Will Graham, grandson of Billy Graham, hugs his father Franklin, as he takes the podium for his first U.S. crusade

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GASTONIA, N.C. — A record 4,500 people filled the Sims Legion Park baseball stadium to hear the first ever American crusade by Will Graham, the 31-year-old grandson of evangelist Billy Graham.

The stadium holds about 3,000, with the rest on the field and around the stands. Over the course of the three-day crusade, more than 12,600 people attended. A total of 453 registered decisions for Jesus Christ, along with others who came forward as inquirers, BGEA officials reported.

Taking the stage during the Greater Gaston Celebration, Will Graham became the third generation of the Graham family to lead a large-scale evangelistic crusade with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The meetings ran from Oct. 9 to 11.

Although Graham's first U.S. crusade, the youngest family member to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather has led meetings in Canada and India.

"My friends, you're going to have to make a decision tonight," said Graham, a statement he echoed regularly throughout the three-night event."One way or the other, you're going to have to say 'Yes, I believe in Jesus Christ and I want His forgiveness for my sins,' or you're going to say, 'No, I want nothing to do with Him.'

"You can accept Him by faith and receive Him as your Savior.  My friends, that's the good news I have."

Also making an appearance was Will's father, Franklin, president and chief executive officer of BGEA, who welcomed his son to the podium with an embrace. 

"When he was born, my wife and I prayed that God would lay His hand on Will in a special way, and that God would use his life for His glory," Franklin said. "So it's a very special privilege for me tonight to welcome and to introduce my son, Will Graham."

Will Graham was joined onstage during the event by several well-known musicians and groups including Nicole C. Mullen, Tree63, Anthony Evans, and American Idol finalist George Huff, as well as Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea, both of whom have shared the stage with Will's grandfather for nearly 60 years.

"We're certainly excited about all the souls that were saved and we see this as a new beginning, a stepping stone toward a brighter future for Gaston County with regard to Jesus Christ," said Art Duckworth, co-chairman of the event.

Plans are currently under way for 2007 Will Graham Celebrations in the United States and Canada. Announcements of these events are forthcoming.