This Date in History: Billy Graham’s first city-wide campaign begins

September 13, 2012

On Sept. 13, 1947, a historic event took place. It was the beginning of Billy Graham’s first city-wide campaign in Grand Rapids, Michigan, held under the banner of Youth for Christ. (It would be three more years until the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association came into existence).

The below memories are shared by individuals who were intimately involved in the event, recorded from interviews with Lois Ferm, Mr. Graham’s former personal assistant and archivist.

Courtesy of Billy Graham Center Archives, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

George Benes, artist and illustrator, who was involved in the advertising for the campaign:

“Prayer, the timing, the novelty and professional promotion paid off. Grand Rapids was primed for Billy Graham’s first city-wide campaign. Whether the first meeting was sufficient indication that we needed to move to the Civic, I do not recall. However, all promotion, posters, news ads, and follow-up mailers all stressed the fact, “5,000 FREE SEATS.” There were bus loads from various areas — Grandville, Jenison, Sparta. Gradually hesitant church people began to respond and the final days saw the Civic filled — 5,000 seats were a lot of seats to fill night after night. As word spread, groups from as far as Holland, Michigan, Muskegon and Kalamazoo from forty and fifty and sixty miles distant, were in attendance.”

Pat Zondervan, publisher and organizer of the Christian Businessmen’s Committee that brought Mr. Graham to Grand Rapids:

“…The dates came for the meeting. I remember Billy as a gangly boy; he didn’t have much of an appearance. I had seen him at NAE or Youth for Christ, so I did know what he looked like. He didn’t dress very sharp … because he didn’t get much remuneration. So I bought him a couple of suits here. He got a dark suit and another suit, and he looked sharp.”

George Brummels, businessman instrumental in bringing Billy Graham to Grand Rapids:

“…So we talked about his success. It was then that he said to us all, ‘Pray for me. Pray for me that I will remain humble so that God may be glorified, that God will not let me seek any glory for myself.’ That one thing impressed me so greatly that he didn’t want to take any glory away from God. So I’ve used it in many illustrations in my work in spreading the Gospel that if we want to be of great service, we’ve got to forget ourselves; we’ve got to just look to the Lord.”

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