Still Proclaiming Christ
Billy Graham Preaches at Rose Bowl 55 Years After Historic Los Angeles Crusade
January 1, 2005 - The Rose Bowl stood empty, or nearly so, in the darkness of the November evening. Workers and volunteers were wrapping up after a long day of preparing the stadium for the Greater Los Angeles Billy Graham Crusade, scheduled to begin the following day.
by Amanda Knoke and Bob Paulson
Cliff Barrows, longtime program director of Billy Graham Crusades, and his wife, Ann, arrived at the stadium to check on arrangements for the choir and platform guests. In the stadium's west compound, they walked past large, white tents, one of which held pallets of Crusade literature and supplies.
That's when they first heard him—a man, alone in the supply tent. "The man had a bottle of oil," Cliff Barrows said, "and he was placing oil on each pallet of material and crying out to God: 'Bless these materials and use them. Bless the counselors as they use them; give them wisdom.'" Barrows said that the man was all by himself and that no one but God will ever know who he was.
Whoever he was, it's clear that he was among the thousands who lifted up the Crusade in prayer—and it's also clear that those prayers were answered.
A Tale of Two Tents
Many have heard of the "Big Tent" at the corner of Washington and Hill streets in downtown Los Angeles, where Billy Graham held his historic 1949 Crusade. They have heard how newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst sent his immortalized telegram to his affiliates across the country: "Puff Graham." The story goes that Hearst's message is what launched Billy Graham's ministry into the public eye.
But fewer people know about the adjacent "Little Tent"—the prayer tent, where Christians poured out their hearts in prayer for the people of Los Angeles. Barrows, who has worked side by side with Billy Graham for 60 years, remembers well the prayer tent, with its wood-slatted folding chairs and wood shavings on the floor. He remembers how some people spent the whole night praying there and how many felt that it was their ministry to pray in the little tent during the service.
Barrows explained that back then, people who came forward to make a commitment to Christ were not counseled in the front of the platform, as they are now. Instead, tent flaps were opened to form a passageway to the smaller tent. There, the people prayed to commit their lives to Christ, so the counseling tent became known as the prayer tent.
"From a secular point of view," Barrows said, "the words 'Puff Graham' to the media might have been very significant, and many give that message the credit for the national publicity. But I believe it was the prayers of the people that God honored. The Bible says, 'If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land' (2 Chronicles 7:14, NIV). We give a lot of credit to the media and to the promotion, and it's important to get the attention of the public. But it's the prayer burden of God's people that He honors."
Momentarily stepping back into that tent in his mind, Barrows recalled the days of the 1949 Crusade. "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of," he wistfully quoted from Alfred Lord Tennyson. "People wept. They poured their hearts out to God. Oftentimes the tears would go down into the wood shavings. The prayer tent became a hallowed place. I often said that what happened in the big tent was governed by what took place in the little tent. It blessed my heart to go in there and kneel with them in prayer."
At the Rose Bowl, 55 years later, Nov. 18-21, 2004, the two-tent theme repeated itself. A few hundred feet west of the stadium stood a prayer tent where, on average, 75 people prayed for the Crusade each evening. They prayed, held hands, raised their arms, clapped and sang. A small television monitor helped direct specific prayers by showing what was happening inside the Rose Bowl.
One prayer volunteer confessed that he wanted to be in the stadium. "But I think this is really where the foundations are for tonight and where it all takes place," he said. "I read about the two tents and how it all began way back. That touched my heart, and the Lord said, 'You need to be here.' Prayer is the foundation—and God hears our prayers."
That foundation had been in the works for months as people prayed for the Crusade. As the event approached, the prayer intensified. For several days during the week of the Crusade, murmurs filtered through the stadium as pastors pled for God to meet people at the Rose Bowl.
"Pastors signed up every day this week to pray for every single seat in the stadium," said Ché Ahn, senior pastor of Harvest Rock Church, in Pasadena. "We laid hands on and prayed for every single seat, including the press seats. Some people would pause, feeling they needed to stay longer at a seat to pray for whoever was going to be sitting there."
Ahn noted a connection between prayer and recent world events. "I think that everything going on around the world has also caused people to pray," Ahn said. "The war in Iraq, the election—it was providential that Mr. Graham postponed the Crusade until this time." Ahn also commented on the influence that Los Angeles—and, specifically, Hollywood—has on the rest of the country. "As L.A. goes, so goes the world, because of how Hollywood culturally 'disciples' the nation. There was a real sense of urgency to pray for this Crusade like I have never seen."
That sense of urgency led people not only to pray but also to reach friends and neighbors with the love of Christ.
A Passion to Reach People
On a sunny Saturday afternoon the week before the Crusade, thousands of people met at the Rose Bowl—not to attend a UCLA Bruins football game, but to attend a briefing for people who would serve as Crusade counselors.
After the briefing, many grabbed batches of Crusade invitations from tables at the stadium gates. Joanne Forst, of Lake Forest, was one who took a batch. She explained that already she had given out about 100 invitations—at stores, in neighborhoods and at convalescent homes. "Now I'm going to give them out at the soccer fields," she said, gesturing toward the community fields next to the stadium.
Standing along the sidelines and sitting in low-slung chairs, the soccer spectators had no idea that they were about to encounter a passionate evangelist. Forst, wearing a pale yellow Crusade choir shirt, moved among coaches and fans. "Billy Graham will be here at the Rose Bowl Nov. 18-21," she told them. "It's completely free. There will be a Saturday morning program for children. You'll be blessed!"
Throughout the Los Angeles area, Christians were working to reach people for Christ. "What is the point in me being here on earth if it's not to bring people to heaven?" asked Crusade counselor Lisa Spencer, of Chatsworth. "The biggest gift I have to offer is to offer them the gift of salvation. And that's something every Christian can offer."
Reaching a Diverse City
Los Angeles has been called the world's most diverse city, with residents representing 140 countries and speaking 196 languages. Crusade organizers wanted to reach as many groups as possible, so about 40 percent of the stadium was designated for people to listen to the program in various languages on AM radio headsets. On any given night of the Crusade, 14 different language groups heard a simultaneous interpretation of the Crusade meetings. A total of 26 different language groups—more than at any other Billy Graham Crusade—heard Mr. Graham's message of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Spanish interpreter Saul Rodriguez was told that some 10,000 Spanish headsets were checked out the first night of the Crusade. He said he realized the awesome responsibility of communicating the message clearly to the second-largest language group in the Los Angeles area.
Interpreter Hengky Chiok comes from Indonesia, the largest Muslim-populated country in the world. Chiok, pastor of First Indonesian Baptist Church, in Monrovia, said of watching the people go forward and clustering at the Indonesian sign, "It makes me want to cry." The first night of the Crusade was especially moving to Chiok when he heard that an Indonesian couple visiting California had come to the Crusade and had made their way to the Indonesian counseling area at the invitation. Chiok said that he would work to help connect the couple with a church in Indonesia and would follow up with them as best he could.
Of the more than 14,000 people who went forward during the Crusade, 1,560 were from the various language groups.
When You Give a Banquet ...
Crusade organizers made an effort to reach community leaders as well as people in the entertainment industry, hosting special receptions for these two groups on the first and second nights of the Crusade, respectively. To the guests at the entertainment industry reception, Franklin Graham said: "I don't know what your background is tonight, where you come from, whether you believe in God or not or have even thought a lot about it. But I want you to know God does love you. There is a God. And He has a Son, and His name is Jesus Christ. ... Tonight, if you don't know Christ, I hope that you won't leave this stadium until you come to know God through His Son, Jesus Christ." After each reception, guests were ushered to reserved seating in the Rose Bowl, where they could hear more about salvation through Jesus Christ.
The Crusade also reached out to community members at the opposite end of the social spectrum, including the 84,000 who are homeless in the Los Angeles area. Jesus taught, "When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind" (Luke 14:13, NIV). In that spirit, the Love-In-Action Team held "Feasts of Faith" for the poor and homeless, and then invited them to "The World's Largest Tailgate Party" on the afternoon of Saturday's Crusade meeting.
"Bringing the Crusade to the poor and the poor to the Crusade" was the motto of the Crusade's Love-In-Action committee, said Keith Phillips, co-chair of the committee and president of World Impact, Inc.
One Feast location was MacArthur Park, directly west of downtown Los Angeles. To an outsider, the park appears to be an idyllic inner-city oasis. A fountain sprays from the center of a small lake in the middle of the park, and gulls and paddle-boaters glide around it. One would hardly guess that in the year 2000 the park was listed as one of the most dangerous places in the United States.
The casual observer would need to look closer to notice stocking-footed men sleeping on cardboard or newspapers, or the rickety baby strollers and carts that carry not children or groceries but the owners' few earthly possessions.
For nearly five years Hector Cedillo, pastor of The Church by the Lake and himself a former drug dealer at the park, has been bringing the love of Jesus weekly to drug addicts, alcoholics and prostitutes—"people who don't want to come to a church," Cedillo says.
On the Saturday before the Crusade, other churches joined Cedillo's to hold a Feast of Faith. A massive grill loaded with hot dogs and hamburgers helped to draw onlookers to the Sunday afternoon service of praise music, testimonies and a message. Around the savory-smelling perimeter of grilled meat were tables filled with condiments, trays of cookies and huge bowls of salad. More than 100 food boxes were distributed, and piles of clothing items were free for the taking.
"We are here," Cedillo said through a microphone, "for one purpose: to share the Gospel of Jesus."
Some 27 Feast of Faith events were held all over the Los Angeles basin in the months leading up to the Crusade. About 90 churches and ministries participated, filling some 40,000 food boxes and 3,500 hygiene kits for the poor, distributing more than 10,000 Bibles and inviting guests to the Crusade.
The Feasts culminated in "The World's Largest Tailgate Party" on Saturday afternoon, Nov. 20, before the Crusade meeting. More than 6,000 guests came to the party at Jackie Robinson Memorial Field, a short walk from the Rose Bowl. Most came on church buses and vans. They received free hamburgers and fixings from the popular restaurant chain In-N-Out Burger, along with cookies and drinks. With a festive, picnic atmosphere, the party also included an inflatable trampoline, a petting zoo, live music and carnival games. Guests were then escorted to special reserved seating in the stadium for the evening meeting.
A Kiss From God
Inside the Rose Bowl each evening, Billy Graham preached the message of salvation (LINK). The message was as simple as it had been in 1949, and it was just as relevant. Each evening, people streamed forward and responded to the invitation to commit their lives to Jesus.
One evening a counselor had finished counseling, had turned in his extra literature and was leaving the field when a woman came up to him and asked, "Are you a counselor? Can you talk to my father?" The counselor went with her and found that her father was in his 90s and wanted to accept Christ. As they prayed together, the man began to weep. After so many years of running his own life, he finally surrendered to Jesus Christ.
One man came down to the field pushing his mother in a wheelchair because she wanted to make a commitment to Christ. When he was asked if he also was responding, he replied that he was only there to help his mother. He said that 18 years ago his 18-month-old child drowned, and he still carried a lot of bitterness. He didn't understand why God allowed it to happen. However, after hearing the message, he said that he felt something that he hadn't felt in 18 years and that he was going to start to make some changes.
A 24-year-old man originally from India said he had heard about Billy Graham visiting India years ago, and the man was intrigued. He said he knew that Mr. Graham was "a man of good will." Now he had the chance to hear him. Although he said he was nervous because he knew his family would persecute him, he accepted Christ into his life.
For the Crusade's Love-In-Action Co-Chair Willie Jordan, who counseled every night during the 1949 Crusade, the response to the invitation was especially moving. "God is so good to give Billy Graham such a spectacular finale to his L.A. ministry," she said. "For him to have this, it's like a gentle kiss from God."
The Two-Legged Gospel
The Crusade reached the rich and poor, the famous and obscure. It met both physical and spiritual needs. And it left Christians with a new vision for living out their faith. Lloyd John Ogilvie, honorary chair of the Crusade, prayed on the final evening: "We've come to a realization of how much You love us and how You fill us with Your love, transform us into new creatures and enable us to love and care for others. You will help us to run on a two-legged Gospel of personal faith and social responsibility. ... to transform our families, change our communities and bring justice and mercy to our nation. Gracious Lord, You have grasped hold of us tonight, and we now belong to You forever."