He'll be 95 in November, but Billy Graham isn't finished preaching.
His hearing and eyesight faltering, Graham is not up to any more stadium-size crusades. But he can still talk into a camera. And that's what he's been doing over the past six months, speaking about Christ, the cross and America in his mountaintop Montreat home.
The Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association plans to share his filmed comments in November – on TV, DVD, and the Internet – as part of a new nationwide evangelical effort called "My Hope America with Billy Graham."
Expect a quieter Graham than the forceful figure of earlier times.
"It won't be a sermon, and it may not be his last (public) words," said BGEA chief of staff Ken Barun.
"But it'll be an all new message from Mr. Graham about today."
With cameras turned on, Barun said, Graham has mostly been fielding questions in his home posed by his visiting pastor, the Rev. Don Wilton of First Baptist Church-Spartanburg.
Plans call for mixing these new clips with old ones from a 1985 crusade in Sacramento. They'll then become part of a video series to be shown in U.S. homes. BGEA will buy TV time on commercial stations, offer it to Christian TV outlets, get volunteers to show it at home gatherings, and stream it on www.billygraham.org.
Coming to America
For years, as part of its "My Hope" program, the BGEA has circulated videos around the world. Each combined personal stories of faith with archival clips of Graham in his prime, speaking at past crusades. The program recruited believers to invite friends and neighbors to their homes to screen the videos. It started in Central America, then spread, at Graham's insistence, to Russia. To date, it's been done in 57 countries.
BGEA is now bringing the program to the United States, and will add a new message from the 94-year-old Graham. To get ready, the organization has been training people, reaching out to churches, and filming personal stories and testimonies – including Graham's.
In a sort of preview of what's to come, the Charlotte-born evangelist speaks about his hopes for the program and for America in a video now on the BGEA website.
"I've been praying that we might have a spiritual awakening. But I think that becomes possible only as individuals surrender their lives anew to Christ," he speaks into the camera, his famous voice made rougher by age. " 'My Hope' has been used in many countries and hundreds and thousands of people have received Christ as their savior. Why not in America?"
He continues: "And I think it's going to be a tremendous time of evangelism. It's going to climax, as I understand it, on my 95th birthday. And I think the Lord is going to use it mightily."
'One more time…'
In the same video, Franklin Graham, who heads the BGEA, reports that his father "has been praying how, at the end of his life, God may use him one more time to speak to this nation. … He is limited by age, but his mind is keen."
Barun said BGEA hopes to get "My Hope America with Billy Graham" into 300,000 U.S. households.
The bigger goal: To get more people into churches – and then let the pastors take it from there.
Besides comments from Billy Graham, the 30-minute videos feature personal stories of believers, some well known to evangelical Christians, who came to Christianity only after reaching desperate moments.
One profiles former NFL star David Tyree, who'd been addicted to drugs and alcohol; magician Jim Munroe, who'd been diagnosed with leukemia; and Christian singer Lacey Sturm, a one-time atheist who abandoned her suicide plan after her grandmother got her to a church service.
Barun said Christian music star Michael W. Smith will also produce and headline a "My Hope America with Billy Graham" album featuring, among others, Amy Grant, Toby Mac and Kirk Franklin.
The elder Graham is also coming out with another book – "The Reason for My Hope," from Thomas Nelson Publishers.
The book and the album are both scheduled to be released Oct. 15, Barun said.