Clinton community welcomes Will Graham celebration

Coming to the Mississippi College campus Mar. 28-31 is the Central Mississippi Will Graham Celebration. The free event will be held at the A.E. Wood Coliseum as a series of worship events led by Will Graham, the grandson of the well-known evangelist Billy Graham.

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This outreach program was put together by local churches and pastors and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and has been an idea four years in the marking. The celebration is meant to be a spiritual awakening for central Mississippi.

The event will also host several concerts by artists including Matthew West, The Afters, Tedashii, and Rhett Walker Band.

Vice President for Christian Development Eric Pratt said, “It’s not going to be like going to church. Expect high energy and something for all cultures and all ages.”

“I have heard a lot of excitement in the community, campus, and local churches in preparation for the event,” said Cameron Machen, a junior Christian studies major.

“I think it gives us an opportunity to focus on evangelism within our circles of influence, and I think that a wake up call is needed in central Mississippi because we have a tendency to get complacent in our faith and fail to share Christ with those around us.”

Bob Hickling works with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in setting up these crusades and events. “The main goal is getting as many churches and pastors involved as we can,” said Hickling.

“That’s who we depend on to make this thing happen. To tell their congregation and other pastors and get the word out,” Hickling added.

So far, 175 churches have been involved in the planning of the Will Graham celebration since this past September.

“The excitement level I’ve seen here has been far and above anything I’ve ever seen before. And I’ve been doing this for 17 years,” said Hickling.

This event has been an answered prayer for a group of men from the Williamson Road Bible study group, who felt the need to pray for a spiritual awakening in Clinton and the central Mississippi area four years ago.

“On more than one occasion, the issue came up that there are so many unchurched people in Clinton,” Mitchell Blount, one of the Williamson Road Bible study members, said.

“The sad thing is that they are not connected to God. The church is just a vehicle. As an outgrowth of that conversation we began to ask ourselves if there was anything we could do.

“At some point we started to contact local pastors to see if they were open to the idea of a joint effort in the community to reach out to unchurched people. The idea was something to reach beyond cultural, racial and denominational lines,” he continued.

“I didn’t think it would happen…but you never know until you try,” said Blount. “In my lifetime, I’ve seen two or three things happen where I looked back and said that there is no explanation except God. This was one of them. The obstacles were so great.

“There were so many things that needed to occur for this to happen that I do not believe it would have happened had it not been something that God is really behind and orchestrating in some way.”

Blount said the group also spoke with Jim Turcotte, the Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs at Mississippi College, who then pointed them to Pratt.

“Jim indicated from the beginning that MC would do everything possible to accommodate the event if we somehow pulled it off,” Blount said.

Blount said that Mitchell Hedgepeth, a former pastor at First United Methodist Church of Clinton, and Bill Ernest, a fellow Bible study group member, really took hold of the project and made it happen.

Ernest’s involvement with the project became a “big part of his life,” said Blount. “Bill was the one guy in the group who kept pushing and pushing and pushing. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. He would not hear of the idea that we could not do this. In Bill’s view, there was no reason why we couldn’t,” said Blount.

Because of Ernest’s past work in fundraising, he was very tenacious and continued pushing the project forward. Sadly, Ernest died recently from a massive heart attack before he was able to see the fruits of his labor with this project.

Hedgepeth contacted the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The BGA sent people down to Clinton.

“They wanted to see that there were enough individuals in the community that were passionate about this and wanted to see this happen. Once they began to see that that core group was present, I think I realized they had intended to stay and do this all along. They were just waiting on us. So, it was a really cool thing to be a part of,” said Blount.

Though the process is almost complete, there is still a great need for volunteers to help with ushering, parking, and more. A service day is scheduled Mar. 15 for volunteers to help clean up part of South Jackson.

“We don’t just come to do the crusade; we come to make a difference in the community,” said Hickling. “We would love to have college students come and help out.”

An effort was made on all sides to keep the focus of the event on Clinton and the surrounding community. BGA officials said that they do not want it to be a Graham event but a central Mississippi event. In addition, Pratt does not want it to become a Mississippi College event even though the college is hosting it.

The Central Mississippi Will Graham Celebration is focused on celebrating the Christian heritage of the community and encouraging deeper spiritual growth. It is an event started by a small group from Clinton and meant to start a spiritual awakening in the Clinton community.

Any students wanting to volunteer can contact Eric Pratt in the Christian development office or go to http://www.cmscelebration.org/   for more details on the event.

– James Osborne, Contributing Writer

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