In one of her earliest memories, Tiffany Bolling is nestled in her grandmother’s arms beneath a great, white tent.
Although she’s just a toddler, the crowds of people give her the impression something big is happening. Otherwise, she knows very little about the lanky, 30-year-old preacher standing before her. (At that time, even the grown-ups in the tent have no idea he’ll become “God’s Ambassador” and “Pastor to Presidents.”)
It’s the fall of 1949, and 2-and-a-half-year-old Tiffany is sitting in one of the first few rows of chairs inside the “Canvas Cathedral” at the “Christ for Greater Los Angeles” Crusade with Billy Graham.
The evangelistic outreach in a city known more for glitz and glamour than the Gospel was scheduled for three weeks. But as crowds swelled—and as the young evangelist caught the attention of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst—the Crusade went on for almost two months straight, drawing more than 300,000 people.
“I remember my grandmother was holding me up, and we were inside the tent,” Tiffany recalled 69 years later. “And we were really close to where he was speaking.”
Tiffany can’t remember any details about the message but says she does recall locking eyes with Billy Graham.
“I remember him looking directly at me and smiling, and I was so happy. Here I am sitting in my grandmother’s arms. She was holding me up high so I could see everything. And Mr. Graham looks at me, and I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit; I know I did.”
It wasn’t something she could articulate at the time, but in that moment she felt special. Perhaps she reminded the young father of his little girls 2,000 miles away in the mountains of North Carolina.
It was a fleeting encounter, but the warmth in Mr. Graham’s deep-set blue eyes has been tucked away in Tiffany’s memory since that day.
After the event, Tiffany remembers noticing dramatic changes in her grandparents, who took care of her in her early years when her mother wasn’t around.
“Those were very happy times,” she said. “I remember my grandparents stopped drinking, and they were changed by that momentous Canvas Cathedral event.”
Later in her childhood, her mother came back into the picture, and Tiffany’s Christian grandparents were no longer the main influence in her life. As her mother and adoptive father brought Tiffany into the midst of their deeply secular lifestyle, she drifted away from God.
Finding success as a Hollywood actress in the 60s didn’t help.
“I got involved with the wrong kind of people, and they started doing drugs, and I started doing drugs and just really lost my way,” she said.
Years later a makeup artist invited Tiffany to a fast-growing Southern California church. She heard the Good News that Jesus would forgive her sins and give her a new purpose and hope, and she became a Christian.
She later fell in love with a man who was raised in the church but wasn’t following Christ. Tiffany led him back to the Lord, and they were married. She and Richard Casares have been walking with God and one another since 1983.
In the fall of 2004, Tiffany and Richard invited their friends to the Greater Los Angeles Billy Graham Crusade at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Fifty-five years after her first encounter with Mr. Graham, Tiffany felt as though her life had come full circle.
“I feel like I went through my life and came back to Christ, and then 55 years to the weekend after the historic time at the Canvas Cathedral, he comes to the Rose Bowl.”
Tiffany and Richard had the joy of watching a close friend accept Christ after Mr. Graham shared the Gospel.
“So many people came to Christ that evening, and it really changed his life,” Tiffany said.
Looking back on her own life, Tiffany wishes she would have had a Christian mentor to help her avoid the heartbreaks and pitfalls of Hollywood, but she knows God has forgiven her for her sins.
Even when she tuned Him out, she believes the Lord’s still small voice was there all along, from the moment she first heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“I feel as though that little bit of time at the Canvas Cathedral planted a seed deep in me.”