Winnipeg Free Press
October 23, 2006
Sunday night was the first time Vanecia Austria said she knew what
it's like to hear.
The 24-year-old deaf foster worker wasn't cured by popular
evangelical preacher Franklin Graham at his religious festival's
closing night, but said she felt transported by the singing
vibrations of the 13,700-strong crowd.
Usually, said the lip-reading brunette, it takes turning up her
car's stereo bass full-volume to get a similar -- albeit gentler --
"Here, I don't have to use full bass because we can feel the same
thing other people hear," she wrote on a notepad, sitting with
about 25 other members of Winnipeg's Calvary Temple deaf
congregation. She pounded her chest gently, using sign language to
indicate the word for God, then grinned. "It was great."
Austria may not have been able to listen to Graham's 35-minute
address at the packed MTS Centre, but followers of the son of famed
preacher Billy Graham heard him discuss topics ranging from his
North Carolina farmhouse (creaky) to Canadians who serve in the
military and assist U.S. forces overseas (brave, and to be prayed
for by the crowd).
Sunday night's praisefest ended a three-day spectacle which drew
capacity crowds. The festival, which was free, cost 200 local
churches $1.4 million, although organizers said Graham receives no
The neatly trimmed father-of-four tapped his shoes along with a
choir of about 800 Manitoban singers who belted out hymns in stands
After two hours of neon-lit performances by Christian musical
entertainers including Michael W. Smith, Graham took the
He encouraged listeners to embrace Jesus, and used the Old
Testament bible story of Noah's ark to convince attendees that
those who do not believe in Christianity face grave
"You've got an opportunity to be in heaven for eternity, you've
got an opportunity to confess your sins and repent your sins," said
Graham. "Jesus Christ is the only one who's paid the debt of sin.
Muhammad didn't die for your sins. Buddha didn't die for your sins.
Krishna didn't die for your sins. There's no other person in
history...there's only Jesus Christ."
An overflow crowd of 1,700 people took in the Graham address via
television in nearby Calvary Temple.
Drawing on images of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, Graham said a
future disaster would wipe non-believers of Christianity from the
"God has judged this earth before, and God will judge this earth
again," he said. "People talk about global warming and there's a
debate whether it exists or not. Well, global warming's coming. The
next time God's not going to judge this earth by a flood, he's
going to judge it with fire."
Graham said, instead, attendees could choose the "escape route" of
Christianity that would offer them an alternate lifestyle.
At the end of his address, Graham invited those struggling with
their Christian faith to line up on the emptied floor of the MTS
Centre, where they could affirm their beliefs. About 600 people
came forward and followed Graham through a prayer committing to
accept Jesus Christ as their personal saviour. Christian
counselling volunteers were near to fill out personal information
forms with them for future follow-up about joining local
"I was told this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Josh
Montoya, a 17-year-old who attends a Christian high school in
Winnipeg, and said he heard about the festival from friends
familiar with Billy Graham. Hanging around Montoya's neck was a
leather cross he said he purchased at a local mall, alongside a
thick chain with a bejewelled charm of an electric guitar.
"It was amazing, it was awesome," he raved.
However, not everyone stayed until the last possible minute.
Some attendees, following sport-event tradition in Winnipeg,
trickled out before Graham completed his closing prayers --
presumably to avoid constricted traffic caused by downtown's
sold-out parking lots.
Outside, two men in winter clothing tried to convince departing
attendees to consider religious options. They handed out pamphlets
and offered warm drinks in an idling bus nearby.
"We're looking for people who might be unsatisfied with what
they're offering here," said Qashab Van Walleghea, member of Twelve
Tribes, a local religious sect where believers live in communal
residences, and operate a public cafe on Sherbrook Street.
"Here, people go home, and go back to their families...we want to
offer something more than what they were offered there."
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada