“In those days there were giants in the land…” Genesis 6:4
I grew up a few blocks from from Highland Park in Mound. The park where I learned to fly a kite as a boy was once the old Baptist Assembly Grounds, and before that the Keswick Camp grounds. In the early 60s, Bill Bright’s Campus Crusade for Christ had its headquarters on that same shoreline. But in 1950, Billy Graham held a series of revival meetings on that plot of land!
An old photo shows a 31 year old Billy swinging a softball bat in between meetings. Many Mound residents remember those meetings. Doris Greig recalls moving to Mound to teach Home Economics in the late 40s and feeling quite lonely and in search of meaning for her life. She was invited to work in the kitchen at the meetings.
“The first night I went and hear the gospel message that Billy Graham preached, I knew immediately what was missing from my life,” she recalls. “Life took on a new joy from that day forward.” I wonder how many lives were forever changed sitting under that big tent in Mound back in the summer of ’50.
Interestingly, a young Tim LaHaye parked cars at the meetings. LaHaye would later become the bestselling co-auther of the popular Left Behind novel series which has sold more than 65 million copies. But not before working valet in my little hometown of Mound.
This photograph of Billy Graham is framed and hangs in my office at church. Obeying God’s call on my life to start a church in Mound as a scared 31 year-old was filled with many days of self-doubt and discouragement. One of the reasons I did not give up when times got tough — for it was a long, slow start up — was my conviction that I was standing on the shoulders of spiritual giants and following in the footsteps of some great leaders who once hallowed this otherwise ordinary turf.
Billy Graham was an inspiration to me during those faith-stretching years of church planting. Reading his autobiography and other biographies, I was motivated by his fearlessness in the face of daunting challenges, and his deep faith in God’s ability to work through him and in spite of him.
I also felt an affinity with him in that we 1) were both tall and lanky, 2) both preached in Mound at age 31, 3) both had a burden to reach the lost with the gospel, and 4) both had played baseball on that very same spot — even if 60 years separated our time in Mound.
You may find it silly feeling some significant connection to Billy Graham for a one-off evangelistic meeting in Mound a half a century before my time. You may be right. All I know is that leaders tend to rise only as high as their dreams and imagination will go. Leaders tend to be only as daring and impactful as the leaders they are emulating. I have aimed high and chosen very large shoes to follow.
Compared to Billy Graham, I may be a nobody leading a tiny flock in relative obscurity, but I serve the same God, preaching the same message, with the same burden and call, and each soul reached is equally as valuable whether its me or Billy as the mouthpiece.
What I have lacked in talent and experience as a spiritual leader in my hometown, I have tried to make up for with a big imagination, deep faith (bordering on insanity at times), unswerving obedience, and the conviction I’m following in the footsteps of giants who once ministered on this land and along these shores!
Billy preached the gospel to over 200 million at his gatherings over his lifetime. Now that he’s gone home to his reward, its going to take a large army of nobodies to pick up his mantel and carry on the work of the gospel in his absence. I’m honored to be one of them!
“It’s amazing, in fact, what one highly charged, crazy man can do…”
-Peters & Waterman, In Search for Excellence
Read a related piece about other giants who ministered in this little town over the years here.