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    Billy Graham, church response to fires key 2003 stories in county

    The Church of San Diego County certainly made an impact in 2003, with an incredible response to Mission San Diego with Billy Graham in May, then reaching out in love to fire victims in November.

    It took just five months to plan the Billy Graham event in Qualcomm Stadium, site of another exciting event in 2003, the Super Bowl. The Mission, held May 8-11, drew crowds averaging 54,000 people to the meetings over four days, of which an average of 3,200 came forward at the 84-year-old evangelist’s invitation to make a commitment to Christ.

    Mission San Diego was the third crusade in America’s Finest City and it set a Mission record for a children’s event with 40,000 kids and parents gathered for the Kid’s Mix on Saturday morning. The 700 local churches involved was also a record. In addition, the 74,000 youth attending Saturday evening’s “Velocity, a Concert for Our Generation” event, broke the stadium record previously held by the 1988 Super Bowl.

    The gatherings included the first broadcast of a Billy Graham mission meeting over the Armed Forces Radio and Television Network to more than 800,000 military personnel and their families on every ship and base around the world. The mission had a military flavor, as San Diego is the largest military community in the free world. Mission organizers made a special effort to recognize and include these military members.

    Mr. Graham’s presentation of the Gospel message to the community was on the mark. “All of us are going to die,” he said on the first evening, as 54,000 listened intently. “In the next 60 to 70 years, almost everyone in this stadium will be gone. The hope and love we have in Jesus Christ, however, transcends death.”

    On Mother’s Day, Mr. Graham told the story of a $65 diamond that was worth half that amount because it was filled with flaws. “And we are the same, filled with sin that we want to keep hidden,” he added. Yet we can write beneath each one of these transgressions the same thing, “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin.”

    There was no pounding, no shouting, no drama – just the truth, spoken simply and honestly by a humble man who has changed the world, and who left San Diego a different place than he found it.

    “I’ll probably never preach another sermon in San Diego,” Mr. Graham offered in his final words to the crowd, “but I’ll see you in Heaven.”

    And as incredible as it was for the 17,000-plus who accepted the invitation to be a Christian and for the tremendous unity among the churches, there was another significant part of the story that helped prepare the church for its outreach to the fires that came 5-1/2 months later.

    The Pastors’ Prayer Group that helped bring the Mission to San Diego was renamed the Pastors’ Rapid Response Team and it’s role became training both pastors and lay people in emergency preparedness. That training was certainly evident when three separate fires flared on Halloween weekend. Before it was over, they claimed more than a dozen deaths and 2,200 homes. Churches from throughout the county went into action, offering food, shelter and prayer.

    That help is still occurring, much of it organized by Urban Opportunities Unlimited. The organization can still use volunteers in their office for answering phones, sorting donations, making calls, etc., and in many locations throughout San Diego County. This would include working with families on their properties and assisting in church-run recovery centers. Visit the group’s web size, for a list of areas to help and for information on specific volunteer opportunities not listed, call (619) 521-3821 or (619) 997-5332.

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