The announcement today of the death of evangelist Billy Graham at the age of 99 recalls the connection of Winona Lake, Ind., home to many ministries in the Charis Fellowship, to Graham as he prepared to hold his first crusade in 1949 in Los Angeles, Calif.
A group of 40 to 50 young men gathered in the Rainbow Room of the Westminster Hotel on July 13 during the annual Youth for Christ conference. It is said that event may well have been the beginning of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, not the tent crusade that happened on the west coast later that fall.
The Westminster Hotel has been refurbished and is currently used by Grace College as a dormitory.
A post on the FGBC Editor’s Blog, a site predecessor to graceconnect.us (and transferred to this site), told the story in Winona Lake Prayer Meeting Key to Success of Billy Graham.
Fred Hartley, writing in his book Everything by Prayer, (Christian Publications, Inc.) gives details of the Rainbow Room prayer meeting. It is the biography of Armin Gesswein, a Lutheran pastor, seminary professor, associate evangelist of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and founder of the Minister’s Prayer Fellowship and the Revival Prayer Fellowship. An excerpt from Hartley’s account reveals the following:
“It was 3 o’clock in the morning on Wednesday, July 13, 1949. Between forty and fifty young men were gathered in the Rainbow Room of the Westminster Hotel in Winona Lake, Indiana. They had been there for five hours praying.
Evangelist Armin Gesswein of Southern California, who had been invited to conduct the prayer sessions, exhorted Billy, “If you are going to have prayer as part of your crusade, it has to be frontal not peripheral.” That is exactly how an all-night prayer meeting happened to be called in the midst of a busy week-long Youth For Christ convention.
The men had been alternating prayers with praise, verses of Scripture, and requests for more prayer. Things were beginning to warm up. Hearts were poured out before God. The tide was running high. Gesswein stood to his feet. “You know,” he said, “our brother Billy Graham is coming out to Los Angeles for a crusade this fall. Why don’t we just gather around this man and lay our hands on him and really pray for him? Let’s ask God for a fresh touch to anoint him for this work.”
When it was over and the men were still kneeling, Billy Graham opened his Bible to Joel 3:13 and with deep conviction read aloud the words, “Put in your sickle, for the harvest is ripe: Come, get you down: for the press is full, and the vats overflow.” Prayer went on in the Rainbow Room for another hour before the men retired.
See Winona Lake Prayer Meeting Key to Success of Billy Graham to read the complete post.