In one of her earliest memories, Tiffany Bolling is nestled in her grandmother’s arms beneath a great, white tent.
Although she’s just a toddler, the crowds of people give her the impression something big is happening. Otherwise, she knows very little about the lanky, 30-year-old preacher standing before her. (At that time, even the grown-ups in the tent have no idea he’ll become “God’s Ambassador” and “Pastor to Presidents.”)
It’s the fall of 1949, and 2-and-a-half-year-old Tiffany is sitting in one of the first few rows of chairs inside the “Canvas Cathedral” at the “Christ for Greater Los Angeles” Crusade with Billy Graham.
The evangelistic outreach in a city known more for glitz and glamour than the Gospel was scheduled for three weeks. But as crowds swelled—and as the young evangelist caught the attention of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst—the Crusade went on for almost two months straight, drawing more than 300,000 people.
“I remember my grandmother was holding me up, and we were inside the tent,” Tiffany recalled 69 years later. “And we were really close to where he was speaking.”
Tiffany can’t remember any details about the message but says she does recall locking eyes with Billy Graham.
“I remember him looking directly at me and smiling, and I was so happy. Here I am sitting in my grandmother’s arms. He was holding me up high so I could see everything. And Mr. Graham looks at me, and I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit; I know I did.”
It wasn’t something she could articulate at the time, but in that moment she felt special. Perhaps she reminded the young father of his little girls 2,000 miles away in the mountains of North Carolina.
It was a fleeting encounter, but the warmth in Mr. Graham’s deep-set blue eyes has been tucked away in Tiffany’s memory since that day.