Igniting a Fire: Billy Graham and Youth for Christ

September 12, 2022

Categories: Billy Graham

Billy Graham was the first full-time staff member for Youth for Christ.

This year marks the 77th anniversary of Youth for Christ International. This organization’s humble beginnings were a milestone in the life and ministry of Billy Graham, as doors opened for a revival like none other.

After suggesting that Billy Graham take over his radio show, “Songs in the Night” in late 1943, Torrey Johnson, a local Christian radio show host and pastor, made another suggestion. Johnson, who had launched a promising ministry called Chicagoland Youth for Christ, invited Billy Graham to come speak at one of the early rallies. Although hesitant to accept because of his ongoing commitment to the church where he served as pastor, the Village Church of Western Springs, and his already full schedule of speaking engagements, Billy Graham prayerfully took on this new obligation.

Billy Graham preaches at a Youth for Christ rally in the 1940’s.

That first night of meetings in May of 1944 was a life-changing moment for Rev. Graham. With a crowd of almost 3,000 and 45 decisions made for Christ, the fire was lit in both Billy Graham and Torrey Johnson for an evangelical movement directed to reach young people. Billy Graham began traveling throughout the northern part of the U.S. to speak at rallies in cities like Indianapolis, Philadelphia, and Detroit. He would later recall of this time in his autobiography, Just As I Am, as being similar to his first job as a Fuller Brush salesman: “I was a traveling salesman again—not displaying a case of brushes this time, just brandishing my Bible.”

Several experiences over the next few months, including growing tension from the leadership of his church over his continuous travel, and a failed Army chaplaincy program assignment due to his becoming severely ill, led him to a serendipitous meeting with Torrey Johnson once again. While recovering in Florida from a severe case of the mumps, Billy Graham went on a fishing excursion with Johnson, who was also staying in Florida only doors down from the Grahams. Johnson shared his vision for a new organization, Youth for Christ International. This new venture would combine the YFC meetings already occurring throughout the U.S. under one organization and expand it to reach young people internationally, as well, through similar evangelistic rallies.

Billy Graham prays with his team before a Youth for Christ rally.

Billy Graham accepted the opportunity to take YFC International’s first full-time position of being the organizer for the rallies nationally and internationally in January, 1945. Over the next seven years, Rev. Graham preached in over 300 cities in the U.S., as well as throughout much of Canada and Europe, with thousands of decisions made for Christ. This experience not only revealed to Billy Graham the tremendous potential for revival in the world, but would also bring a group of people together who later became his Crusade team. It ignited a fire in the heart of this young evangelist that would burn for 70+ years to see millions come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.


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