Billy Graham marks 96th birthday with family, new evangelistic message

Billy Graham marks 96th birthday with family, new evangelistic message

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV/AP) - Forget about another big birthday blowout for the Rev. Billy Graham.

Graham plans to celebrate his 96th birthday Friday with family and friends. Last year, 900 people attended a two-hour party for the North Carolina-born evangelist at an Asheville hotel.

His son, the Rev. Franklin Graham, said Wednesday that his father is in good spirits, he's eating well, and his mind is still sharp.

The Rev. Billy Graham says he's looking forward to heaven.

"I know I'm going to heaven. I'm looking forward to it with great anticipation," said Graham, who explains in a newly released film how people can share that same hope.

The 30-minute program, titled "Heaven: A new message from Billy Graham," was released in connection with his birthday.

Graham's message was recorded last year, while working with a camera crew to capture his thoughts in a series of interviews at his home in Montreat.

The video is the latest installment in a five-year project called "My Hope with Billy Graham." The first film, "The Cross," was released last year as Graham celebrated his 95th birthday.

The new film also includes archived crusade film from Graham in his prime and dramatic reenactments with personal testimonies from a firefighter who was almost killed and the daughter of a murder victim.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is encouraging Christians to invite friends to watch the broadcast with them.

"Although his physical condition keeps him homebound, he remains interested in current events and the ongoing work of the ministry that he began more than 60 years ago," says Franklin Graham.

"Opportunities like 'My Hope' and the 'Heaven' film are ways that we can help my father to continue the work that God called us to do. Please pray for my father, and for those who will watch this film—that they too may know the peace found in Jesus Christ."

Two weeks after last year's party, Graham was hospitalized for two days for observation and lung tests. Graham uses a wheelchair and has been hospitalized for several health-related issues over the past few years.

Officials at BEGAN say Graham continues to struggle with deteriorating eyesight and hearing.

Copyright 2014 WBTV. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.