Festival of Hope brings fond memories, special invite for Ohio Twp. pastor
The Rev. John Guest traces the origins of his faith to one day in London in 1954, when the riveting preaching of world-renowned Christian evangelist Billy Graham changed his life forever.
“The whole experience was so invigorating,” recalled Guest, 78, senior pastor at Christ Church at Grove Farm in Ohio Township. “I was literally ecstatic about making the commitment, and the rest of my life has been about trying to get other people into that same relationship that lit up my life.”
Six decades later, Guest happily welcomed the invitation to pray privately alongside Billy Graham's son Franklin Graham with a quiet foursome on Friday evening in a locker room down a hall behind the main stage during the first night of the Three Rivers Festival of Hope in Consol Energy Center.
“It's an honor to be invited with the inner leadership to pray with the main man here,” said Guest, representing one of more than 500 churches that helped provide volunteers for the three-day event.
The core message and evangelical energy reverberating through the arena resembled that which captivated Guest 60 years ago, but the setting sure looked different.
The large choir, organist and lone speaker have been replaced by flashy lighting and a DJ while videos project onto a giant screen and Christian musicians who rap, rock and belt out powerful ballads that rival Top 40 hits.
Most seats were filled in the arena, set up to accommodate up to 16,000, and organizers expect standing room only during Sunday's performances, when Michael W. Smith and the Charlie Daniels Band take the stage.
Guest, a native of England who has made the Pittsburgh area his home base for the past 40 years, has come a long way from the fresh-faced, mop-topped teenager who balked at people trying to “talk religion at him.”
He was 18 the first time he visited a church, and he went only in hopes of winning back the girl who had broken his heart. He kept going back because the English preacher intrigued him, and he devoted his life to God after that preacher urged him to see Billy Graham.
In the years since, Guest has traveled to more than 30 cities and countries such as Ghana, Romania, Albania and Ukraine to put on smaller-scale versions of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's festivals.
“He has the heart of an evangelist like Billy Graham,” said Kathleen, Guest's wife of 47 years, who met Guest while he was preaching at a Young Life camp in Colorado in 1967.
Shortly after they married, Guest helped found the Coalition for Christian Outreach, a Pittsburgh-based campus ministry program that has grown to more than 200 staffers working with 105 colleges.
About 5 p.m. Friday, a couple of hours before the main event, a woman with a big smile approached Guest.
“You're the reason I'm here today,” M.J. Ludwig, 62, of Salineville, Ohio, told him.
She explained that she had her spiritual awakening while hearing Guest speak during the summer before she started college.
“I realized there's not a little box called religion that just sits over a shelf; this was something that changes everything,” she said. It probably helped that Guest had a charming accent and good looks, she added with a chuckle.
Friday wasn't the first time Guest has met with Franklin Graham. He recalled pulling the son of “America's pastor” aside at an event several years back.
“Franklin, I want to thank you for the price you paid for not having your father around all the time when you were a little boy,” Guest told him, “because I am the fruit of his traveling to England.”
Guest has also met personally with Billy Graham, who invited him and his wife to his Montreat, N.C., home in the early 1990s to encourage him to continue his evangelistic work.
He recalled something Graham said that day that resonated deeply: “They say that I step out on the platform, and it's like I'm reaching up to the heavens with my hands joined in power,” he told Guest. “Little do they know, I'm scared stiff on the inside.”
“I've been there — that's true,” Guest said. “There are times when I've gone to go speak, and I've got my material, but I feel like I've got nothing to say — because you want to hit people where they are. It's not a matter of making speeches; it's a matter of reaching people's hearts and minds.”
Natasha Lindstrom is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8514 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Fingerprint expert says defendant’s prints were on cyanide bottle
- Homewood welcomes nonprofit Animal Rescue League’s new shelter, clinic
- Defense witness testifies on video, absent jurors, of cyanide alternatives
- Warrant issued for North Side teen in Penn Hills shooting
- Newsmaker: Matthew Zupetic
- Ferrante suicide letter says he did not kill wife
- Howard Hanna family donates $1M for business student scholarships at University of Pittsburgh
- 32nd District seat in Pa. perceived as pivotal for chamber control
- Inappropriate dress wears thin in schools, courts, jails, elsewhere
- Pittsburgh forum on bullying urges vigilance
- Moon Area School District considers installing solar panels for electricity