In Billy Graham’s autobiography, “Just As I Am,” he shared his experience and reflections. We thought it would be interesting to reprint that section, in light of Franklin Graham’s upcoming Festival in Colombia:
In 1960, we received a formal appeal urging us to come to South America as soon as possible: “The rapid social and political changes which [South America] is undergoing,” a group of leading pastors from several countries wrote to me, “demonstrate convincingly that we ought to take advantage of the present hour. We cannot overlook the devastating inroads which foreign political ideologies are making.”
Shortly afterward, we accepted invitations to make two extended trips to South America during 1962–the first in January and February, the second in September and October.
Although my goals were not political, I could not ignore the possibility that the changing political situation might soon end any opportunities for open evangelism in these countries.
The Colombia Stop
Our next stop took us to Barranquilla, Colombia. We heard, shortly before our arrival, that the mayor had canceled our permission to use the municipal baseball stadium; but the local committee hurriedly obtained the grounds of a local Presbyterian school.
The mayor’s ruling caused such an uproar in the community over the issue of religious freedom that many people who might not otherwise have heard of the event came out of curiosity, and it turned out to be among our largest meetings in the northern part of South America.
When we arrived in Bogotá, we were greeted by a police escort and a limousine that saw us safely to the hotel.
While I was in Bogotá, a former president of Colombia told me that although most Colombians identified themselves with the Catholic Church, only a small percentage actually practiced their faith. Some years later, during a visit we made to the Vatican, a number of church officials expressed the same concern to me about Catholics whose commitment to Christ was only nominal; one of them told me it was the greatest challenge facing the Roman Catholic Church today.
The Big Picture
Cumulative attendance during this Latin American trip totaled quarter of a million people, with 9,000 inquirers. Measured against the standards set by Crusades in certain other parts of the world, that outcome was not large.
However, as I noted at that time on The Hour of Decision, “I have never seen such spiritual hunger in all of our travels around the world. . . . We learned once again that spiritual hunger is no respecter of persons. It exists among the rich as well as the poor, and the truth of the Gospel appeals to men universally.”