Miracle in Johannesburg



— MARK 5:19

They came on foot in the hot autumn sunshine. They came leaning on sticks and riding in wheelchairs, on scooters, motorbikes, Austin-Healeys, Mercedes, green buses (for blacks) and red buses (for whites). They came by black train and white train; by chartered bus from East London, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, Ladysmith, Newcastle, Queenstown, and Salisbury; by jet from Durban and Cape Town.

    They came from the carefully controlled "native" suburbs that fanned out from Jo'burg; from Soweto, Sharpeville, Naledi, Moletsane, Phirio, Dube, Phefeni, Phomolong, and Meadowlands; from the "Indian" city of Lenasia and the "coloured" (or mixed) cities of Kliptown and Noordgesig.

    They came by motorcar from the pleasant "European" suburbs of the great city, as well as from towns along the fabled Witwatersrand, the "ridge of the white waters" — from Nigel, Brakpan, Gedult, Benoni, Boksburg, Alberton, Edenvale, Germiston, Roodepoort, Krugersdorp, and Randfontein. They came from urban high-rises and luxury hotels and from kraals in the rural veldt.

    They came wearing pith helmets and walrus mustaches; colorful Jesus jerseys and Oxford "bags"; sports blazers, safari suits, and

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leopard-skin hats; black lace doilies and shocking pink doeks; purple stocks of the cloth, African beads, and goatskin sashes. They carried parasols and picnic lunches and made shade hats out of the Sunday Express.

    They came from tribal churches of the Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana, Shangaan, Swazi, Sotho, Ndbele, Venda, Tsonga, and Bapedi people; they came form white Afrikaner churches, white and "coloured" English churches, Chinese churches, black churches, Indian churches, gospel chapels, and Jesus groups.

    Into Johannesburg they came, or "eGoli" as the Zulus call it, the "golden city on the reefs," bringing their history with them and making history as they came. They sat on the grass, leaned out of windows, perched on rooftops, and clambered up the sides of the scoreboards. And why had they come? To hear the man preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To learn the way of God's salvation and, in the case of thousands, to respond with a life commitment.1

    This was Sunday afternoon, March 25, 1973, in Wanderers Cricket Ground in the prosperous capital city of the gold-rich Transvaal. It had taken the Christians of South Africa twenty-six years of repeated invitations before Billy Graham consented to come to their land, and then only if they promised that the meetings would be racially integrated.

    Subdued excitement pervaded the record-breaking crowd of 60,000 persons. Special music was provided by the Power and Light Revolution, a Youth for Christ singing ensemble, and by four young Zulu men who made up the Gospel Truth Quartet. The service was carried to the largest radio audience in the history of South Africa both in English and in Afrikaans.

     The sermon was on a familiar text, John 3:16 (KJV): "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." In the message that followed, Mr. Graham said, "Every secret thing you've ever done will one day be flashed on the scoreboard of heaven... My wife says that marriage is a union of two good forgivers.... You in South Africa are going to have to learn to be forgivers....

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We are one in Christ!... South Africa can no longer live in isolation from the rest of the world."

    He then invited the people to repent, accept God's forgiveness, and receive new life in Jesus Christ. A grassy perimeter of 100 feet around the platform had been kept clear for inquirers. At this appeal came an unforgettable sight. Thousands of people of all races moved out of the stands, picking their way past the folks seated on the grass. Hundreds never got near the platform but stood in improvised aisles, quietly, with bowed heads.

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    After repeating the prayer of commitment, the inquirers were counseled in eleven different languages and dialects by 2,000 Christian volunteers. Watching it, one got the impression that Johannesburg would never again be quite the same. As Anglican Bishop Alphaeus Zulu of Zululand expressed it to me: "The sight of black and white South Africa together in that field, singing and praying to the one God, was a foretaste of what future generations in this land are certain to enjoy if we today will be faithful."

    One of the black members of the Billy Graham team, Dr. Howard O. Jones, observed:

For many (black) Christians it was their first glimpse of a brother from America with a skin color other than white. Just my presence seemed to give them hope. As they confided in me, there was much praying and sharing.

    Today South Africa stands at the crossroads. It was the feeling of all, white and black Christians alike, that change will come. It is our prayer that this change will come through the reconciliation of man with man at the cross of Jesus Christ.

    What men and women could only hope for that day at Wanderers Cricket Ground is now reality. South Africa is a united nation under black leadership, and it came about peaceably by God's grace. Those of us who were there in 1973 can look back now and say that it was a wonderful and glorious experience. Through a man's faithful ministry, almighty God gave the promise of something permanent, and in time it actually came to pass.

    And where was I in all this? I was up on the rim of the stadium, walking around and laughing as I watched people gingerly approaching the toilet houses, each painted white (for use by "whites") and yellow (for "coloureds"). At each toilet house around the stadium rim, men wearing white shirts and badges were standing by the entrances smiling, waving, and shouting, "It's all right. Anybody can use them. Come in, they're open to everybody!"

    Think of it. All this and heaven too!


1. This account, which I wrote in South Africa at the time, appeared in Decision, June 1973, 8.

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