AMSTERDAM — From throughout the world, 8,000 itinerant evangelists have assembled here to hone their preaching skills at a training conference sponsored by American preacher Billy Graham.
Marked by stringent security, Graham opened the international conference here last Saturday with an impassioned speech against the nuclear arms race.
The 67-year-old evangelist is taking an active part in the numerous workshops of the nine-day multidenominational conference, which its organizers claim is the largest of its kind in the history of Protestantism.
Although Graham departed from his prepared address to warn that "there are many scientists who believe we have enough weapons to blow the world up; we don't have to have more," he stressed that the conference is mainly a school for evangelists, dealing with the basics of evangelistic work.
Participants have come to the Dutch capital from 175 nations and territories--75% of them from Third World areas, according to the organizers.
"I'm learning a lot here," said Emmanuel Anim Nketia, whose journey from central Ghana to the Netherlands was sponsored by the Canadian branch of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Organization.
"I meet many fellow preachers from places from all over the world to share experiences and exchange views," the Methodist evangelist said at Amsterdam's huge RAI convention center.
The conference, the $21-million cost of which is covered mainly by churchgoer donations in the United States, was marked by advanced technology in both audio-visual aids and security precautions.
Evangelists filing into the hall were checked by portable and stationary scanners, and had to wear non-removable plastic identification bracelets.
For the duration of the conference, Graham is traveling in a bullet-proof car, accompanied by security men.
Conference spokesman Tom Goosmann said the security measures were considered normal following recent terrorist actions in Western Europe.
Graham, who arrived in Amsterdam last week for final conference planning, told reporters then that itinerant evangelists "are people on the cutting edge of evangelism. They're out there in the jungle doing the job."
The 26-year-old Nketia was one example. The evangelist, who said he has been preaching the Gospel in the jungles of central Ghana for four years, termed himself "one of the Lord's shock troops."