On the evangelist’s 65th birthday, a plaque and a tribute at the site of his first crusade in 1949.

Flanked by nearly all of the same team members and many of the officials who stood with him in 1949, Billy Graham returned to Los Angeles on his 65th birthday last month (Nov. 7) to preach from the same text and the same spot where a tent-revival crusade launched him into international orbit as the world’s leading evangelist and one of its most famous men. A plaque was unveiled at the site during a nostalgic and sometimes emotional ceremony—the first plaque dedication sponsored jointly by the City and County of Los Angeles.

As he did at that 1949 crusade, Cliff Barrows led appreciative Graham fans in singing. His wife, Billie, played the piano, and Lorin Whitney, the organ—just as they did at the 1949 meeting. And George Beverly Shea sang—what else?—“How Great Thou Art.” A host of evangelical figures and civic dignitaries gathered on the platform and pressed around the smiling and sun-tanned evangelist to offer congratulations and exchange “God-bless-yous.” Robert Schuller, pastor of the Crystal Cathedral, and Trinity Broadcasting Network’s show-host, Paul Crouch, were in the front row. Graham associates Walter Smythe, Russell Busby, and Grady and T. W. Wilson were there. So were Bill Brown of World Wide Pictures, Decision magazine’s founding editor, Sherwood Wirt, and CHRISTIANITY TODAY editor emeritus Harold Lindsell.

Southern California’s Jewish community fixture, Rabbi Edgar Magnin, and fiery black Baptist preacher E. V. Hill led in prayer. Evangelist Luis Palau, sitting unnoticed in the crowd until the final moments, was introduced. And, in order not to slight anyone, World Vision’s Ted Engstrom and actress Dale Evans Rogers, among others, were asked on the spur of the moment to take part: Engstrom to extend greetings and Rogers to lead the crowd of several hundred in singing Happy Birthday to “Dear Billy.” Ruth Graham beamed proudly and the Grahams’ son Franklin drew comments such as, “Isn’t he handsome?” from onlookers.

Graham noted that the press had focused world attention on the 1949 crusade and said it had been “a major turning point in my ministry.” Warning that America must repent of its sins or face the judgment of God, he preached from the same text he used on the first night of the 1949 campaign:

“As I did 34 years ago, I must give the same message today as Isaiah gave 3,000 years ago. Whether we like to admit it or not, the whole world is in trouble. Most nations are running huge deficits; small wars are raging in many parts of the world. The nations of the world stand at the very brink of Armageddon with weapons of mass destruction that could make a cinder out of this planet in a matter of hours. Crime, drugs, and pornography have invaded our country and are destroying hundreds of thousands of old and young alike. If ever there was a time to have national repentance and a turning to God, it is at the end of 1983 and the threshold of 1984.”

Graham’s latest book, Approaching Hoofbeats: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Word), was published the week before the ceremony and is considered to be his most candid and hard-hitting work. Its main point, Graham said, is the warning of judgment for disobedience and the promise and hope held out to the faithful.

Graham said he believes the United States is both “far more religious and irreligious” today than it was in 1949, with good and evil—“the wheat and the tares”—growing together. But, the evangelist added during an interview, more people are attending his crusades now than ever before, and the number who come forward to make decisions for Christ “is the largest by far in my career.”

Reaching age 65 is no signal for retirement, Graham declared; in fact, he will embark on a strenuous three-month evangelism campaign in six major cities in Great Britain next year as well as hold crusades in Vancouver, Canada, and in Alaska. Appearing slim and healthy, the grandfather of 16 said only illness will slow him down.

Graham promised to avoid political discussions through the 1984 elections, but he seemed pleased to receive congratulatory messages from four of his well-known friends—living U.S. Presidents Reagan, Carter, Ford, and Nixon. Some 60 Hollywood film and entertainment stars also sent birthday greetings on autographed photographs of themselves. “65? Happy birthday, kid,” said George Burns, who is 87. “Dear Rev. Billy,” wrote comedian Buddy Hackett, “When you talk to your boss, put in a good word for me.”


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