This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Greater Los Angeles Billy Graham Crusade of 1949. The event, only initially planned to run for three weeks, ran for an amazing eight weeks. For the next eight weeks, we’ll explore this defining moment in the ministry of Billy Graham. This week, we’ll be taking a look at the road to L.A.
The road to Billy Graham’s watershed event in Los Angeles in 1949 wasn’t an easy one. After a disappointing Youth for Christ Campaign in Altoona, Pennsylvania and a frustrating encounter with a friend regarding the legitimacy of the Bible, Billy left for California with a sad heart.
Before the start of the Christ for Greater Los Angeles event, he had a speaking engagement at Forest Home, a retreat center east of Los Angeles. The center was headed by Henrietta Mears, director of religious education at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. During his week at Forest Home, Billy met many times with Henrietta and was truly impressed by her Christian love and compassion and her belief in the integrity of the Scriptures. While struggling through a sleepless night, Billy decided to walk the grounds of the retreat center. He took his Bible and placed it on a tree stump and prayed to God: “Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word-by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.” After his decision to accept the Bible on faith, he knew a spiritual battle had been fought and won, and he was able to begin the Crusade in Los Angeles with renewed strength.
According to Billy Graham in his autobiography Just As I Am: “If the amount of advance press coverage was any indication, the Los Angeles Campaign was going to be a failure. Not that the local organizing committee hadn’t tried. They had employed Lloyd Doctor, public relations director for the local Salvation Army, to drum up interest. One day shortly before the meetings opened, he persuaded a handful of reporters to attend the first press conference I had ever conducted. Next day we eagerly scanned the newspapers to see the stores those reporters had written. Nothing.”
Before Billy agreed to hold the Crusade in Los Angeles, he posed three conditions: 1) The committee was to try to get as many churches and denominations involved as possible. 2) They had to raise their budget for the event from $7,000 to $25,000. 3) They had to erect a much larger tent than they had planned. The committee quickly agreed to everything except for raising the budget, feeling that it was a more than reasonable amount, but Billy urged them to take a step of faith to spark the flame of revival.
Billy shares in Just As I Am: “Initial reports from Los Angeles indicated that I was stirring up a hornet’s nest. Some opponents circulated distorted and false stories about my being a self-promoting money-grabber.” While he admitted that his conditions might have appeared that way to some, he was humbled by the committee’s acceptance of his terms and the Crusade dates were set for three weeks beginning the last week of September 1949.
Attendance at the Crusade averaged 3,000 nightly and 4,000 on Sunday afternoons – a great turnout. As the third week of the Crusade began, Billy prayed with Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, and Grady Wilson about whether or not they needed to extend the event. God revealed through a series of circumstances that the event should be extended for another week. When Billy arrived at the tent one day, he found numerous reporters waiting on his arrival. When he asked one of the reporters what was happening, the reporter responded by saying, “You’ve just been kissed by William Randolph Hearst.” The story of the Campaign was then broadcast in papers in New York, Chicago, Detroit, and San Francisco, and Billy Graham’s life and ministry were changed forever.
To hear more about the road to Los Angeles from the perspective of Harold Straub, who was part of the Christ for Greater Los Angeles Committee, click here.