Rev. Billy Graham had strong link to mountain community of Forest Falls

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From the outside, Hormel Hall appears rustic and simple. And today, on the inside, it's quiet and dark. Much different than nearly 70 years ago, when the Rev. Billy Graham preached to a large crowd. (KABC)

From the outside, Hormel Hall appears rustic and simple. And today, on the inside, it's quiet and dark. Much different than nearly 70 years ago, when the Rev. Billy Graham preached to a large crowd.

MORE: Evangelist Billy Graham, who reached millions, dies at 99

"When he spoke, he had an authority to his speaking," said Gary Wingerd, president of Forest Home Christian Conference Center in Forest Falls. He reflected Wednesday on the man who would have such an incredible impact on millions of people.

"I am praising God with the Graham family for the incredible legacy that Billy Graham left," said Wingerd. "And the footprint that it left in this world for Jesus Christ."

But what many might not know, is that one of those first footprints is here in Forest Falls, where Graham spoke in 1949. Wingerd said unbeknownst to many, as Graham preached inside Hormel Hall that day, he was fighting an inner battle.

"His biggest wrestle was whether the word of God was true."

After his sermon, Graham is said to have walked across the road, and down a dirt path, where he placed a Bible on an old tree stump.

"He cried out to the Lord, 'God I don't understand everything from Genesis to Revelations. I can't reconcile everything that is in (the Bible),'" said Wingerd. "The way he describes it is that the Holy Spirit fell upon him, and he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had reached down into his soul and confirmed that the word of God was true."

"It completely changed who he was," said Wingerd.

Graham would go on to speak to some 215 million people over the course of his life, in more than 185 countries and territories. But he would never forget where, in some ways, his journey started. He returned to Forest Home in 1967, where he dedicated the conference center, and preached to a large crowd.

"That afternoon, the lake was packed," said Wingerd. "The cars went miles and miles down the road to get up (here), to hear Billy Graham preach."

That event was marked by a plaque on a rock, known simply to people up here as the Billy Graham rock. Today, it has become a place of quiet reflection.

"When I was reading the plaque, I was crying," said Kim Cecchi of Hemet. "He reached a lot of people to be Christians and be saved," said Marlene Linsalato of Yucaipa. "That's the most important thing."

Gary Wingerd said it should not be a day of mourning, but rather one of celebration. "I'm celebrating along with the thousands and millions of other people (whose lives) were impacted through Billy Graham."
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