a billy graham center archives exhibit
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Interview with Armin Gesswein by Dr. Lois Ferm on July 13, 1971. From Collection 141, audio tape T4; transcript in box 3, folder 55. Duration: 28:07 minutes.
Image from Photo File: Gesswein, Armin.

FERM: [This is July 13, 19] 71, in Hollywood, California, at the Sheraton Universal Hotel with Mr. Armin Gesswein, who has been most active in a number of Mr. Graham’s Crusades, but particularly are we concerned today with the 1949 Crusade. Now Mr. Gesswein, you did have a very active role in that Crusade. Could you, sort of tell about how you became involved in the 1949 Crusade. You had already had, for about ten years, a Christian Ministers Fellowship in this area, a prayer fellowship. Is that so?

GESSWEIN: That’s right. Why don’t we...

FERM: Alright.

GESSWEIN: ...go back over some things that are very interesting and very direct in meaning, as far as God’s working is concerned.

FERM: Alright.

GESSWEIN: In background material that perhaps isn’t generally known, and very, very vital. For example, in the year 1949, (and that’s the Crusade we’re talking about, this first big one here, where, I often say, God launched Billy Graham into orbit, at that time) just a little before that, at Winona Lake, Indiana, was the annual Youth for Christ International Convention, in July. And that summer, we had a tremendous time there, and one night, in the Westminster Hotel, in the Rainbow Room there, Bob Cook and all of us got together to have a night of prayer for the Youth for Christ, and for revival around the world, and all these kind of powerful concerns. And I’ll never forget that night of prayer there, because the fellows really took hold; it was a tremendous spirit of prayer upon that meeting. Midnight . . . one o’clock . . . two o’clock . . . and I think it was around three o’clock in the morning (and I often think that the Methodist church must have been born about three o’clock in the morning, because John Wesley says around that time in the morning he had a strange “heartburning” or their hearts were warmed or burned or something like that). Anyhow, that’s the time I am speaking of now, at that prayer meeting, when we got together, it was Roy McKeown here and a group of California boys were there, and others, oh, quite a big crowd. Ted Engstrom here mentioned it too the other day when I brought it up, he was there. And we got in a huddle with Billy, because Billy was slated to come out here to this tent meeting and we were very burdened that God would really bless in the power of the Holy Spirit. So we had a very special burden of prayer for Billy, and we got around him in a kind of a football “prayer huddle.” And after this prayer, which was really full of faith and assurance that God was going to do mighty things, Billy, kneeling there with his Bible, opened it up to Joel, Joel 3, I believe it was, where it says: “Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.” (Let me just get that correct here, and they started off the same).

FERM: Oh, okay.

[Taping stopped, then resumed]

GESSWEIN: Chapter 3, verse 13, “Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.” And there was Billy, I believe he was still on his knees, and he looked around at us fellows and said, “Fellows,” he says, “ I believe if we can put in the sickle, we will reap an unprecedented harvest of souls for Christ.” In fact, I have marked it here in my Bible “Billy Graham, Winona, 1949.” And...

FERM: That would have been the summer preceding this...

GESSWEIN: ...the July preceding the September, in September was the meeting here in Los Angeles . Now to keep to this same theme, now Time magazine, months later, referred to this Scripture, “Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.” But what Time magazine and most people did not know was this background prior, this night of prayer at Winona Lake, Indiana. And then the next verse, Joel 3:14 says, “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision.” Now, for years I had in my mind to ask Billy if he had that verse in mind that same night. So it wasn’t until the Anaheim Crusade here, a couple years ago, at our Team meeting, that I asked Billy. I said, “I have always wanted to ask you a question. Remember that night at the Rainbow Room in Winona Lake?” He said,“I surely do.” And referring to the Scripture, “Put ye in the sickle,” I said, “Did you see, at that time, the next verse: ‘Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision?” He said, “Armin, I didn’t.” I was so surprised. I thought surely he had that verse also, because here “Decision, decision, decision” and multitudes making decision, that’s his big word. And he said he hadn’t seen it until then. Well, it was always on my mind as the two verses follow each other. Anyhow, that’s the background to the meeting that was here in the fall of ‘49.

FERM: Let me just interject an idea there. And I think you would agree, and that is the fact that I think this is what is so remarkable about Billy, he is so honest. He could have just said, “Yes, I saw it.”

GESSWEIN: Oh, yes, no. I was surprised.

FERM: And he told you that he didn’t see it.


FERM: And I think, you know, I think, this is one of the keys to how the Lord has been able to use him. He is honest with himself. Now excuse me. Going back to the 1949 Crusade.

GESSWEIN: Alright. We might give another background story. I was close to the work here when they were setting up this Crusade, this tent meeting. It was one of a series, they’d had Hyman Appelman and someone else. I think it was the third or fourth time they were having this annual tent meeting. So, Billy was young, and he wasn’t known around here and he was writing back and forth to our Committee. Claude Jenkins was the executive director for the Christ for Greater Los Angeles which set up these meetings. And I remember some of the correspondence, because I was very close to this committee. Cliff Smith at that time was the president of Christ for Greater Los Angeles. And well do I remember one night, after a good deal of this back and forth correspondence, and Billy had some concern, if not apprehension, about even coming. And in that one meeting, it was a very charged meeting, Cliff Smith said, “Armin, if you have anything to say, please say it now, because I’m afraid they might even vote this meeting out because there seems to be some, a good deal of uncertainty about some things.” And one thing was Billy’s absolute honesty in one of these letters about certain things. And that’s what made some of the Committee think they ought to vote not to have the meeting. Well, when Cliff Smith turned to me and said, “If you have anything to say, please say it,” I got up and I said, “Fellows, I think that this very point, that Billy was so honest and so open about everything” (at that time I didn’t know Billy as well) but I said, “that point, seems to me to say, ‘let’s go ahead.’ ‘Cause any man that can be that honest and that open, can’t fail to have the blessing of God.” Now whether that tipped the scales, I don’t know, but anyway, there was a vote and it was clearly, it clearly went through. But I do think many times of the fact that there were some problems, and trials and many overturnings, and questions about the meetings; also some in the mind of Billy, and the meetings almost were not held. And yet that became one of the greatest things in modern history, the 1949 tent crusade here in Los Angeles. Then...stop it, I want to...[Unclear. Taping stopped, then resumed]

FERM: Now, were there any background or preparations for the prayer program in the Crusades that you were aware of in 1949?

GESSWEIN: This came undoubtedly as a mighty answer to prayer because, not only at Winona Lake, but many places, I found people had been much burdened in prayer for God to do a new thing on the evangelistic front; to “raise up a man of God” again. Things were sprawling, the evangelistic field was rough. It was plagued with problems, and extremes, exaggerations, and people had various turns of mind and questionings about evangelism. Anyway. the whole revival burden was growing in the land. Now we had had, here in Los Angeles, in 1940 we began, we then later called the “Revival Prayer Fellowship.” We didn’t have a name for it at first. This developed, because we didn’t expect it to develop, we started here, four ministers of us, praying and fellowshiping in a downtown Los Angeles church one Monday morning. And God blessed us so much that we said, “Let’s meet again next Monday and we may have some others who are burdened and like minded about this.” So we did meet and a few others came. And that never ceased, to this day it goes on and on and on. It became the “Revival Prayer Fellowship” also called the “Minister’s Prayer Fellowship” in this area. We have smaller fellowship meetings around, and then once a month a larger meeting. And then after a few years, we started a “Revival Conference” which was different, we didn’t know exactly how to proceed with it, and we had then two of these a year at the Pacific Palisades Presbyterian Conference grounds. The first of those was in the, about 1946 or so. And the year that Billy had to come out here he had come to one of these, I think it was the one in 1949. Well, what I want to mention here is that we had some real prayer warriors that gathered together in this work. We didn’t know them. God attracted them and some of the old preachers had a great burden for God to do something new--raise up a man. I remember meeting people who had prayed by the hour. I think a lot of this Billy himself...he would acknowledge and know that certainly there had been but he likely doesn’t know nearly all the stories and the background. Probably would be impossible for him. But I remember that some of these old prayer warriors would pray by the hour, get together some of the older preachers and pray. Pray for God to raise up a man and send us an awakening throughout our land. This was not only on one, this was on many people that I met. And since then, I have met many others in many parts of the land who had had this burden. It points up a truth which we often sound forth. That is, when God is about to do any kind of a work, He always starts with prayer. And in the 1949 period, that was high, prayer was very strong. It was there at Winona Lake, it was there at many other places and it was strong here. And our Conferences were loaded with much prayer. We had speakers and messages, and a lot of other goings-on in these Conferences, but very, very much prayer, and on into the night. I believe one meeting out there, when Billy came, we had special prayer for him, asking to give just a little word, which he did, and then we had a special prayer period also for him. He had also been up at Forest Home. We were there, one day, together, that was the summer, the same summer before the tent meetings.

FERM: Was that when Dr. Edwin Orr was there?

GESSWEIN: Yes, right there, at that time. That’s right. He was up there.

FERM: And Henrietta Mears?

GESSWEIN: Yes, Henrietta Mears. I was up there one day and I would say, the general way, that the whole area was concerned that God would do something. And God certainly answered prayer. I am sure that this Crusade came, the great blessing, came out of heaven. It was different. In the next little section, I want to point up this difference. Maybe we can stop a minute.

FERM: All right. Let me just see how much...[Taping stopped, then resumed] Alright, now we would like to talk a little about the actual Crusade itself, and any involvement with this prayer emphasis that was developing. Or am I, am I, not introducing what you have in mind correctly?

GESSWEIN: Oh, that’s along this line. I happen to be speaking a good deal on the prayer aspect here, although we were involved in other things, but...

FERM: See this is what...prayer is what a lot of people have known you for and have felt that you have contributed broadly to Billy’s ministry in this regard. And I think this is important, therefore, that you document this with what you’d like to say about it.

GESSWEIN: I was in the Norway revivals and I had a background of revivals, my own beginnings in the Lutheran church and then I went to Norway, and got preaching all up and down Norway in those tremendous revivals. So God taught me in this field for several years. I was a little ahead of Billy in some of these discoveries, of God’s working and power in that way, and I knew that prayer had to be the strong background. (Although, I’m a preacher and an evangelist too, and a conference leader, but so much of this relates to prayer so we’ll just work on that subject). Well, during the tent itself...the tent crusade then, it was scheduled for three weeks. That was the annual schedule of those meetings. And I was here [in Los Angeles] a good deal of the time, the first portion. And some others around, some good old preachers like old George Stevens was here, I remember.

FERM: Yes, I read a biography of his.


FERM: Yes.

GESSWEIN: He was with us a lot, he came to our home. We had a lot of fellowship

FERM: Oh, that’s interesting.

GESSWEIN: ...and prayer together...his wife. And we would go into that tent meetings with high concern and expectation. And I think our feeling was that these are very wonderful meetings, they are better than usual, and yet they’re not entire...really out of that usual class or category.

FERM: Mr. Young told me that the first three weeks were really hard going, the very beginning of this crusade.


FERM: They really...really...in the first place, he said the weather was against them.


FERM: You were cold. And he said he didn’t remember when things got going; whether the weather had changed or just the spiritual climate had changed.

GESSWEIN: [Chuckles] they’d do anything after a while...[Unclear].

FERM: He said it would be interesting if I were to look it up, you know, as a matter of fact, which I am going to do down at the newspapers, to see whether really the weather did change.

GESSWEIN: Well, the fact is, there were many obstacles. The devil certainly...

FERM: ...tried everything.

GESSWEIN: ...knew the hand. I think that when something new was going to come out of heaven like this was really new for our land and for Billy. I don’t think the devil has all the power.

FERM: No, he doesn’t.

GESSWEIN: He has to catch up later and see what’s happening, and then, so long. Well, then we went one night, George Stevens was along and he had been there a number of nights, of course, but this particular night my wife and I and Stevens, we were very burdened that these meetings had come along now a long ways and they were not really out of the ordinary. They had to do certain things that Billy hasn’t had to do after the Holy Spirit really took over those meetings. And we went back, and we loved Billy and we loved this work and we were close to all of it, and Claude Jenkins and the whole..the whole gang, we were all together. But we got before God and we said, “Now, this...give us the spirit of prayer or help us or something so that this meeting will come through in the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s...it’s laboring. It’s struggling. It’s...they’re manipulating in some ways, it’s not bad, but it’s still in the (it’s certainly good) but it’s still in the category of much evangelism in the sense that we’ve had so much of, and it wouldn’t convince everybody.” And isn’t the thing...Stevens had seen in revival, and we’d seen very powerful revivals in Norway. In fact, I got spoiled in Norway and I probably will never see, as far as the local churches are concerned, better days more glorious local church revival meetings, full of the glory of God.

FERM: Are you Norwegian?

GESSWEIN: No, my wife is. I met my wife in Norway, we married there.


GESSWEIN: In...I met her in one of the revivals.

FERM: How interesting.

GESSWEIN: And so, I had to go away up to Arrowhead [in Colorado] to speak to a Youth Conference, and that morning I was so burdened about this tent meeting that instead of entering into the play and stuff (I’m an athlete and I entered into the various things) but that day I excused myself. I said, “I want to get over, I want to be quiet.” And I had such a burden I went over, I wandered off over a mile into the mountains there and I just spent most of the day in prayer. And it was a God given burden, that’s something that’s a gift of God, you can’t just get that anytime either. God gave me such a burden for these meetings and then I came back in the evening, (the next day, was it, to the tent) and Billy called me up to say a word and to lead in prayer, it was. And I said, I didn’t, I felt crawling into a hole somewhere. I didn’t really want to get up in front of any audience, and I was so burdened about those meetings I didn’t know whether I would be much good trying to pray in public. But anyway, not because of me but I knew others also had some burdens in the background like this. Then I had to leave, I went to Chicago and to Minneapolis and had some meetings there. And I shall never forget this, riding the train, the Zephyr train, from Minneapolis, it was, to Chicago...

FERM: Uh-huh. The Burlington Zephyr?

GESSWEIN: The Burlington Zephyr.

FERM: That’s right.

GESSWEIN: I happened to be walking through the lounge car and there was a radio speaker overhead, and just as I got under the thing here was a reporter from somewhere reporting on this tremendous outbreak of meetings at the Billy Graham Crusade in Los Angeles. I stood right there in my tracks. I said, “I can’t believe my ears.”

FERM: What an answer to prayer!

GESSWEIN: And that was at the time the meetings were supposed to close, you see, but they announced that they were going on. When I got to Chicago, I went up to the Youth for Christ office, it was in Bob Cook’s office, and Billy and Bob were just on the phone right then. And Bob handed the phone to me after a few minutes and Billy said something like this, “Armin, get on out here real fast, because something has gotten...broken out here that I don’t know, I don’t...it’s beyond me. I have never seen anything like this.” Or so on, or words to that effect. And I said, “Billy, I’m on my way back. I’m going to get on the plane this afternoon. I’ll be back and get into the evening meeting.” Well, you know, I came back, (and this was after the three weeks scheduled time when they were supposed to close, and this is the time they’d decided then to go on) that was a Monday night, as I recall it. And I got into those meetings and here there was this tremendous crowd, not only in the tent, they had had a struggle to fill it before, but all around, standing all around. But...and Dr. Shuler, Bob Shuler, Sr. I believe was there that night. Yes, he was, on the platform, and I was called (Billy got a hold of me and had me come up there) and as I sat there I thought, “This is entirely a different meeting than it was when I left before.” There was, that was a good meeting, but it was so ordinary. Now, you could feel the...that Heaven was open over the whole thing. The Holy Spirit was over the meeting it was really like those Norway revivals in that sense. It was...God had seemed to have take over the meetings from heaven and was running them now.

FERM: Heaven came down and glory filled your soul!

GESSWEIN: That’s it. It was entirely in a different category, it was unlimited. It was like the Holy Spirit was in complete charge and the angels of God were busy all around and multitudes were starting to come to Christ. Of course, I had heard and known about some of these outstanding conversions, and one of the latest of them was that of Stuart Hamblen. Which was probably the thing that opened the lock or tipped the scales in a greater way, because they really...his close buddies on the team had prayed a certain way, I know that too, I know there are many other stories that I’m not entering into here. But to me the thing I could...the contrast was so great, even from what had been a good meeting to a meeting in an entirely different realm, now, as was there that Monday night, and it stayed in that realm and it’s been that way since. Although I would say that that first meeting in the tent here, though the great numbers of conversions that Billy began to get later on were not there, yet the power of the Holy Spirit was probably more intense and permeated and penetrating there than at most points since. And I know there have been high peaks, it’s hard to speak of peaks and yet there have been points even in the Billy Graham work where there is the working of God is much stronger than in others.

[End of first excerpt]

GESSWEIN: In...after the ‘49 Crusade, then it seemed like God had put Billy into orbit, and another thing that struck me there...And I had seen the big men of God and been with some of them, the great names, and had been converted under one myself, Paul Rader of Chicago. And Dr. Walter A. Maier of the “Lutheran Hour,” he was my professor and friend, a power he was.

FERM: Such a great man.

GESSWEIN: And a lot of these great men I’d known, but I must say that there was a miracle that attended Billy’s work...or his person, that I hadn’t paid attention to, I hadn’t thought of it in connection with the others, men in that same way. The miracle of favor. In Joshua, the scripture God made so clear to me at that time, when Billy was suddenly in tremendous favor all over. Why, this Los Angeles area everybody was talking about Billy Graham. And people that you couldn’t talk to about religion and all. This whole area was, there were...just loved him. They were in favor of him. People that would curse to high heaven and suddenly their minds were changed. And I thought of Joshua 4:14, “On that day the Lord magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel.” There came a day when Billy was magnified before the people.

FERM: God did it.

GESSWEIN: God did it. Billy could have stayed on here. The decision was made to go on and on. I was on the Committee at the time to make the decision, it went on I think, eight, nine weeks with this tent, which was to be a three week meeting. It went on and on, and I think had Billy had the strength, he had all run out of sermons long ago, and if he...he was worn out himself. But if he could have stayed on here, I think the thing would have broken out in deep depth all over the area of the..this great “city of angels” which has many, many cities around. And it would have been something like in Norway where a revival broke out in Oslo. An evangelist, whom God used for its outbreak [Frank Mangs], stayed on and on, nearly two years. He hardly even got back to Sweden. His family had to come over to Norway. And that’s why it broke out so strong. It went on and on and on in intensity.

FERM: You think it built deep roots then?

GESSWEIN: I think there was a real, not only evangelistic, but revival depth to the work in 1949 that could have permeated the churches to a tremendous awakening, had they been able to stay on with the work. There has to be this continuity, giving God the chance. But Billy knew what God wanted him to do, and of course, he was, he was really used up. He had to change. And he had to leave, though...

[End of second excerpt]

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