For Crisis Center
BY LISA WARREN
A packed crowd of more than 325 local supporters of the Hope Center were in the General Morgan Inn and Conference Center ballroom on Thursday evening to hear from the Rev. Franklin Graham.
Graham, of Boone, N.C., the son of internationally-famed evangelist Billy Graham, was the keynote speaker at this year's Hope Center Celebration Dinner.
The Hope Center is a Christian-based crisis pregancy center operated in Greeneville by Free Will Baptist Family Ministries.
Located at 314 Tusculum Blvd., the center offers free services for teens and women who find themselves in an unplanned, crisis pregnancy situation.
Among the Hope Center's services are: a 24-hour telephone hotline, free pregnancy tests, maternity clothing, baby clothes and supplies, education about fetal development, alternatives to abortion, post-abortion counseling, parenting classes, baby care classes and nutrition classes, as well as adoption information and referrals to a licensed adoption agency and referrals to maternity homes.
Proceeds from the annual Hope Center Celebration help to continue and expand the services that the center provides to local women, teens and babies who are in need.
'WORDS OF HOPE'
The theme of this year's benefit for the center was "Words of Hope."
Franklin Graham serves as president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse, the international relief organization, which he founded in 1979.
In addition, Graham also serves as the president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, founded by his father, 93, who is almost entirely retired.
Graham was welcomed to the Hope Center benefit by Greeneville businessman and philanthrophist Scott M. Niswonger, who was instrumental in arranging Graham's visit to Greeneville for the annual fundraising event.
"Franklin Graham has devoted his life to meeting the needs of people around the world and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ," Niswonger said.
Just days ago, Niswonger noted, Graham returned to the U.S. from Sudan, where he had spoken to more than 140,000 individuals as part of his evangelistic work.
During his talk, Graham spoke about the founding of Samaritan's Purse, which he said began as a college summer work project while he was studying at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.
The project, however, eventually turned into an organization that has ultimately ended up becoming a major part of his life's work, Graham said.
Since its beginnings as a medical relief organization in 1979, Samaritan's Purse has grown to become one of the leading relief organizations in the world, providing assistance to poor and hurting individuals in more than 100 countries worldwide.
"Being able to give hope (to those in need) is a tremendous thing," Graham said.
Graham cited a passage from Scripture in the Book of Matthew about Jesus calming the storm on the sea.
Graham noted that Jesus' friends and disciples were extremely frightened as their boat threatened to capsize in the sudden storm that they encountered.
"These were experienced fishermen ... They knew how to navigate the boat, but they got caught in a storm," Graham said.
"These fishermen didn't expect this storm, but suddenly the wind and the waves were up on them."
The waves were coming over the boat, he said, relating the story from the Book of Matthew, and despite their best efforts, they feared that the boat was going to sink and that they were going to drown. There seemed to be no hope left.
Finally it dawns on them to call upon Jesus, who is asleep in the boat, Graham said.
"In frustration they wake Him and say, 'Lord, don't You care that we are about to drown?!"
Jesus gets up and tells them not to worry -- that He was with them.
"These guys had no hope, but their hope was with them," Graham said. "Their hope was there."
Jesus got up and He rebuked the wind and waves. At once the sea was again calm, Graham said.
The disciples were amazed. "What kind of man is this?" they asked, but they knew that Jesus was not just any man. He was the Son of God," Graham said.
"Jesus Christ came to this earth to calm those storms that we find ourselves in," he said.
Every one of us will find ourselves in a storm at some point in our lives, Graham continued.
"These young kids and others who come to the Hope Center find themselves in a storm as well ... But we thank God that there are ministries like the Hope Center that can focus on a group with a storm that they are getting ready to go through -- and can be an anchor for them ... and love them, pray with them, counsel them and give them Godly advice."
'HOPE CENTER IS YOURS'
He encouraged persons in the community to support the Hope Center not only with their prayers but also with their finances.
"The Hope Center is yours," Graham said. "This is your community. These are your neighbors and your friends who are hitting these storms.
"And you've got a ministry right here in town that is making a difference in the lives of people who need help," he said.
The Hope Center is "helping to calm that storm and introducing them to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God," Graham said.
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, of Johnson City, a retired gynecologist/obstetrician, made brief remarks in support of the Hope Center, and musical selections were provided by Amy Benedict and Russ Crum.
Belinda Wilson also made remarks about the positive impact she said the Hope Center had played in her life.
The chairpersons for this year's Hope Center Celebration were Daniel Wolcott, president and CEO of Takoma Regional Hospital, and his wife, Cynthia.
At the event, Daniel Wolcott welcomed those in attendance at the benefit and thanked them for their strong support of the Hope Center.
"This has been a fantastic outpouring of support there tonight," he said.
Daniel Wolcott also expressed his appreciation to the many volunteers who helped to make the event possible.
Takoma Regional Hospital was the event sponsor for the dinner, Scott and Nikki Niswonger were the title sponsors, and Price & Ramey Group and Travis Gregg Construction were co-event sponsors.
DIRECTOR IS PLEASED
Sharon Hodgens, director of the Hope Center, said that she was extremely pleased for the strong turnout.
"It is such a blessing to see so many people here," she said.
Frank Woods, president and chief executive officer of Free Will Baptist Family Ministries, also echoed those sentiments, saying that it is a blessing that the Hope Center has "such special friends."
He added that "it is such a thrill to also have Rev. Graham with us."
For more information about the Hope Center, to donate, or to receive help from the center, please call 638-5433.