Billy Sunday is still one of the
twentieth century's best known evangelists.
By the time of his death in 1935, he had preached
to millions, and it is estimated that three
hundred thousand men and women were led to
faith in Christ at his over two hundred campaigns.
He was also recognized for his determined
contribution to passing the Prohibition Amendment,
and promoting the sale of war bonds during
World War I. None of the recognition, however,
replaces the impact Sunday had on the lives
of those who hit the sawdust trail at one
of his meetings.
Sunday himself was converted at the Pacific
Garden Mission in Chicago (1886) while playing
professional baseball for the Chicago White
Stockings. In 1891, he left baseball to enter
full-time Christian work, first at Chicago's
YMCA, and then working for itinerant evangelists.
He held his first independent evangelistic
crusade in Garner, Iowa, in 1896, beginning
a career which spanned five decades.
In his heyday, Sunday's campaigns were held
in temporary wooden structures or tabernacles,
built for the event. Sawdust covered the tabernacle
floor. Those who responded to Sunday's appeal
to trust Christ walked up the sawdust covered
aisles to shake the evangelist's hand. These
campaigns, however, were preceded by extensive
planning and prayer, and there was usually
a follow-up program.
A Sunday campaign was the product of the contributions
of many people. Sunday developed a team of
co-workers which traveled with him and handled
various duties, including administration and
music. Key figures on this team were his wife
Helen (or Ma), musicians Homer Rodeheaver
and B.D. Ackley, and businesswoman Virginia
Asher. Local clergy and lay volunteers were
also instrumental in planning and running
a Sunday evangelistic campaign.