By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
Music, drama and preaching by Billy Graham’s grandson drew thousands to the Wiregrass Area Will Graham Celebration on May 5–7 in Dothan.
“We’re thankful for the Will Graham Celebration coming to Dothan, and we’re excited about the future of our community and church because of the mission focus the Will Graham Celebration brought to our area,” said Nolan Helder, associate pastor of children and family ministries at First Baptist Church, Dothan, in Columbia Baptist Association.
Will Graham, son of Franklin Graham and grandson of Billy Graham, headlines four to five Celebration events each year for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). The Wiregrass Celebration was 1 of 4 on this year’s BGEA event calendar.
Sandy Uhler, director of ministries at Harvest Church, Dothan, told The Dothan Eagle that local leaders have been working with BGEA since 2012 to bring an event to Dothan. Once Dothan was chosen, representatives from 143 churches worked with BGEA in a five-month effort to organize the crusade held at the Dothan Civic Center.
The relationships built between churches during the planning will make a lasting impact on the Wiregrass area, Helder said.
“We’re excited to see how God will use the improvement of our churches working together for the community,” he said.
Total attendance at the four sessions held throughout the weekend totaled 7,700.
The May 6 KidzFest drew a crowd of 1,000 and featured a petting zoo and a three-act play, “The Greatest Journey,” which was designed to teach kids in a fun way how great it can be to be a follower of Christ. That evening’s youth-oriented session included music and testimony by 18-year-old rapper Aaron Cole and a concert by Christian pop rock band The Afters and drew a crowd of 1,750. All events related to the Celebration were free of charge.
Attendance at sessions on Friday night and Sunday filled the 2,500-seat auditorium. More than 32,000 viewers around the world streamed the services, which were broadcast live at billygraham.org.
According to a BGEA report following the event, 353 individuals were saved and 125 others made decisions during the Celebration.
“To watch people go forward at the end of each session was incredible,” said Merrell Henry, associate pastor at Camp Ground Baptist Church, Ozark, in Dale Baptist Association.
In the months preceding the Celebration, almost 1,500 local believers prepared to lead others to Christ by taking the BGEA Christian Life and Witness Course on how to share one’s faith and be a counselor at large events. Their preparation will have a lasting impact in the Wiregrass area, Helder said.
“We had almost 70 people trained in counseling and evangelism and discipleship through the BGEA,” Helder said. “They are now using their training to disciple those at our church who made decisions.”
Counselors from BGEA will remain in the area for the next few weeks to follow up with individuals who made decisions at the Celebration. Area churches also are planning events to keep people motivated, Helder said. Two student-oriented community events are scheduled for upcoming weeks, WIRED 2017, a youth camp in June and Winshape Kids Camp at Northview High School in July.
Henry took students from Camp Ground to the Sunday session and said they came away with a clearer understanding of what it means to live life for Jesus each day. If everyone who attended practices that message, the impact of the Celebration will last, he believes.
“The message was not complicated,” he said. “If people who were there ‘go and tell,’ this event will have lasting effects in our community.”