Appendix 3 - Do The Work Of An Evangelist
Series: Our Fathers Saw His Mighty Works
Civilization has always been on the advance, but perhaps during no period has it ever progressed as rapidly as it did between 1900 and 1950. The advances made then in science and technology were enough to astound any American whose adult life spanned that half-century; for it was during those years that electricity, telephones, automobiles, airplanes, radios, TVs, and movies came into use. Culture too has always been changing, but perhaps it has never done so more explosively than just one decade later during the 1960’s. The turbulence and volatility of those ten years, during which the first of the Baby Boomers began coming of age, were a far cry from what the “Fabulous Fifties” had been. A short list of headlines tells the story well - the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, anti-war protests, riots on college campuses and at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the Women’s Liberation Movement, the sexual revolution, the Summer of Love, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, the hippie culture, psychedelic drugs, the Broadway musical Hair, and the Woodstock Festival. In general, the 1960’s were marked by rebellion and counterculture, making the United States at 1970 a far different place from what it had been just twenty years previously.
Along with the disposal of cultural norms came much derision and abandonment of traditional religion. So dramatic was the social shift of the 1960’s that it seemed nearly to erase all memory of the revival of Christianity which had occurred just a generation earlier following World War II (recounted in Chapters 1-16 of this book). Many of the children of those whom God had touched at mid-century had little use for the Christianity of their parents. It seemed that if God was going to stir this younger generation, it would have to be through an entirely new movement - one still Biblical and Christ-centered but one directed in the emphases of its message and methods toward a youth culture radically different from that of 1950. And this is precisely what God did. Once again He displayed His mighty works. He raised up a youth movement known in its own day quite fittingly as “The Jesus Revolution.” Its focus was Jesus, its fervor was revolutionary, and its marks were still to be seen beyond the end of the 20th century as the young people whom it had affected rose into the leadership of the American church.
That God sent a revival in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s is no secret. During my research of the 1945-1955 movement, I have inadvertently run across numerous stories of revivals between 1967 and 1973, revivals both corporate and individual and usually among youth or young adults. Even the national news media knew that something unusual was afoot. Time carried an extensive report in its June 21, 1971, magazine characterizing the youth movement which it said had been growing steadily since at least 1967. A few gleanings from the article vividly recreate images of the radical Christian enthusiasm so characteristic of that era: exuberant witnessing on streets and other public places, overarching emphasis on an intense personal relationship with Jesus, bumper stickers reading “Smile: God Loves You”, expectation of divine guidance in every area of life, belief in the potential for miracles, deliverances from drug addiction, catch phrases like “Praise God!” and “Bless you,” intense conviction that Jesus’ Second Coming was imminent, back-pocket paperback Bibles, Christian coffeehouses, communal Christian houses, the somewhat eccentric Jesus People, the interdenominational and more evangelical Straight People, the Catholic Pentecostals, total adherents numbering probably in the hundreds of thousands, free “Jesus” newspapers, and an overflow of contemporary Christian music including that in the rock genre.1 A “major part of the Jesus movement,” reported Time, “is the highly organized, interdenominational youth movement of the established churches - a sort of person-to-person counterpart of mass-rally evangelism.” How true that was! And it is that statement which leads us back to the story of the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement because it seems to have been especially for the purpose of just such a youth movement that the Lord preserved the LEM from collapse in the latter 1950’s and revitalized its ministry throughout the 1960’s. The post World War II awakening was not the only revival in which the LEM was powerfully used of God, for the LEM youth movement of 1967 onward was part of another revival of national caliber.
Revitalization of the LEM 1960 Onward
After having been so greatly used of God during the mid-century revival, the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement had entered a time of severe crisis by 1955 (as described in Chapter 15). After a few years of noticeable decrease in attendance at some of its conferences, demand for its Bible Conferences suddenly plummeted to a quarter of what it had formerly been. Rev. Evald J. Conrad, thought of by many as “Mr. LEM,” had resigned from the directorship in 1954. So much of the LEM’s Bible Conference and evangelism work seemed to have been absorbed by the Preaching-Teaching-Reaching (PTR) Missions which had become widely used within many Lutheran synods that the LEM’s leadership discussed among itself whether the LEM had fulfilled its mission and ought to be dissolved.2 Over the next half decade, five calls to the directorship were issued but were returned unaccepted.3 But although “the vision concerning the LEM was somewhat unclear for a few years,” “the Lord did not let the Movement die. As the PTRs began to wane in momentum” towards the end of the 1950‘s, “it became quite evident that the Lord wasn’t through with the LEM.” “The special need for evangelism surfaced again as the continuing and unfulfilled need of the hour. This brought the need of a full-time director back into focus, and [a] call was again extended” - this time to LEM National Board member Rev. W.E. (“Ernie”) Klawitter. Klawitter had been a parish pastor from 1930-1940, an institutional chaplain until 1945, and a teacher and the director of correspondence studies at the Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI) in Minneapolis from 1945 onward.4 As the developer and host of the daily Psalm of Life radio broadcasts, he was well-known to many Christians across the nation. His poise, confidence, friendliness, and ability to relate to people5 made him a desirable candidate for a leadership position. There was much rejoicing when Klawitter accepted the LEM’s call in May of 1960 with duties to begin later that October. To all involved, it seemed to be “the Lord’s timing, with His special mandate for [the] LEM to move on.” Over the next thirteen years under Klawitter’s leadership, God gave the LEM “a renewed vision and enlargement in the various ministries into which [it] had been led in earlier years.”
The first of those realms of enlargement was the hiring of additional evangelists in order to field the growing numbers of requests for special meetings. The resignation of Rev. A.E. Windahl in 19566 and the retirement of Rev. J.O. Gisselquist from full-time ministry that same year7 had left Nels Pedersen as the LEM’s lone evangelist and had reduced LEM evangelistic series to an average of 25 annually.8 But that number was to triple and even quadruple during the 1960’s as the LEM added three more full-time evangelists to its staff within less than two years. The first of these was Mr. Philip Hanson who in October of 1960 became the LEM’s second lay evangelist. Hanson brought with him a wide range of ministerial experience having previously served as a parochial school teacher, a lay pastor and assistant pastor, a church and synod-sponsored lay evangelist, and a teacher at the Minneapolis LBI.9 The year following Hanson’s arrival, numbers of evangelistic series preached by LEM personnel jumped dramatically to 76. Late in 1961, Rev. Kenneth Ellingson accepted the LEM’s call to become its third evangelist. Ellingson had a somewhat unique testimony in that as a young adult he had been “a fairly faithful, but dead, church member . . . until as Pocket Testament League Secretary I began reading the New Testament. Through this and the personal witness of several Christian friends, I realized that the Christian life I thought I was living had no reality, and I began to seek the Lord.”10 Soon after this experience, he had attended the Minneapolis LBI where “Christ became a living reality in my life.” Throughout his subsequent years as a lay pastor, a seminary student, and then an ordained pastor, Ellingson had often “thought and prayed about going into evangelistic work some day.”11 The LEM’s call confirmed God’s leading in that direction.
“How many more evangelists does the LEM plan to call?” wrote W.E. Klawitter in Evangelize after Ellingson‘s acceptance. “We are looking for an ever-increasing number of requests for special meetings which will become a guide to us in the calling of further men.” “It is our desire to be of assistance to pastors in their evangelism efforts in their parishes.”12 Just a few months later with requests still on the increase, the LEM called yet a fourth evangelist,13 Rev. Sterling Johnson, who accepted the call and began his duties in July of 1962.14 Even as a young child, Johnson had felt the call to preach so strongly that he had often done so at home for his parents on Sunday afternoons. This childhood urging had led to youth Gospel team service, seminary instruction, and ultimately a career in the pastorate where Johnson had felt increasingly drawn towards the work of evangelism, culminating with the LEM’s call.15 With a staff of four full-time evangelists, the LEM was able to conduct a tremendous 112 series of evangelistic meetings in 1962 and 105 in 1963. Even after Hanson’s resignation at the end of 1963, the number of evangelistic series for 1964 was 103. Numbers did decrease a bit after that year but still averaged 82 annually through the end of the decade, the majority of these being in the upper Midwest.16
Though their styles and personalities differed from each other - Pedersen more serious and reserved, Ellingson more gentle and affable, and Johnson more animated and upbeat17 - the LEM evangelists preached a unified gospel message. Two classic examples of their sermons given below in condensed format illustrate that point and serve as evidence of the type of evangelism which the LEM represented and brought into hundreds of churches. The first sermon is by Nels Pedersen on the topic “Three Kinds of People.”18
“There are three kinds of people: Christians, backsliders, and unsaved. Where are you? You will leave here changed either for better or for worse.
“Christian, where are you? When it comes to your relationship and attitude toward the world, are you living a compromising life? If you have love for the world, the love of the Father is not in you. It’s easy to try to live on the fringes. Are you ashamed of Jesus? To take up the cross is something in which we voluntarily and consistently identify with Jesus. Are you living a surrendered life? The Lord can’t use what He doesn’t have possession of. Are you witnessing for Christ? You can’t drink at the fountain of living water without having it spill over.
“A backslider is one who once had fellowship with Jesus, but other things have now come along instead. Jesus is only a memory. Backsliding begins in the heart. It involves neglecting the Word of God and prayer and being filled with one’s own desires and feelings.
“Lost one, where are you? Death is no respecter of persons, yet people keep putting off thinking about it. You are either 100 percent saved or 100 percent lost. There is no in-between ground of hoping or trying to be saved. Are you hiding from God? That is a losing battle.
“To be a child of God is to be a personal possessor of Jesus. It is not merely believing something about Him. Your knowledge must become a relationship.”
This second sermon is by Rev. Sterling Johnson and is entitled “Saving Faith.”19
“God calls us to saving faith. There are four wrong ideas about saving faith. Saving faith is not historical knowledge about Jesus’ life, death, and second coming. Saving faith is not mental assent to the Bible. Saving faith is not lip faith which says it believes but has no concern for souls and no love for the Word. Saving faith is not dead faith which wants to claim God’s forgiveness and promises without having repented. “There are four ways in which the woman who washed and anointed Jesus’ feet came to saving faith. First, she was not afraid of the crowd in the house. Many church people go lost because they are afraid of the crowd. You’ll have an awful shock when you spend eternity with the crowd that kept you from Jesus.
“Second, the woman didn’t count the cost. Satan deceives people into only looking at the negative: what it will cost them to follow Jesus. But what will it cost them if they don’t? Everything! What a person is before he dies determines his eternal fate. It would be horrible to wake up in eternity and find out you were wrong.
“Third, the woman who anointed Jesus came alone. Some people wait for their spouses. Are you willing to come alone?
“Fourth, the woman came with a repentant heart as evidenced by her tears. God will not despise a broken and contrite heart. There is no one in heaven whose heart God hasn’t broken. The woman threw herself on the mercy of Jesus.
“Those who are smug and complacent in their churches often hear sermons but never come to Jesus. Some people hide behind a religious veneer. But he who hides his sins will not prosper. Are you in the crowd that has no need of Jesus?”
Every year, the LEM evangelists saw God save souls and strengthen Christians through the preaching and ministering of the Word.20 “God is still converting sinners in almost every place that we go,” stated Ellingson after eight years with the LEM. “Some places there are many, [and] other places there are few.” “In one home where I stayed,” related Pedersen, “nearly the whole family came to know Christ before the week was over.” Johnson rejoiced at having been able “to lead three young couples to Christ after a service in one congregation,” Reports such as these were not uncommon. Other times they were more modest: “Though there isn’t anything sensational to report, Christians do testify of being deepened in their faith, and from time to time we are privileged to see souls saved.” One aspect of the evangelists’ reports that truly was sensational was the physical healings which frequently occurred under Ellingson’s ministry, particularly through prayer, in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.21 At the end of 1972 Ellingson wrote, “This year I have witnessed more of the miraculous than I ever have before. God has revealed Himself in healing the sick, the maimed and the oppressed, and in delivering from various kinds of bondage to evil spirits and hateful habits of body and mind.” “Other miracles took place without our being aware of them until receiving a letter sometime later . . . .” “Areas where we have not been before have seemingly been more open to the miraculous than where the evangelist has almost become just another tradition.” “The general reaction of those who witnessed these things was that of thanksgiving and praise to the Lord Jesus.” “Jesus is the healer; men may be His channels. To Him be all honor, glory, and praise.”
Another realm of renewed vision and enlargement for the LEM during the 1960’s and 1970’s was that of Area Conferences. During the LEM Bible Conferences of the 1940’s and 1950’s, one church or local committee had hosted several days of teaching and preaching sessions which Christians from surrounding churches and vicinities had attended. The first of these Bible Conferences had been the Midwinter Evangelistic Conference. Whereas the Midwinter Conference continued relatively unchanged well beyond the LEM’s 40th year, the format for most other Bible Conferences saw a marked change. “As the PTRs [of the various Lutheran synods] were phased out [in the later 1950‘s and early 1960‘s], a similar conference format was adopted by [the] LEM, involving many more congregations than . . . formerly served” by Bible Conferences.22 “Each participating congregation [was] supplied with a guest speaker for evening services, with morning sessions conducted in a centrally located church.”23 In the eight Area Conferences conducted by the LEM during 1971, all in the upper Midwest, eighty churches participated for an average of ten churches per conference.24
One of the names most frequently associated with the LEM during the 1960’s and 1970’s was the name of a place where God revitalized one of the LEM’s earliest ministries beyond many expectations. At the lowest point in the LEM’s sharp decline, registration for the two-week 1957 Deeper Life Conference at Mission Farms on Medicine Lake had decreased over 30 percent from just three years prior.25 Steadily this number had increased again until 1,375 registrants in 1961 had prompted the conference’s expansion to three weeks in 1962 when a record 1,700 registered. Then came disheartening news. After the 1963 season, the Union City Mission would be closing its conference facilities in order to enlarge its work with transient men.26 The LEM would have to relocate. For several years numerous efforts were made towards building the LEM’s own family camping facility near the Twin Cities, but each time these efforts were thwarted by issues such as zoning regulations.27 In the meantime, what had begun being used as a temporary site for the annual Deeper Life Conference was agreed by all to have become one of the LEM’s most popular venues. The picturesque beauty and well-maintained buildings of the Lake Koronis Assembly Grounds in Paynesville, Minnesota, seemed to the LEM to more than compensate for its less-centralized location 90 miles northwest of the Twin Cities.28 Though only one week was available that first year of 1964 and the facilities only allowed for 500 to 600 people per week - the Lakeview and Hillside Dormitories housing 250 adults and families with smaller children and 250 youth, and the tent and trailer area accommodating another 50 to 100 people29 - “the feeling was unanimous that [Deeper Life] return to Koronis in 1965.”30 Beginning in 1966, two weeks were available at Koronis for the LEM’s use. Total registrations of 1,100 to 1,200 each year were augmented by “good number[s] of day visitors,”31 those traveling in for evening services,32 and crowds that swelled weekend attendances and lodged offsite.33 The conference program itself, designed for the whole family, remained relatively the same as in previous years (as described in Chapter 6); and the Koronis facilities became dear to many as the sites of numerous personal encounters with the Lord. Among its best-loved buildings were the quaint, country-style Chapel where senior high youth met in the mornings and the austere, 1,500-seat, white-clapboard Tabernacle where adults had morning sessions and campers of all ages assembled for evening services.34 Many attendees long remembered the Tabernacle’s tall cathedral ceiling supported by rough wooden columns, its tiers of rustic wood pews sloping downward towards the platform and altar railings, and its rows of large screened windows with shutters that swung upward to open the whole auditorium to nature. Few could ever forget the evening and weekend services when the lusty singing of a packed audience accompanied by piano and organ so filled the Tabernacle as to seem almost heavenly. But it was also in the less likely locations at Koronis during informal times that God touched lives both old and young as, for example, in the case of the sixth grade boy who received God’s call to become a preacher while he listened one afternoon “quiet time” in his dorm room to Ken Ellingson explain spiritual gifts.35 By 1969, a two-week registration of 1,400 caused Deeper Life at Koronis to be expanded to three weeks annually from 1970 onward.
Roots of the LEM Youth Program
The ministries described in the foregoing paragraphs, together with several others such as the Evangelism Book Center and the monthly magazine Evangelize, were the major components of the LEM of the 1960’s and 1970’s around which its youth movement burgeoned. Observing in 1964 that focusing much attention on youth was becoming a widespread trend, W.E. Klawitter encouraged the LEM “to plan for an enlarged ministry to youth.”36 By the end of the decade he could declare, “Our youth ministry that began as a mustard seed many years ago is now a mustard tree . . . .”37 According to Jesus, that analogy concerned the kingdom of God; and truly the LEM’s youth program was nothing other than God’s own work which, in regards to both organization and people, had its roots within the earlier movement of God post World War II. It was near the peak of that previous revival that the first Midwinter Youth Conference had been held on the closing weekend of the regular Midwinter Evangelistic Conference in January 1951. “Christian students from virtually all the Lutheran colleges in the Midwest”38 had gathered for Bible hours, discussion times, and preaching under the theme, “The Master is Here and Calleth Thee.”39 By the mid 1960’s, this event was attracting 2,000 young people annually.40 The summer of 1951 marked another important first for the LEM in its sponsorship of a singing group, the Messengers Quartet which consisted of male Augsburg College students who traveled throughout Minnesota, North Dakota, and the Pacific Northwest.41
But the most significant youth-related development for the LEM in 1951 was its connection to a man who, although never occupying a position more prominent within the LEM than that of a National Board member, was to be mightily used of God for many years as both catalyst and coach of a youth movement which touched tens of thousands of lives. Donald J. Fladland was born on March 7, 1928, in Grand Forks, ND, the youngest of eight children.42 In accord with the nominal affiliation of his family with the local Lutheran Free Church, Don attended confirmation classes but viewed their completion as his graduation from church and effectively ran away from God. Sports was his god, and his athletic prowess contributed to high school championship teams in basketball, football, and golf. After high school graduation in 1946, Don’s athletic ambitions were interrupted by being drafted into the Army which, after basic training, sent him to Japan to work with prisoners of war. There during the early years of the American mid-century revival, Don was to become one of its converts, albeit on the other side of the world. On a certain Sunday morning in Yokusha, Japan, an Army buddy invited him to chapel to hear a Christian medical doctor who, as Don later described, “shared simply and powerfully how Christ had died for me and that by faith I could receive salvation and full forgiveness.” “After that message,” said Don, “my heart was stirred up all afternoon [though] at the time I did not know it was the Holy Spirit.” Returning for the evening service, Don went forward at the altar call and knelt to receive Christ as his personal Savior. “That turned my life upside down!” he exclaimed.
“I knew I was forgiven and . . . I had assurance of salvation.” “I was keenly aware that I was . . . a child of God.” “The grass was greener and the sky was blue in a way I had never seen before. I began reading the Bible constantly and writing letters home talking of my conversion.” “My heart was filled with Christ’s love and forgiveness and I wanted to share this good news with my family.” “I wrote letters to businessmen in Grand Forks thanking them for wanting to sponsor me on the Pro-Golf Tour, but I knew I had to decline their offer as I had a calling from the Lord to spend my life encouraging young people to live for Christ.”
In preparation for that life of ministry, Don began studying at Augsburg College in Minneapolis in January 1948 after his return from overseas. There he met and married the young lady who became his faithful companion and ministry partner, Violette, or Vi as she was better known. It was also while at Augsburg that Don was challenged by a local Lutheran pastor to round up area youth and invite them to church. “So,” said Don, “I visited homes in the area and told the boys I met that if they came to . . . morning services every Sunday we would form a basketball team. And that was the beginning . . . .” Yes, it certainly was the beginning - not merely of Don’s career with youth but, much more broadly, of a new move of God.
Following graduation from the college at Augsburg, Don began studying at the seminary there in the fall of 1951 while simultaneously filling the pulpit of a Lutheran church in Spicer, Minnesota. It was at this same time that he became acquainted with the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement and its director Rev. Evald J. Conrad and began eagerly taking many of his Spicer youth to the LEM’s Midwinter Youth Conferences and Deeper Life Conferences. By 1955, Don had become so involved in the LEM’s work that he was elected to its National Board,43 a position through which he was to deeply influence its program over the next three decades. And Rev. Conrad, who had recently returned to his post at Trinity Lutheran Church of Minnehaha Falls, was so pleased by Don’s work with young people that he successfully recommended to Trinity that they call Don to be their youth director.
At Trinity from 1955 to 1965, Don Fladland led the youth groups, co-taught confirmation classes with Rev. Conrad, and organized youth events that became well-known around the Midwest. More significantly to the broader picture, he began pioneering youth-to-youth ministry, a relatively new method which was destined to become, though perhaps somewhat unbeknownst to him at the time, one of the spearheads of the whole youth revival movement in the years ahead. In Don’s own words,
“From the time I accepted Christ as my personal Savior, the Lord implanted in my heart a burning desire to lead young people to Christ. And so I began my work [by] speaking with and confronting them about a personal relationship with Christ.” As my work progressed, “I discovered that . . . letting young people meet and share thoughts and ideas . . . allowed them to grow in their faith and in turn they wanted to share this new found faith with others. When this began to happen, I decided to form youth group teams and arranged for these young people to go to other churches and travel sharing their faith.”
The first of these teams, led by Don and composed of thirteen Trinity youth either in high school or attending the California Lutheran Bible School, bore the name The Gospel Crusaders and traveled to Lutheran churches throughout the upper Midwest during the summer of 1962.44 Its members shared their faith during evening evangelistic programs through personal testimonies, devotions, and songs (including their theme song “We Are More Than Conquerors” taken from Romans 8:37) and during extensive interaction with local young people both in organized activities and in host homes. In late 1963, Don organized a similar but smaller team to visit World Mission Prayer League fields in South America. In the Midwest, the Gospel Crusaders quickly became an annual summer outreach of Trinity Lutheran with “many young people [coming] to the altar to accept Christ . . . and hearts [being] transformed by the Holy Spirit” in the wake of their ministry. So impressive was the growth of the Crusaders that even Don was amazed. “Young people heard about it from all over and wanted to be involved with [the] teams.”
Don Fladland’s assembling of youth-to-youth ministry teams allowed him to employ a unique talent which God had given him especially for that purpose. “I believe the Lord gifted me in seeing the potential and talent in a young person before they even had a chance to realize it themselves,” he reflected years later. “So I encouraged them [and] believed in them and the Holy Spirit took over and did the rest.” One of the young men in whom Don early perceived great potential for youth leadership due to his energy, charisma, and dependability was Gary Alfson. Gary had entered Trinity’s youth group and confirmation classes in mid 1957 after his parents had purchased a corner grocery store just two blocks from Trinity and had become members of the church.45 Earlier that summer, fourteen-year-old Gary had asked Christ into his life at a Bible camp. The evangelical emphasis at Trinity did much to nurture his faith over the next four years of high school, the last of which he served as senior high youth group president.
Following high school graduation in 1961, Gary attended the California Lutheran Bible School (CLBS) in Los Angeles where LEM National Board member and former Trinity co-pastor Maynard Force was president. There Gary spent over 2,500 hours studying the Bible in two school years and also received a distinct calling from the Lord. In his own words:
“A major theme of CLBS instruction was the importance of seeking and understanding God's will for a life's work. As the months passed, I would occasionally walk through the failing neighborhood surrounding Angelica Lutheran Church, whose educational facilities the school rented, and pray for direction concerning my future. One night while contemplating the future, I ducked into Angelica to escape the rain and found myself kneeling at the dimly lit altar in the darkened church. I pulled a small New Testament from the pocket of my soggy trench coat and began to read when my eyes fell upon words in II Timothy chapter 4, one phrase of which jumped from the page at me: ‘Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season . . . watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, DO THE WORK OF AN EVANGELIST, make full proof of thy ministry.’ I re-read the passage again and again and wondered if this might be the beginning of a call from God to a life of evangelism. I discussed the experience with Pastor Force who counseled me . . . that, if it was a calling from God, it wouldn't be extinguished through time and that God would illuminate a pathway.”
The advice was sound and God certainly did illumine the path. But that path led to a decade of such atypical evangelistic activity that it would not be until forty years afterward that Gary would realize that he had indeed done the work of an evangelist, the Lord having been good to His Word and Gary to His calling.
The first leg of that calling for Gary was his participation on the 1962 Gospel Crusaders and the 1963 South America team for both of which he was recruited by his old youth director Don Fladland. During the summer of 1964, he served as speaker on a similar eight-member gospel team organized by David L.C. Anderson which traveled to Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and France. In Sweden alone, the team held “101 programs in 44 days in 29 locales from the southern tip of Sweden to an area north of the Arctic Circle and including churches, Bible camps, youth halls, city parks, dance pavilions, beaches and schools, [in short] wherever there were young people” willing to listen to the gospel. The following summer of 1965, Gary traveled for Anderson across the U.S. as speaker for six weeks with a gospel choir from Sweden and then for the remainder of the summer with a six-member musical gospel group. Out of these two summers of experiences, David Anderson formed Lutheran Youth Encounter. Gary Alfson meanwhile, now about to begin his junior year at the University of Minnesota, was called by recommendation of Don Fladland to serve as one of two part-time youth directors at Trinity Lutheran, Don himself having accepted a call to teach at the Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI) in Seattle.
Under the leadership of Gary and his co-director, Trinity’s youth group flourished, expanding far beyond just regular activities.46 A Wednesday afternoon Campus Club was begun to which senior high youth invited outside friends for Bible study, music, and potluck meals. Each evening during the summers, volleyball games were played on the church lawn by 30 to 40 youth and often concluded with gospel singing, devotions, and prayers. A large youth-to-youth ministry team called The Reflectors was formed and traveled around Minnesota putting on programs for smaller churches on certain weekends. Thus, in addition to mentoring his youth in their own Christian lives, Gary instilled in them through various outreach activities the confidence that they could indeed serve effectively though relatively young. Little did he know for what God was using the experience of developing Trinity’s youth-to-youth outreach program to prepare him.
With his senior year at the University of Minnesota progressing, Gary considered next attending seminary but was yet undecided about the future when he received an unexpected invitation which changed the course of his life. One evening during the LEM’s January 1967 Midwinter Evangelistic Conference and accompanying National Board meetings, Gary shared dinner with his old friend Don Fladland. Don disclosed that his ongoing recommendation to the National Board that the LEM establish a dedicated youth program was gaining ground. Then, to Gary’s surprise, Don asked if he might put forth his name as a candidate for LEM youth director. Gary replied that since his future plans were yet undecided, he would be honored for Don to do so and would pray that God’s will be done.
The LEM National Board had, in fact, just earlier that day voted to expand their youth program by officially taking over from Trinity Lutheran the work of the Gospel Crusaders47 whom they had already sponsored during the summers of 1965 and 1966.48 The following day Don Fladland reported to the board that Gary Alfson, “whom he felt was very well qualified and competent,”49 was open to a call to direct this work. And although several other candidates were considered during the next few months of board interviews and presentations, it was ultimately Gary whom the LEM selected to be their first National Youth Director. At just 24 years old himself, he possessed seemingly inexhaustible amounts of energy and enthusiasm so advantageous for leading youth-to-youth ministry. And his arrival as youth director coincided with the beginnings of a mighty moving of God’s Spirit which was to rapidly multiply the LEM’s youth program beyond the highest of expectations.
The LEM Youth Revival Movement
As Gary began planning for the enlargement of the LEM’s youth program, his core question was, “How can we, empowered by Christ, best communicate the reality of living with Him to young people, the majority of whom have been raised in the church, in such a way as to encourage young Christians to experience a closer walk and to challenge young non-Christians to accept Him into their lives?”50 Expanding on his own Gospel Crusader experience to answer this question, Gary envisioned a youth ministry team spending three days in each community; interacting with youth during mornings and afternoons through such means as Bible studies, discussion groups, picnics, softball and volleyball games and other recreational activities; presenting two evening programs of quality music and drama with testimonies and preaching; and interacting with youth and parents further as overnight guests in host homes. The personal encounters would create opportunities for team members to build relationships and witness one-on-one while the programs would mass-communicate the Gospel attractively and encourage definite response.51 Both facets of ministry would feed off each other. The music would be a mixture of hymns, Gospel songs, and contemporary Christian music,52 the latter style being at that time classically melodic with syncopated rhythms, precise multi-part harmonies, unusual chord modulations, little instrumentation, and conversational lyrics on contemporary themes like God’s love and a purpose for living.53 With little alteration, these initial concepts of Gary’s became the model for all LEM Gospel teams for years to come.
Having a team model in mind, Gary’s next task was to find college-age Christians willing to dedicate an entire summer to being team members without receiving any of the monetary compensation so necessary for their ongoing studies. His interviews with eager students that spring at LBI in Seattle and CLBS in Los Angeles soon resulted in 27 such young people being selected for three nine-member Gospel Crusader teams, the size of each being determined by the number who could fit into a van pulling a U-haul trailer for luggage and equipment. Itineraries were created largely through the responses of pastors to advertisements in Evangelize and the needs of Bible camps for counselors, and they consisted of a western team in Montana, South Dakota, and western Minnesota; a northern team in North Dakota and northern Minnesota; and an eastern team in Wisconsin, Illinois, and northern Michigan. After a six-day training camp with instruction in personal witnessing and Bible study preparation by LEM personnel, vocal music by high school music director Sam MacKinney, and dramatic skits and plays by Sam’s wife Gallia who was an actress and concert pianist originally from France, the teams began their summers.
It is difficult to assess the overall results of that summer of 1967, for teams were not mainly interested in numbers nor did they often know the aftereffects of their relatively short visits. But it is clear that they were part of something out of the ordinary: the beginnings of a youth-oriented move of God of a nature not seen in recent decades. Not only was there “the thrill of sharing Jesus Christ with teenagers and seeing them ask Him to come into their hearts and rule in their lives”54 but also were there unusual situations such as the young man who frankly stated that he was not a Christian and did not want to become one but several days later “came to a [Crusader] service in a neighboring town and there gave his testimony, telling how after [the team] left he had invited Christ into his life.”55 Or there was the girl who opened her heart to Christ through the witness of a team member while walking together to the gas station after the team member had given her a ride home and had run out of gas in her driveway. “Many such incidents happened throughout the summer” and team members shared some of these at the summer’s-end homecoming rally at Trinity Lutheran.
In the fall, Gary Alfson began a program tour of Lutheran churches in the northeastern United States where his Moments of Meditation messages, in tandem with the sacred concerts of Norwegian pianist and soloist Harald Tolfsen, served as the vehicle for him to meet hundreds of Lutheran pastors and secure invitations from them for Gospel Crusader teams in Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and many other smaller cities for the following summer. That tour and a similarly successful tour with Harald through the western and southern U.S. in early 1968, together with heightened student excitement at LBI Seattle, CLBS, and Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, resulted in seven full Crusader teams for the summer of 1968.