FLUSHING, N.Y.—Evangelist Billy Graham began his final American crusade last night with a multi-ethnic extravaganza translated into 21 languages and supported by 1,424 churches nationwide.
More than 85,000 people attended the revival, filling five overflow sections, jamming the Long Island Expressway and swamping the local transportation systems to get here.
The new converts represented a cross-section of the world that has moved to New York. Seating sections under the trees surrounding the stage at Flushing Meadows Corona Park were designated for Hungarian, Arabic, Thai, Polish, Armenian, Korean, Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese speakers.
When introducing Mr. Graham, the Rev. A.R. Bernard, the Panama-born pastor of the 24,000-member Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn who headed the crusade, commented on how diverse Mr. Graham’s audiences have become since he began preaching some 50 years ago.
“In 1957, his chairman was white,” Mr. Bernard said regarding Mr. Graham’s first crusade in Madison Square Garden. “In 1991 [in Central Park], it was a white business executive. Here it is in 2005 and it’s a pastor of a mega-church who is a person of color.”
Mr. Bernard sat alongside Mr. Graham last night on the main stage surrounded by an acre of Kelly-green carpet, where inquirers stood before Mr. Graham in answer to his call to become Christians.
“He’s reached beyond denominational and racial lines,” Mr. Bernard said. “In 1957, he invited Dr. Martin Luther King to share the platform with him. He’s had the most integrated meetings for people of color and this is how he’s closing out 60-plus years of ministry.
“For me, it’s a changing of the guard, a passing of the mantle. It’s also the entering of a new season, the 21st century, with new sets of leaders to emerge.”
Translators for the event were provided by the participating churches, said Art Bailey, crusade director. “As word got out in these communities that Mr. Graham was coming, most of them came to us to ensure there’d be an outreach in their language,” he said.