Evangelist Billy Graham lives in Carolina Panthers territory, but one of his two favorite caps is a tattered one with a Jacksonville Jaguars logo that he received 14 years ago.
He also loves Jacksonville’s Mayo Clinic, which he has visited multiple times for medical treatment. So when the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association stages the Greater Jacksonville Festival of Hope in 2015, Graham, almost 96 and in failing health, will be there in spirit.
“This is one of Granddaddy’s favorite cities,” said grandson Will Graham, in town Thursday to launch local planning for the May 29-31 event. “We’ve always joked that when the angels finally decide to call him home, he’ll say, no, I want to go to Mayo Clinic one more time.”
Hundreds of members of Northeast Florida’s faith community gathered at the Jacksonville Marriott to hear from Will Graham and association staffers, as well as Mayor Alvin Brown and members of the local event planning committee.
Headlining the festival will be Billy Graham’s son and Will Graham’s father, Franklin, who runs the association as well as Samaritan’s Purse, an outreach organization. Franklin Graham conducts festivals across the world, preaching to millions of people in cities from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Tupelo, Miss., since 1989.
The Jacksonville event will be free and open to the public, sponsored by the association with the support of area churches and other community organizations.
Thousands of people are expected to attend.
Will Graham said the festival at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena will be an opportunity for the area faith community to come together and expand its ranks.
“We have the greatest joy of telling others about Christ. We get to be part of it,” he said.
Brown said Jacksonville’s strong faith contingent “can reach the community in ways no other institution can do.”
“We are living in a challenged world. If ever we needed the Lord, it’s now,” he said. “We really need to have a revival.”
Ginger Soud, leader of the festival’s local executive team, said the event would use multiple platforms to reach all ages, including social media and streaming the services, concerts and other related activities online.
“There are many people today needing hope,” she said. “We will be reaching the world with the Gospel from Jacksonville, Florida.”
The association issues video messages from Billy Graham on his birthday, which is Nov. 7. The topic for his 96th birthday message will be heaven, Will Graham said.
“He’s got good days and he’s got bad days,” he said. “He’s really looking forward to heaven ... It looks very sweet to him.”
Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109
GREATER JACKSONVILLE FESTIVAL OF HOPE
To donate, volunteer or get more information, contact the Greater Jacksonville Festival of Hope, 9424 Baymeadows Road, Suite 110, Jacksonville, FL 32256; (904) 619-2220; firstname.lastname@example.org; or go to jacksonvillefestival.org.
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