Billy Graham's California Dream

on December 16, 2011
The impact of Billy Graham on California is historic, but many may not know the life-changing influence that California had on the greatest Christian evangelist of all time.

Without California, Billy Graham's ministry may never have existed at all.


Billy Graham's California Dream
While studying for an anthropology degree at Wheaton College in the early 1940s, Billy Graham desperately struggled with doubts regarding the reliability of the Bible as the Word of God.

"The particular intellectual problem I was wrestling with, for the first time since my conversion as a teenager, was the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures. Seeming contradictions and problems with interpretation defied intellectual solutions, or so I thought. Could the Bible be trusted completely?" Graham recalled.

As a spiritual seeker looking for answers, Billy Graham went on a 2,000 mile journey to California. He attended a retreat at the Forest Home Christian camp near Big Bear in Southern California, owned by Henrietta Mears.

Mears was the woman who served as the education director of First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, the founder of Gospel Light Publishing, and the author of What The Bible Is All About, a book which has sold millions of copies.

After days of study, deliberation, prayer, argument, teaching and confrontational discussions with Henrietta Mears, the young Christian was thoroughly convinced.

Billy Graham's California Dream Billy Graham made a conscious decision to accept the Bible as the infallible Word of God and to dedicate his life, entirely and completely, to preaching the Bible.

A memorial cross was later erected at the camp to mark the site of Billy Graham's great California decision for The Gospel.

It was then that the vision of the Billy Graham Crusade was born.

The first California crusade event was held in Modesto, in Stanislaus County, where the response was overwhelming.

Realizing that his call to preach had led to a full-time ministry, Graham immediately decided to meet with his Christian ministry colleagues and agree on some principles and ground rules.

The November 1948 California meeting, known as the "Modesto Manifesto," defined procedure for Graham's worldwide ministry into the future.

Billy Graham met with George Beverly Shea, Grady Wilson and Cliff Barrows to discuss the common criticisms of evangelists and how they should manage the ministry to be above reproach.

During the Modesto meeting, it was firmly decided that the Billy Graham Crusade team would:
  • Avoid any appearance of financial impropriety and avoid emphasizing monetary offerings. They would have the local campaign committees oversee the offerings and disbursements of funds. The Graham team would accept a straight salary regardless of how high the offerings were.
  • Avoid any appearance of sexual impropriety. The Graham team would not travel, meet or eat alone with any woman other than their own wives. They would always book their hotel rooms close together as an additional safeguard.
  • Cooperate with any local churches that were willing to participate in a united evangelism effort.
  • Avoid criticizing local pastors and churches from the pulpit. They would never even criticize pastors who openly criticized them.
  • Be honest and reliable in their publicity and reporting of results. When attendance numbers were mentioned by the media, they would be impartially supplied by the local police, fire officials or arena managers.
The success of the Modesto crusade and the clear policies of the "Modesto Manifesto" gave Rev. Graham the confidence to hold an ambitious revival campaign in California's largest city, Los Angeles, the following year.

The 1949 Los Angeles Billy Graham Crusade continued on for an unprecedented 60 consecutive days. The event was so huge, successful and famous that Graham and his event both remain part of California history today (video below).

"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," Graham later recalled.

The 1949 revival had such a tremendous impact on L.A. that a giant bronze plaque was permanently placed at the site in 1983 by order of the County of Los Angeles.

It was followed by a joint resolution from the City of Los Angeles signed by the mayor, city attorney, city comptroller and every city council member.

"Something historic happened on this spot," Billy Graham said as he humbly unveiled the plaque commemorating the 1949 eight-week revival, during which 350,000 Californians accepted Christ in Los Angeles.

Rev. Graham has preached at 26 Billy Graham Crusade events in California over the last seven decades, with millions of souls saved:
  • 1940s - Modesto 1948, Los Angeles 1949
  • 1950s - Hollywood 1951, San Francisco 1958, Sacramento 1958, Fresno 1958, Santa Barbara 1958, Los Angeles 1958, San Diego 1958
  • 1960s - Fresno 1962, Los Angeles 1963, San Diego 1964, Anaheim 1969
  • 1970s - Oakland 1971, Los Angeles 1974, San Diego 1976
  • 1980s - San Jose 1981, Sacramento 1983, Anaheim 1985
  • 1990s - Sacramento 1995, San Jose 1997, San Francisco 1997, Oakland 1997
  • 2000s - Fresno 2001, San Diego 2003, Los Angeles Metro 2004
Billy Graham established lifelong friendships with many prominent Californians after meeting spiritual mentor Henrietta Mears and music director Cliff Barrows, a native Californian.

Among them, Vice President, California Governor candidate and President Richard Nixon, California Governor and President Ronald Reagan, and Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) Founder and President Paul Crouch.

Billy Graham received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, from Ronald Reagan. Later, former First Lady Nancy Reagan presented the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award to Graham.

Outside of California, Rev. Graham has been honored with countless awards of recognition as well.

California, however, has always held a special place in the Southern preacher's heart for personally spiritual reasons.

Hollywood, the place through which he ironically met his spiritual mentor, honored Billy Graham with his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Though the bestowing of the Hollywood star perplexed many Christians, Graham graciously accepted the gesture as one of respect.

Today, at the age of 93, Billy Graham can look back on a lifetime filled with experiences unmatched in history. After preaching to more people than any human who has ever lived, Graham stands ready to hear the words, "Well Done, Thou Good And Faithful Servant."

Graham's long ago decision, made in California during his own dark night of the soul, ultimately led to one billion life-changing decisions worldwide.

Billy Graham changed California as much as California changed Billy Graham.

Billy Graham Los Angeles 1949