A Watershed Moment

By   •   September 24, 2009   •   Topics: , ,

If the amount of advance press coverage was any indication, the Los Angeles Campaign was going to be a failure. Not that the local organizing committee hadn’t tried. They had employed Lloyd Doctor, public relations director for the local Salvation Army, to drum up interest.

One day shortly before the meetings opened, he persuaded a handful of reporters to attend the first press conference I had ever conducted. Next day we eagerly scanned the newspapers to see the stories those reporters had written.

Nothing.

As far as the media were concerned, the Los Angeles Campaign—by far our most ambitious evangelistic effort to date—was going to be a nonevent.

A Few Weeks Later …

We were approaching the scheduled closing-night meeting—Sunday, October 16—of our three-week Campaign. During the week before that final meeting, since there was evident blessing, some committee members advocated extending the Campaign a short time.

Others thought it should stop as planned; the choir, the counselors, and other workers were tired, and we might risk an anticlimax. The budget had been met, and now the organizers just took love offerings for Cliff and me. Everybody was confident the tent would be filled on the closing Sunday to give us a truly grand finale to an excellent series of meetings.

When I arrived at the tent for the next meeting, the scene startled me. For the first time, the place was crawling with reporters and photographers. They had taken almost no notice of the meetings up until now, and very little had appeared in the papers. I asked one of the journalists what was happening.

“You’ve just been kissed by William Randolph Hearst,” he responded.

The newspaper coverage was just the beginning of a phenomenon. As more and more extraordinary conversion stories caught the public’s attention, the meetings continued night after night, drawing overflow crowds. Something was happening that all the media coverage in the world could not explain.

And neither could I. God may have used Mr. Hearst to promote the meetings, as Ruth said, but the credit belonged solely to God. All I knew was that before it was over, we were on a journey from which there would be no looking back.

As November began with a further extension of the Campaign, headlines as far away as Indiana screamed, “old-time religion sweeps Los Angeles.” Reporters were comparing me with Billy Sunday; church leaders were quoted as saying that the Campaign was “the greatest religious revival in the history of Southern California.”

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The Final Night

On Sunday afternoon, November 20, two hours before the start of the final meeting, 11,000 people packed the tent to standing room only. Thousands milled about in the streets, unable to get in. Hundreds left because they couldn’t hear. On the platform with me were 450 fellow ministers, to whom now fell the awesome challenge of shepherding those who had come forward through the weeks.

For that time, the statistics were overwhelming. In eight weeks, hundreds of thousands had heard, and thousands had responded to accept Christ as Savior; 82 percent of them had never been church members. Thousands more, already Christians, had come forward to register various fresh commitments to the Lord.

Someone calculated that we had held seventy-two meetings. I had preached sixty-five full sermons and given hundreds of evangelistic talks to small groups, in addition to talks on the radio.

When we got to Minneapolis, the press was again there to interview us, along with some Twin Cities pastors and faculty and students from Northwestern Schools. Until then it had not fully registered with me how far-reaching the impact of the Los Angeles Campaign had been. I would learn over the next few weeks that the phenomenon of that Los Angeles tent Campaign at Washington and Hill Streets would forever change the face of my ministry and my life.

Overnight we had gone from being a little evangelistic team, whose speaker also served with Youth for Christ and Northwestern Schools, to what appeared to many to be the hope for national and international revival. Everywhere we turned, someone wanted us to come and do for them what had been done in Los Angeles.

It Was God’s Doing

What they didn’t know, however, was that we had not done it. I was still a country preacher with too much on my plate. Whatever this could be called and whatever it would become, it was God’s doing.

In the middle of all the press hoopla in Minneapolis, one of George Wilson’s little girls ran up and handed me a rose. “Uncle Billy,” she said, “we prayed for you.”

And of course I had my own two little daughters praying for me every night. That put it all in perspective. That was the whole secret of everything that had happened: God had answered prayer.

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