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Local residents’ efforts bring crusade to the Tri-Cities

Deborah Peterson • Apr 26, 2018 at 10:30 AM


Even as the world mourned the recent passing of the famous evangelist Billy Graham, plans were well underway for a Will Graham Celebration in the Tri-Cities area. While the mission of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is to share the love of Jesus with the world, bringing them to Tennessee was nothing short of a miracle.

“To have them come here is the Lord at work, no doubt about it,” said former Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey.

“It has taken six years to get on their radar,” he said.

In 2018, crusades will be held in Australia, Scotland, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Portugal and Tennessee. Because of the prayers and efforts of many local residents, the long-awaited dream will finally become a reality when Will Graham, grandson of Billy Graham and oldest son of Franklin Graham, comes to Freedom Hall Civic Center on April 27-29.

Kingsport resident Jerry Morrell said he invited Graham to the area because he was burdened for the youth of our region.

“It’s my belief that due to the drug problem, we’re losing a generation. The only hope they have is Jesus Christ,” he said. His vision was to have Graham come to help bring spiritual revival and renewal to the area. “I dreamed about it for six to eight months,” he said. In 2015, Morrell encouraged several Kingsport business owners, government officials and church pastors to write letters to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, asking them to come.

“God gave me a vision and I’m seeing it come to pass,” he said.

Ron Ramsey is on the finance team that raises the necessary funds to pay for the event. “I’ll be honest with you, when I was asked to be a part of this, I hesitated. I had gotten out of politics, wanted to get out of public life and get out of doing things like this,” he said. “But how do you say no to Billy Graham?” he laughed.

When asked why he agreed to join the effort, he shared his concern for the community.

“There’s no doubt that we need a revival, a renewal of faith here in the Tri-Cities with the opioid problem that we have. I was in state government for 24 years and there are just some things the government can’t do,” he said. “Nothing can solve this except Jesus Christ. And I do think that if I can help bring people to Christ and get souls saved, then I can do more in three days than I did in 24 years.”

According to Bob Hickling, Celebration director, there are over 235 local churches of varied denominations that are actively participating in the event, and over 750 volunteers. Counselors have attended Christian Life Witness classes, and training sessions were provided for the many ushers, prayer teams, steering teams and pastor teams.

Though the event only lasts three days, the Graham team stays in the area for around six months. Dale Thomas, chairman of the finance team, explained why. “This Celebration is like an iceberg. Only 10 percent is sticking out of the water; that’s the three-day event,” he said. “Forty-five percent of the time is preparing for the event, getting churches involved, and getting people on board. The remaining 45 percent is going to be the follow-up after it is over.”

Thomas, a Bristol resident, said that although the goal of the finance team is to raise the necessary money for this event, there is a greater goal. “The most important goal of all is to bring anyone who doesn’t know Jesus to the foot of the cross where they could possibly be saved,” he said.

Hickling said that volunteer ushers are still needed, but the most important need is prayer. “Mostly we need prayer, and for people to bring friends with them, not just invite them,” he said. “Statistics show that 75 to 80 percent of the people who make a decision at a crusade were brought by somebody.”

It has been nearly six years since Jerry Morrell first had a God-given dream; and three years since a group of local leaders wrote heartfelt letters to Graham out of concern for their city. As a result, the much-anticipated Celebration will take place April 27-29 at Freedom Hall Civic Center in Johnson City. The schedule is as follows: Friday, from 7-9 p.m.; Saturday, from 9 a.m. to noon for ‘Kidzfest’ and Saturday from 7-9 p.m. (student night); and Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m. A special music pre-show will be held 30 minutes prior to each service. The event is free and seating is first-come, first-served. Doors open 60 minutes prior to the start of the program. For more information, go to www.tcrcelebration.org or call the Celebration office at (423) 461-0057.

Tri-Cities Region Will Graham Celebration

Schedule of Events

April 27-29

Freedom Hall Civic Center

Friday, 7 p.m.

Moore Brothers Band
Aaron Shust
The Adoration Band

Saturday, 10:30 a.m.

KidzFest – The Greatest Journey

Saturday, 7 p.m.

Student Night
April Taylor Barnes

Sunday, 4 p.m.

Jennifer Trent
Ellie Holcomb
Aaron Shust

Will Graham will speak at each service. All seats are free on a first-come, first-served basis.

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