Amsterdam, Netherlands Rev. Billy Graham, recovering from brain surgery, was too sick Saturday to deliver opening remarks by satellite TV to a huge, $40 million evangelical conference, the culmination of years of work by his ministry.
Graham, 81, is in Rochester, Minn., for outpatient therapy at the Mayo Clinic following an operation to relieve a blockage of fluid to the brain. He had previously decided not to come to the Netherlands for his Amsterdam 2000 meeting and had planned to address the 10,000 evangelicals long-distance.
But shortly before the scheduled satellite uplink Saturday, "he felt he lacked the energy and strength, following a sleepless night" and asked that his son Franklin read his opening greeting instead, spokesman Larry Ross said.
In the address, Graham said: "We have come together to discover how the evangelical church worldwide can further the kingdom of God by the proclamation of the Gospel." He hopes to offer remarks by satellite at the closing rally Aug. 6.
The 10,000 participants were disappointed at the absence of their patron saint from the gathering here. But "the great God is here nevertheless and he is going to do his work," said the Rev. Tom Simbo of the Evangelical Fellowship of Sierra Leone.
Amsterdam 2000 is the culminating international event in Graham's long career, symbolically passing the torch to a new generation of Bible-based conservatives.
The 300 speakers and workshop teachers are mostly from North America and Western Europe or affiliated with organizations based there. But of the participants -- chosen from 28,000 people who applied to the Minneapolis-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association -- three-fourths come from developing nations. About 92 percent are men.
Most are evangelistic preachers, those Graham calls "unsung heroes of the faith."
The opening meeting Saturday had the nostalgic flavor of a Graham revival, with his 91-year-old singer George Beverly Shea offering a solo and veteran songleader Cliff Barrows leading a hymn. The main speaker was the Rev. Billy Jang Hwan Kim of Suwon, South Korea, pastor of a 13,000-member Baptist church and national president of the Far East Broadcasting Company, a shortwave radio ministry.
In a separate prepared statement issued to the conference Saturday, Graham said some participants "come from parts of the world that are in the grip of resurgent religions or ideologies which deny the heart of the Gospel."
"Others of you face rampant secularism or materialism, with their indifference or even hostility to the Gospel," he wrote. "Or you may live among postmodern people who deny there is even such a thing as truth."
In all situations, he said, evangelists must imitate the boldness of the first Christians in the New Testament Book of Acts: "They knew what the Gospel was, and they were willing to stake their lives on their conviction that it was true."