Liz Monteiro • The Record • January 30, 2012
CAMBRIDGE - He looks like his grandfather and speaks with the same Southern U.S. drawl.
But Will Graham, the grandson of well-known American evangelist Billy Graham, says he's his own person, following the way of Jesus.
"I'm not trying to imitate my grandfather. I want to imitate Christ just like my granddaddy did,'' said Graham, who was in Cambridge this week to drum up support for a youth event to held in April at the Auditorium in Kitchener.
Graham, who turns 37 on Monday, said he's often told that he resembles his preacher grandfather.
"I look like him, big nose, big ears and I talk a lot,'' he chuckled.
Graham, a father of three, lives in North Carolina, 10 minutes away from his grandfather, who's now 93.
Graham spoke to a group of pastors and church folk at the Cambridge Hotel and Conference Centre at a breakfast meeting earlier this week.
He was in Waterloo Region to speak to volunteers and organizers of Epicentre, a large-scale event for youth sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada.
The event will be held at the Aud on April 21. More than 6,000 Christian youth from 60 partner churches are expected to attend. Graham will return to the region to address the crowd.
Pastor Tim Loveday, youth pastor of Bethany Evangelical Missionary Church in Kitchener, said Epicentre is an opportunity for local churches to work together and it gives youth training in evangelism and mentorship, and how to reach others with what they believe.
"I don't force faith in God and Jesus on these kids. I present them with the truth and experience to allow them to grow in their faith,'' Loveday said.
The region, including Guelph, is the seventh location in Canada to host Epicentre since 2004.
Locally, youth in Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph have been involved in community service projects in preparation for Epicentre.
In June, 800 young people filled a freight truck with 22,000 pounds of food for the local food bank.
In April, students will walk seven kilometres with a jug of water, taking part in the Turn on the Tap Safe Water Walk to show them how far many people in developing countries must walk for water each day.
Students have a goal of $200,000 that they hope to raise for the event.
In June, 24 youth, including seven from Bethany, are going to Trinidad to participate in a community service project, visiting orphanages and prisons.
Trying to follow Christ, just like his granddaddy
Heather Wear, 16, said she's looking forward to sharing her faith with others in Trinidad. The Grade 11 student at Waterloo-Oxford District Secondary School expects to be pulled from her comfort zone and do what God wants her to do.
Alyson Whyte, 17, said she expects to be challenged on this trip - her first overseas community service project.
"I will be a servant and see what God has in store for me,'' said the Grade 12 student at Forest Heights Collegiate Institute.
Epicentre is exciting because churches that have existed independently come together, said Graham.
"They put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ,'' he said.
Graham said he gave his life to Christ when he was just a child of about six or seven.
"I felt God tugging at my heart,'' he said. Then at 15, he told God he would do whatever He called him to do.
"I didn't want to be a preacher. I wanted to be a football player,'' he said. "God chips away at the edges of your life.''
Graham went to Liberty University in Virginia for an undergraduate degree and has a master's degree in theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina. He later became an ordained pastor at a church for seven years.
Graham said God called him in 2006 to help his father, Franklin, who is the CEO and president of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association.
Graham said he was mowing the lawn when a scripture from the New Testament came to him. He stopped the lawn mower and went to the read the Bible passage.
He had been praying to God for help in what he should do. His father had wanted him to join him but Graham was enjoying being a pastor at a church in Raleigh, N.C.
Even to this day, more than five years later, he won't say what the passage was that proved so significant. He will say, though, that it gave him direction to focus on a new life with the evangelical association.
Graham is now the assistant director of the Billy Graham training centre in the mountains of North Carolina and associate evangelist with the Billy Graham Evangelical Association.