Even today the sight of a circus tent and the smell of fresh sawdust bring back the excitement I felt each time I walked into the 1949 Billy Graham Crusade tent at the corner of Washington and Hill streets.
I was 16 when Billy Graham came to Los Angeles. I had committed my life to Christ two years earlier and joined Fred Jordan Mission’s soul-winning outreaches on school holidays and on weekends. Then, in the summer of 1949, I attended the five-week American Soul-Winning Clinic at the Mission. During the course, I was introduced to the Mission’s founder, Fred Jordan, who would become my husband nine years later.
The 1949 Crusade followed shortly after the course, and the Mission staff and students worked as counselors. I attended every service of the Crusade and counseled inquirers in the prayer tent.
I had attended other tent crusades, but this one was different. Everyone at the meetings seemed to sense the difference. Each night when Mr. Graham gave the invitation, people were hesitant at first. But we would encourage them to come, and suddenly the aisles filled with people coming forward. Entire families walked down the sawdust aisles to receive Jesus as Savior. I had never seen that happen.
The experience transformed my life and reinforced what I knew God had called me to do–bring people to the Lord. I realized again that nothing else mattered.
As the crowds grew, the entire city was talking about this dynamic, 30-year-old evangelist. I went to the services convinced that the Spirit of the Lord was doing something far beyond anything we had ever seen before.
Then came the day that reporters swarmed the tent. Newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst reportedly had told his editors to “puff Graham.” Soon news of the Crusade spread across the country, making Billy Graham a household name.
After the Crusade, my whole life was committed to bringing people to the Lord. Seeing so many saved at the Crusade reinforced this passion. When you see so many thousands come to the Lord in such a short span, it builds up your faith to believe that if God can do this, He can do anything!
When I returned to Bell High School that fall, I had a new zeal to win my classmates and teachers to Christ. I organized a soul-winning club at my school, where I taught other kids how to win souls one-to-one. Then I started prayer meetings each morning on campus in which we prayed for souls to be saved.
The principal called me into his office one day and told me that skipping class had gone down dramatically, because so many students had made decisions for Christ. I was chosen as a graduation speaker–not based on my grades, but because God had used me to be a positive impact on so many students.
In my church background, women couldn’t preach. That was fine with me–I didn’t have any great passion to preach. But I did have a passion to see people come to the Lord. I stayed in Los Angeles and continued working with the Mission, ministering to the neediest people in Los Angeles. Over the years I traveled to several countries to build orphanages, schools and missions.
When I was young, everyone thought that the world was a mess. But people in every era are lost. That’s the bottom line. They may dress differently, listen to different music and experience all kinds of electronic advances. But people still need Jesus–that hasn’t changed.
After Fred died in 1988, I began spending most of my time on Skid Row and doing a daily radio program and a weekly television program. I keep close to home. These days it’s easier to drive 45 minutes to Skid Row than to get on an airplane and go to one of our missions overseas. But no matter what, everything I do is focused on bringing people to Christ.
Los Angeles’ Skid Row is full of alcoholics, drug addicts and pushers, prostitutes and homeless people–people who are at the very bottom of society. Skid Row is right in downtown Los Angeles, but, of course, very little is downtown anymore. The money has moved west.
At the Mission, we feed homeless people, about 1,000 a day. We preach the Gospel in 15 different chapel services weekly; we have several Bible studies every day. Some of the men from Skid Row are now in our discipleship program, a residential rehabilitation program.
The Mission is chartering buses to bring people from our programs to every Crusade service to hear the simple plan of salvation. I am honored to co-chair the Love-In-Action committee for the 2004 Los Angeles Crusade. We are reaching out to the poor in five counties in Southern California through three projects. First, 30,000 empty boxes will be distributed to churches for the Love-In-Action Sunday. Pastors will encourage church members to fill the boxes with food to be distributed at Feasts of Faith, the second Love-In-Action project. Feasts of Faith will be held before the Crusade in more than 20 urban communities. Thousands of poor families and children will listen to music and a Gospel message while they are served a meal. We will encourage them to attend the Crusade on Saturday, Nov. 20, and will provide transportation. Each family or single adult will be given a box of food and a hygiene kit as they leave. Finally, we will hold the World’s Largest VIP Tailgate Party at the Rose Bowl Saturday afternoon for those who attended the Feasts of Faith before the Crusade. Music and testimonies will accompany cheeseburgers with all the trimmings.
Our Mission staff is experienced in serving meals to thousands of hungry people at a time while also giving them the Bread of Life, so I have called on them to be involved in Love-In-Action. We are excited to be part of this historic event and pray for a supernatural work of the Spirit of God which will result in a great harvest of souls!