Billy Graham ministry aims to take revivals online
By TRAVIS LOLLER
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The remarkable success of evangelist Billy Graham’s Crusades for Christ did not come from his preaching alone, but also the immense amount of preparation and follow-up that went into planning each revival.
Now, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is taking that experience and harnessing it to save souls through the Internet in a way that perhaps only such a large and established organization can.
The basic premise is simple: Use search engines to find people who are looking for answers to life’s big questions and direct them to a website, http://www.peacewithgod.net . From there, seekers are led through a series of readings and videos loosely tied to John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
At the end of the series, they are offered a chance to pray and to accept Jesus. Those who do become a little point of light on a Google Earth application, showing more than 476,000 souls around the world who have been saved through the site since it went live last year.
But that’s not where it stops.
"People don’t make decisions and then show up in church the next week," Director of Internet Evangelism John Cass said. "These same people who are hurting in this world are still walking by churches on every corner."
Although the site has been running in a beta mode, it is expected to be fully functional within a month. At that point hundreds of volunteers will also be online, doing everything from answering basic questions about God and Christianity to leading interested visitors through a 5-week online discipleship course.
Those new Christians will be encouraged to join local churches that are cooperating with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association on the project.
"It’s taking the model of what we’ve done for so many years, with the crusades, celebrations, festivals and applying that in an online environment," Cass said.
Internet evangelism has become one of the four core ministries the BGEA directs from its Charlotte, N.C., headquarters, along with revivals, The Billy Graham Library and The Billy Graham Training Center. Only time will show whether the model that worked well for Billy Graham’s crusades can be successfully translated to a virtual environment.
David W. Key Sr., the director of Baptist Studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, says the Internet creates a tremendous challenge for the church in a variety of ways. Part of problem the BGEA faces is that people on Internet don’t have to look at anything they don’t want to.
"I truly wonder how many non-Christians are going to be attracted by this," he said.
Then there’s the question of whether this website will get lost in a crowd of others trying to do something similar. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s organizational skills and credibility across denominations may mean nothing to a random person surfing the web.
Drew Dickens is president and CEO of Need Him Global, which operates several evangelistic websites and also provides support for the digital initiatives of many other Christian organizations. He said the BGEA is one of many established Christian groups trying to find their way on the Internet.
"Everyone wants to be the Christian Facebook," he said.
But he doesn’t think it is the older, established groups that will actually succeed at that goal.
"I think it’s going to be a couple of 18-year-olds in a dormitory somewhere that have zero seminary experience (but) completely understand how to engage their culture and peers," he said.
Dickens, who said he came to Christ through a Billy Graham crusade, said the peacewithgod.net site was "world class" but he wondered whether the excellent presentation would be enough to draw the attention of younger people who are more attuned to videos on mobile devices than text on a computer.
"I really do think the key to reaching this generation is a focus more on offering live conversation versus creative presentation," he said.
And then there’s the question of how many of the 476,000 visitors to the BGEA’s site who have prayed the prayer of salvation have taken it to hear and truly changed their lives. The ministry doesn’t have a number, but there is no doubt that for some, peacewithgod.net has lived up to its name.
John Preston, 54, of Lenoir City, Tenn., said he stumbled across the website about a month ago after seeing a link that said "Peace with God" on a different website.
"I felt like a heavy burden had been lifted," he said. "I felt more alive inside."
Preston is a retired mechanic who says he has struggled with drugs and alcohol since he left home at 14 to escape an abusive father.
"I lived a rough life, doing things I shouldn’t have been doing," he said. "I didn’t realize it was wrong until I got saved."
Preston said there was no single event that drove him to search for help on the Internet. Instead he feels that God has been tugging at his heart for a long time.
"Finally after that prayer on Peace with God, everything changed," he said. "It’s kind of weird how it happened. … When I said the prayer it hit me what I’d been missing. It was like I could hear God saying, `You’ve done what you need to do. Now you belong to me.’"
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German taxman aims to buy more Swiss bank data – report
BERLIN | Sat Apr 7, 2012 7:39pm BST
BERLIN (Reuters) – A German tax inspector is in talks to buy banking data from Switzerland to help his office identify tax evaders, a magazine reported on Saturday – days after the two countries signed a landmark deal on taxing secret deposits.
The move seems likely to stoke bilateral tensions before Germany’s parliament votes on Thursday’s agreement, which is designed to stop wealthy German tax dodgers holding cash in secret Swiss bank accounts.
Weekly Der Spiegel said the head of the tax inspectors office in Wuppertal in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia was in negotiations to buy two new sets of data from Switzerland.
Learn the secrets of options trading from Bernie Schaeffer – free!Sign up Free hereSwiss authorities caused an outcry in Germany last weekend when they said they had issued arrest warrants for three German tax inspectors, accusing them of industrial espionage for buying bank details of German tax evaders.
Thursday’s agreement – under which Switzerland will tax Germans’ accounts and pass the proceeds to Germany – was in part a consequence of similar purchases in 2010 by several German states which put pressure on Switzerland to change its tradition of banking secrecy.
Some of the data in the latest case concerns internal information from Coutts private bank in Zurich, owned by Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L) and the seller wants about 2 million euros for data on about 1,000 customers, the magazine reported.
As in previous cases, the finance ministry would cover half the costs, it said.
A ministry spokesman said there had been repeated offers of information and each one was looked at carefully. He would not comment on individual cases.
Thursday’s agreement could net Germany billions of euros in tax revenues from individuals who have stashed savings in Swiss accounts to avoid tax.
The governments of both countries had hoped the deal would end a diplomatic spat that has dragged on for years.
But Germany’s opposition Social Democrats have threatened to scupper the legislation, saying they will vote against it in the upper house, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right coalition is short of a majority.
The two governments had to revise the deal to make the terms tougher after the SPD rejected a previous version.
The SPD says the law will take effect too late, in 2013, and that it gives time to tax evaders to move their savings and remain anonymous.
Merkel’s government is betting that SPD-led states will ultimately drop their objections and support the deal as it will bring them a huge windfall.
North Rhine-Westphalia, which has an SPD-led minority government, holds regional elections next month in which an alliance of the centre-left party and the Greens is tipped to win a majority.
Germans hold an estimated 150 billion Swiss francs in Swiss bank accounts.
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