KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Thousands watched as Anne Graham Lotz walked confidently in a flowing dress to the center of the arena and opened her Bible.
''Like many of you, my life has been filled with problems and challenges. And ... it has given me just a heart's cry for revival,'' she said in a firm Southern cadence.
''I have not wanted to escape. And I don't want to quit. I don't want a miracle. I don't even want a vacation. Just give me Jesus, please ...''
With that, evangelist Billy Graham's second daughter launched into her first big-time crusade before an applauding, largely female crowd of 12,500 at the University of Tennessee's Thompson-Boling Arena.
Lotz's ''Just Give Me Jesus'' tour of free revivals supported by donations and proceeds from book sales continues to Dallas-Fort Worth this weekend, then to Atlanta on Aug. 25-26, Kansas City on Sept. 15-16 and San Diego on Oct. 20-21.
''She speaks from the heart and she speaks from the Bible,'' said Ann Furrow, a friend and one of the organizers of the Knoxville event. ''Put that together with her gift as a communicator and there is no question in my mind that this is just the beginning.''
Lotz, 51, has come to this point with a mixture of determination and reluctance. She says she was driven by a personal need to be closer to God and to reach others even as some Baptist evangelicals turned their backs on her and as her father's ministry favored her brother, Franklin Graham, Billy's heir-apparent.
''I tend to be a shy person. I am a very private person,'' she said in a cell phone interview as she drove from her home in Raleigh, N.C., to a mountain retreat before last weekend's revival in Knoxville.
Taking a stage before thousands is something she never expected or planned, Lotz said.
''If God had let me know sooner, I might have backed out on him,'' she said with a laugh. ''But what he did is, he timed it.''
Her passion for the Scriptures first caught fire when she saw Cecil B. DeMille's ''The King of Kings'' on TV one Easter when she was 7 or 8. And it grew as she did with four siblings in the home of America's preacher.
''I feel like it is sort of a trust that God put me in that family, entrusted me with my position in this particular family, and blessed me with it,'' she said.
Theirs was a genuinely religious home, ''not one that just gave lip service to Jesus,'' she said, and her father brought his global perspective to the grace before dinner.
''You were raised with an awareness of a big world out there ... bigger than just Montreat, N.C.,'' Lotz said of her hometown.
The hardest thing about growing up in Billy and Ruth Graham's home was her father's long absences. ''All of us adore our Daddy,'' she said, ''but we have only had him a very small part of the time.''
Also hard were people's expectations. ''It is hard to be yourself and have an identity ... that is your own.''
At 18, she married Dan Lotz, a dentist and former University of North Carolina basketball star. By 21, she had three children and felt stifled.
''It is just being in a small home and small children, small little toys and small little words, and you just feel trapped,'' she recalled.
''I wasn't handling it very well. I was losing my temper. I wasn't patient. I wasn't kind. I wasn't loving. I wasn't the kind of mother ... my mother is.''
She decided she needed to fix her ''relationship with God.'' When Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh didn't have a Bible study class she could attend, she started one.
Membership quickly swelled to more than 500 women. Lotz taught the class every week for 12 years.
By 1988, she formed an itinerant ministry called AnGeL Ministries -- the capital letters are her initials -- to reach a broader audience. Since then, she has addressed conferences and seminars and churches on every continent except Antarctica.
Despite her popularity, she has encountered resistance. She was bumped from an evangelism conference sponsored by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma in 1993 because some ministers opposed the idea of women preaching to men.
''That was fine with me,'' Lotz said, ''because I didn't want to be that kind of problem for them (the organizers). I go where I am invited and the audience is voluntary.''
Bill Merrell, vice president at the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention, said the convention still holds that only ''mature and godly'' males can be pastors.
''But Anne Graham Lotz makes plain she is not a pastor,'' he said. ''She exhorts and teaches and does so, I think, with a high degree of excellence.''
Though Graham said she is the most gifted preacher of his offspring, the daughter's role in the father's organization has been limited.
Two years ago she began thinking and praying about ''stepping out'' on her own with what has become her revival tour.
She said she has a different message than her father and brother, Franklin. They are like Moses, who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, she said, while she is like Moses' successor, Joshua, who guided the Israelites out of the wilderness and into the promised land.
''Their primary objective is to save the people from Egypt, in the sense that they save people from the bondage to sin,'' she said of her father and brother.
''But so many people who receive Christ end up out in the wilderness, going in circles and going nowhere with God.
''I think a lot of Christians don't know they are in the wilderness,'' Lotz said. ''They are looking for satisfaction, whether it is in the stock market or in a career or in a family or in a position or a reputation, and they just don't know what they are missing.''
That could change, she said, at her revivals.
''By the time they leave they will know what they have been missing,'' Lotz said.
On The Net: AnGeL Ministries: http://www.christianityonline.com/angel/ Billy Graham Evangelistic Association: http://www.graham-assn.org/ Southern Baptist Convention: http://www.sbc.net/
Peninsula Clarion ©2014. All Rights Reserved.