Lord walking on the water toward the disciples’ boat, Peter in his bold faith—eyes fixed on Jesus—walked on the water toward the Lord.
“But then he saw the waves,” Will says. “He took his eyes off Jesus, and he got scared and began to sink. … When we take our eyes off Jesus, then we live in fear and start making decisions based on fear.”
For Christians, Will says, our eyes must be fixed on Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit to share the Gospel with anyone the Lord brings to us. Too many churchgoers profess Christ but live like “functional atheists,” he says.
“They may live in fear; they may party on the weekends, speak crude language or harbor racism in their hearts. They say one thing, but functionally they live a life that says there is no God.”
Will says it’s imperative that Christians tell people about Jesus Christ. “And then we must have a life that confirms that. Our lives should be different than the rest of the world. … The only answer to this crisis of fear is found in God and His Word, and we have that Good News to share.”
Above: Will brings a Christmas message of eternal hope during a Dec. 20 livestream.
Photo: Thomas J. Petrino/©2020 BGEA