You may not realise but the famous evangelist Billy Graham who died Wednesday 21st Feburary 2018 had visited Wales in the early days of his ministry.
He came to Gorseinon near Llanelli in 1946. This was to be his first visit to Wales, and a sought after opportunity for him to visit one of the places where the Welsh Revival of 1904-5 had broken out. Gorseinon was very close to Moriah Chapel in Loughor where Evan Roberts had been a member, and where the Spirit had fallen on a youth meeting in which the young Welsh revivalist was ministering forty-two years before, in November 1904.
Caersalem Free Evangelical Church, Gorseinon was led by David Ebenezer who was the President of Youth For Christ in Wales an organisation that Billy Graham was then working with. Ebenezer had himself been one of the early converts in Gorseinon in the 1904-5 Revival. He was strongly committed to evangelistic outreach, and had invited David Shepherd, then an evangelist with the National Young Life Campaign, to conduct a series of outreach meetings at Caersalem. Billy Graham was thus booked to speak in the final meetings of the campaign in which David Shepherd was the principal speaker.
Billy’s own account of the visit to Gorseinon in his autobiography states with good-humour:
‘In the early part of the tour, we spent a weekend in Wales in the home of a non-Christian couple who gave us the best they had, which wasn’t much on the couple’s meagre income of £3 or £4 per week. That visit gave us a real appreciation for the hardship they endured. For breakfast we had heated tomato, along with a hot drink that was more chicory than coffee. Later in the day, we had some chicken soup, (though I’m not sure a chicken had ever passed through it), along with some bread. George Wilson was with us to handle the arrangements and finances for YFC, and he and I had a single bed to sleep in. So we took turns: half-way through the night, we exchanged places, the one who had been sleeping on the floor moving up to the bed. It was very cold, especially for the one on the floor, for there was no heat whatsoever.’
Probably as a result of that experience, in spite of being on a very tight budget, the team subsequently stayed in cheap hotels on their travels. At least, that’s what they did when they arrived in Pontypridd a few days later.
Billy and the team were at Caersalem Gorseinon, on Monday October 14 and because the crowds were so large the meetings moved to Zion Baptist Church, Gorseinon, the next day.
Welsh writer Geraint Fielder, who attended the meetings in Gorseinon at which Billy Graham spoke. In fact, it was then that he got saved, wrote: ‘At that time I was eleven and had started my second year in Grammar School. My first recollection of the events was Cliff Barrows, the sunny song leader, going down the High Street to Zion Chapel, playing a trombone and crowds of people building up. I had a seat with my father in the front centre of the gallery. We must have gone quite early. There was a huge congregation, some sitting on benches down both aisles, even up the pulpit steps.’
Fielder’s account later continued: Billy preached on 'you are weighed in the balances (scales) and found wanting', a text from the dramatic account of Belshazzar's feast in the prophecy of Daniel. I was convicted by the picture he drew of the contrast between God's perfection on one side of the scales and how my sinful life would never satisfy his standard - the scales were weighed against me. The preacher's presentation of Christ as the substitute for sinners who stepped in on the sinner's side to even out the scales I saw as my only hope.’
‘There was a fairly long appeal at the end and many people, perhaps dozens, went down and were led into a back room. Sitting where I was, I had a good view of all this and I was battling inside and felt I ought to have gone to the front but sat rooted. Eventually my Dad turned to me and asked if I wanted to go down. I said yes and after everyone else had gone into the church hall I went down, followed by a younger friend sitting near me. It was not easy to get past the benches because I had delayed, so I remember feeling very 'obvious'.
When I got to the vestry door it was shut. I had the chilling thought: 'I'm too late'. The parable of the five foolish virgins flooded into my mind. (I had had a good Sunday school grounding.) But, to my relief, the door was opened, by Billy himself and it seemed as if God was reassuring me about his mercy. I glanced to the right: Cliff Barrows was dealing with a crowd in the church hall. But Billy retained us with him in the vestry, along with my friend who, I was shocked to see, was grinning. But I meant business and Billy said to me afterwards: 'You're going on with the Lord, sonny, aren't you?'
After the meetings in Gorseinon, Graham the team travelled to Pontypridd, where Graham had arranged to meet Stephen Olford. Here the team were booked to stay in a small stone-built hotel, which I have not been able to identify. It was in a room here that Billy Graham and Stephen Olford talked and prayed together for two days before the evening evangelistic meetings at Penuel Presbyterian Chapel in the centre of the town. During this time Olford records that Billy Graham had a significant encounter with God's Holy Spirit
When they met in Pontypridd, Graham’s first remark to Olford was. ‘This is serious business. I have to learn what this is that the Lord has been teaching you.’ According to Olford’s account, they spent the first day ‘on the Word and on what it really means to expose oneself to the Word in the quiet time.’ They spent hours looking at passages and meditating together upon them, applying them to their own lives.
They also prayed together. Bill prayed: ‘Lord, I don't want to go on without knowing this anointing You've given my brother.’ During this time Olford records that Billy Graham had a significant encounter with God's Holy Spirit.
After the first day the two of them spent together in the Bible, Billy preached to a small crowd at Penuel. According to Olford, Billy’s preaching was ‘ordinary,’ and ‘not the Welsh kind of preaching.’ At then end of the sermon, Billy gave an invitation, but the response was not particularly great.
Tabernacle, Pontypridd A few evening later Graham was due to speak at a large Baptist chapel nearby. It was probably Tabernacle Welsh Baptist Chapel. Olford wrote: ‘When he rose to preach, he was a man absolutely anointed.’ His impact on the Welsh congregation was startling. The people came to the front even before Billy had given an invitation. Later when an invitation was given, Olford wrote: ‘The Welsh listeners jammed the aisles. There was chaos. Practically the entire audience came rushing forward.’
Olford wrote about the transformation of Billy Graham thus: ‘Billy had been trying up till then to preach to the Welsh people. His sermons didn’t last for more than fifteen or twenty minutes. The biblically literate Welshmen would say: “That’s a good introduction, but let’s hear the sermon, man.”’
‘That night, however, it was different. It seemed as though God had brought people from everywhere. The church was packed. Billy preached on Belshazzar, and before he was anywhere near the end of the sermon, people were pouring out of the pews, kneeling, broken at the altar.’
Olford drove back to his parents' home in Newport after the meeting had finished. He was greatly impressed and impacted by the transformation that had come over Billy Graham. He later wrote: ‘When I came in the door, my father looked at my face and asked, “What on earth has happened?”’
Olford continued: ‘I sat down at the kitchen table said, “Dad, something has happened to Billy Graham. The world is going to hear from his man. He is going to make his mark in history.”’
The week after the mission to Pontypridd, a newspaper article appeared in the local newspaper, the Pontypridd Observer.
Youth For Christ
American Evangelists’ Campaign
Crowds of people (a large proportion of whom were young men and women) from Pontypridd and surrounding districts filled Penuel Chapel last week, when services were conducted there by America’s No. 1 Youth For Christ team.
Throughout the services there was a noticeable spirit of enthusiasm and good humour, and it was refreshing to hear this sincere team of workers, who revealed that they understand the problems of the ‘teen-agers’.
He team consists of Billy Graham (evangelist), Statton Shufelt (soloist), Cliff Barrows (song leader), Mrs. B. Barrows (pianist), and George Wilson (youth director).
Interviewed later, Mr Graham, who is the vice-president of the movement in America, said that a million young people in America attended Youth For Christ rallies on Saturday evenings.
He added that the team had conducted goodwill missions in Europe for the US Government and had been entertained in the White House at Washington. The work of the movement extended to India and China, and when a rally was held in Oslo, over 22,000 people attended.
‘We think that your singing is the very best we have heard,’ he said, ‘and we admire your people tremendously for going through economic want in order that Great Britain might regain her place in the world. We like Wales, too, and we believe that there is need for a special revival and think that revival is on the way.’
The services were opened in prayer on Wednesday by the vicar of Pontypridd, Rev. G Shilton Evans, and on Thursday by the Rev Ken Matthews, minister of Elim, Coedpenmaen.
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