AUTHOR: ARMIST

HED:Usher served vital roles in crusade's mission

By John Armistead

Daily Journal

Tuesday at the Tupelo Coliseum at precisely 6 p.m., the ushers opened the front doors and people rushed inside.

"No running," one of the ushers yelled out.

"I love it," said John Holland of Nettleton, another usher. "It's amazing. It's like a stampede at a rodeo. And look at their smiles."

An event such as the Franklin Graham Crusade can't happen without the labors of hundreds of volunteers. Over 3,500 have worked on the Tupelo effort. Many others, like ushers, function in vital yet behind-the-scenes roles.

John Holland is one of a pool of 400 ushers. Anchored by a core of volunteer Civitans acting as supervisors, about 150 work each night.

"We met about an hour before the doors opened and staffed each section and then staffed the doors to make sure we count as the people come in to guard against overfilling," said Tupelo's Mark Jarrett, head of the usher corps.

The crowds have presented some problems.

"As we get close to capacity, we have to shut all the doors and escort about 50 at a time to the overflow room," Jarrett said. "We've had some trying to jump the barricades."

The radio headsets that supervising ushers such as Jarrett wear keep them moving all through the service.

"One section may run out of literature and we have to run more over there," he said. "We have to make sure there are no gaps in any of the rows. And, we've had a big problems with people wanting to all sit as a group but that doesn't always work out."

In spite of the pressing crowds that make the usher's job somewhat harrying, Jarrett sees a bigger picture.

"It shows how you can take the simple message that Franklin is preaching and an arena the size of the Coliseum and fill it," he said. "Obviously, the crusade is meeting needs that the churches are not."

Behind the scenes

Working even more behind the scenes than the ushers are members of the arrangements committee. Twenty-five individuals worked long hours every day under the leadership of Evans Whittle and Stephen Sparks.

They had the responsibility of picking up team members at the Memphis airport, getting them to Tupelo and providing transportation for them during the crusade. They also provided hand-held radios and other communication equipment for the Graham staff during the service, and supplied their hospitality food and necessities at the Coliseum.

"We have been feeding the technical crew since last Friday," Whittle said, "sometimes three meals a day."

How has all this work affected him?

"It's given me an insight into the magnitude of the work and a great appreciation for people who spend their lives traveling over the world spreading the gospel, and I consider it a great privilege to have been able to meet and work with them," he said.

Rusty Boone has enjoyed his volunteer service at the crusade bookstore each evening. "It's been a blessing to me," he said. "I've had many people that came back that bought books the first night and told me how much the books have meant to them."

Sandi Pegues is a supervising usher.

"It's different being there (in the audience) and when you're working," she said. "I'm worried about groups that get separated and trying to find mothers and children."

But, then comes the payoff.

"It's a wonderful experience when you finally come in at the end and you see all those people making decisions and the emotion on their faces," she said. "That's because of all of us volunteers doing all this work. When I see the difference that it makes in their lives, that's when it hits."

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