God in the Garden

June 22, 2012

Categories: Billy Graham

As we’ve written about in a previous post, the summer of 2012 marks the 55th anniversary of the monumental New York City Crusade in 1957.

16 weeks. 100 services. 110 days. More than 2 million people. And, more than 56,000 making commitments to Jesus Christ! Of those new believers, 22,000 were under the age of 21. Story after story of lives forever changed, many of those stories from young people leaving behind a troubled past.

Curtis Mitchell writes extensively about the unprecedented Crusade in his book God in the Garden. Below are excerpts from Chapter 16 of the book, detailing the happenings during Teen Week in the Garden.

Teen Week was [Billy] Graham’s answer to the spate of vicious, senseless crimes that shocked and sickened New York in midsummer. Because of it, boys and girls and their parents were attending the Garden in probably the greatest outpouring of young people in the modern church’s history.

It had really started on the night that Graham was moved to issue a special challenge to the young people in his audience. His subject was “Youth Aflame.” “Christ didn’t call us to a picnic,” he said. “Christ called us to a battle.” He asked that all who would dedicate their lives completely to Christ and be ready to “go anywhere and do anything” to come forward. Over one thousand young people responded.

The stunning fact lay in his mind even while he wrote other sermons.

Suddenly the headlines of every Manhattan paper were dripping with the gore of teen-age violence. Their crimes were brutal, senseless, and malevolent. Newsboys screamed “Teen-agers on Crime Spree!” “Kid Killers on Rampage!” “Teen Gangs Wage War!” The city gasped, wondering what next.

In his dressing room they talked until almost midnight, perfecting a new assault on Satan that would perhaps help straighten out New York’s juvenile-delinquency mess. [Billy] Graham would junk the sermons he had intended to preach. It was time to propose a program of Christian action.

This is the sort of midstream switch that has always distinguished Graham’s ministry. When he feels led to a new course, he moves.

Researchers gathered facts. Youth today. Youth in the time of Christ. Youth in church, school and jail. Youth at home and abroad. His program took shape. Services would be changed to appeal primarily to young people. Contacting teen-age gang leaders, he urged them to bring their members to the Garden. He wrote about juvenile delinquency for the New York press. He invited popular disk jockeys to help fill the Garden with rock-and-roll fans.

He held a press conference and showed how Christ had already worked in the hearts of a dozen youngsters with doubtful backgrounds. Twelve of them flanked him, some from a Christian summer camp. Several had court records.

Preaching during Teen Week, his manner changed to fit his younger audience.

The tune was different but the words were the same. “The root of the trouble is sin,” Graham preached. “Sin produces boredom, mischief, gang wars. But there is no boredom in a life dedicated to Christ.”

At the end of Teen Week in the Garden over two thousand youngsters had come forward to surrender their lives. Nor was that the end; suddenly, in countless homes and communities, parents, friends, and neighbors began to learn at first hand what Billy Graham meant when he said, “You can be born again.”

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