LEESBURG, Ga. -- While discussing the communitywide "That We May Be One in Christ" crusade that will begin Sunday at the Lee County High School football stadium and run through next Wednesday, First Baptist Church of Leesburg Pastor Bobby Harrell is asked to compare the event to the old Billy Graham Crusades that were a television staple through the last quarter of the 1900s.
"Yeah, it's kind of like that," Harrell laughs. "Only on a much smaller, South Georgia scale."
Harrell's assessment may be accurate, but it does not diminish the spiritual undertaking planned as a way to unite the region's practitioners of the Christian faith.
"As the plans for the crusade started to take shape, I sensed a need in this community," said Harrell, who has served as First Baptist Leesburg's pastor for 18 years. "As a nation and as a people, we've drifted away from the Lord.
"What we're missing is the truth; we need to come back to the truth."
With what he perceived as spiritual need in the community serving as a motivator, Harrell started nurturing a seed of an idea that he said had been "placed on my heart." The fruit of that seed will be cultivated during the four-day crusade that will feature some well-known ministers and speakers.
"I'd had a hankering to do this for a while," said Harrell, who grew up in East Albany. "When I started putting it together, my biggest concern was trying to get all of the churches in the community involved.
"Once I started contacting people, things kind of fell into place. No doubt there was a little divine intervention involved."
The That We May Be One in Christ crusade kicks off Sunday night when former professional athlete and current television sports broadcaster Brian Jordan joins George Wallace Community College Athletic Director Gene Dews as featured speakers.
Jordan, who played in the National Football League with the Atlanta Falcons and Major League Baseball with the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals, is an Emmy award-winning analyst for FOX Sports South and a recurring personality for such networks as ESPN. He founded the Brian Jordan Foundation in 1998 to help children strive to reach their full potential.
Monday's featured speaker is the Rev. Larry Wynn of Hebron Baptist Church in Dacula, while the Rev. Daniel Simmons of Albany's Mt. Zion Baptist Church will bring Tuesday's message. On the crusade's closing night, former University of Alabama running back Siran Stacy will speak about carrying on with life despite personal tragedy.
Stacy's wife and four of their children were killed in a 2007 automobile accident when a drunk driver crashed into their vehicle in Alabama.
Simmons, a Cairo native who became pastor of historic Mt. Zion Baptist in 1991, leads a congregation of more than 2,500 at a vibrant church that has developed more than 50 ministries to meet its goal of "reaching the world for Christ through evangelism, discipleship, fellowship and missions."
"Every opportunity to preach is a joyous opportunity for me, whether it's to a big crowd or to one person in the backwoods," Simmons said. "(Harrell) invited me to take part in this revival, and I jumped at the chance. I see it as an expansion of what we do at our church.
"The theme of the event is 'Lee County communitywide, being one in Christ,' and it is my hope that this revival is one of inclusion that continues even after it is over. My prayer is that there is a spirit of inclusion led by the church. That's what I plan to speak on."
Wynn has been pastor of Hebron Baptist for 31 years, during which time the church has baptized more than 9,600 converts. Recognized as one of the top 20 churches in baptism and church growth by the Southern Baptist Convention, Hebron sponsors more than 9,000 missionaries worldwide.
While Harrell has been the driving force behind planning and organizing the That We May Be One in Christ crusade, he said the efforts of fellow local pastors such as Ken Chancellor (Lakeside Baptist), Mike Lyons (First United Methodist Leesburg), Jamie Baggett (Assembly of God Leesburg), Dennis Taylor (Breakaway Church), Kenneth Jimmerson (Old Piney Grove), Grady Morey (Friendship Baptist), Mauldin Batten (Church of Leesburg) and Earl Harrison (Kingdom Vision Leesburg) have been vital to the event coming together.
"I took a packet around inviting every church in Leesburg to be a part of the crusade," Harrell said. "It's very reassuring that so many of the other area churches have gotten on board.
"Each of the churches involved has put up $500 to get things started, and we plan to take up an offering each night to help defray the costs of the speakers' fees. They lowered their costs considerably, but that is one of the expenses of having such an event."
The crusade will begin each night at 6:45 p.m. with pre-service music, followed by musical praise from the choirs of churches involved. Youth dramas will be performed at Monday and Wednesday services, and special music provided by noted soloists will precede each evening's message.
Harrell, a University of Georgia graduate who attended seminary in New Orleans, preached in Mississippi for a year and a half before coming to Bethany Baptist Church in Cochran for 4 1/2 years. His 18 years at First Baptist Leesburg give him a quarter-century in the ministry.
The crusade, he admits, is the first time in his career he's undertaken such an event.
"For better or worse, this is kind of my baby," Harrell laughs. "And so far, so good, as far as the feedback we're getting from the community. Of course, we won't really know for sure how things will go until Sunday night. Our goal is to see people find faith.
"I'm so pleased that this is a communitywide crusade, that we have the black churches and white churches in the community coming together. We've gotten no negative feedback whatsoever. After all those sleepless nights of planning and details, the time is almost here. I can't wait."
In the event of inclement weather, the crusade services will be held at First Baptist's Family Life Center at 135 Main St.