Evangelist Billy Graham, who died this week at 99, drew millions of worshipers at crusades across the nation and around the world. His ministry didn't include any appearances in northeast Indiana, but historical accounts suggest it might have been inspired during a visit to Winona Lake.
A biography of Armin Gesswein, a Lutheran pastor who was an associate evangelist with Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, revealed the connection. Author Fred Hartley wrote of a 1949 meeting at the Westminster Hotel in Winona Lake, the home of evangelist Billy Sunday and a well-known resort for Christian gatherings. Graham, who would have been 30 at the time, was attending the week-long Youth for Christ convention there, shortly before the series of Los Angeles tent revivals that brought him to international prominence.
Hartley wrote that 40 to 50 young men were gathered in the hotel's Rainbow Room to pray. Gesswein, who was leading the prayer session, stood and proclaimed, “You know, 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.”
As the men knelt, Graham opened his Bible and read aloud “with deep conviction” from Joel 3:13: “Put in your sickle, for the harvest is ripe: Come, get you down: for the press is full, and the vats overflow.”
Youth for Christ leader Ted Engstrom later said, “No one who was at that prayer meeting in Winona Lake in 1949 could possibly have forgotten it. It was one of the greatest nights that those of us present could ever remember.”
Winona Lake's Westminster Hotel is now used as a dormitory for Grace College students.
Another Billy Graham brush with northeast Indiana came in 1983, a year after Fort Wayne residents, including Mayor Win Moses, battled floodwaters. Graham was preaching in a crusade televised nationwide when he spoke of repentance and a biblical flood.
“But now I'm referring to Noah's ark. I should also make it clear that this was Noah's flood, and not Moses' flood, because when that flood hit Fort Wayne earlier this year, the mayor of Fort Wayne was called Mr. Moses, so the newspapers and television featured it across the country as Moses' flood. This is not that flood. This is Noah's flood,” Graham quipped.