It Was a Awesome Thing
– As I walked to the stadium’s green my mind was shaking, realizing that Jesus loves me. No such great thing can be, photographer Jani Laukkanen recalls the early turning point in his life.
I knew God himself called me. Billy Graham was a messenger. I replied to the invitation. And in the same way, we who gathered on the green prayed together. I believed my sins were forgiven.
At the time of Billy Graham’s Helsinki meetings I was a confirmation camp-aged teenager in Vantaa. Campaign ads had hit my eyes and I had to find out exactly what this was all about.
I grew up in a middle class family. My father worked in the Ministry of Education and my mother was a private entrepreneur. I also had a little sister.
At home, Lutheran values were respected. To take care was an important thing. The Christmas gospel was always included in the Christmas dinner.
As a child I went to Sunday School. I also liked the religion classes in school and thought that I would become a priest or a biologist.
I attended the Saalem church’s boy scouts where we were offered the Word and fed juice, biscuits, and could hang around.
Nicodemus’ fascinating story
I believed in God. As I read the Bible, the third chapter of the Gospel of John touched me – that is – the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus to discuss matters of faith.
I was thinking about the big questions raised by that text and wanted to get to know what was behind the story. Is it possible to ignore God? Is God the absolute truth? Since I had been thinking about giving my life to Jesus it was not such a strange subject.
Billy Graham spoke about the outcome of faith. He talked about being born again in light of Nicodemus’ story as found in the gospel of John, which I had already considered. Eventually, Nicodemus wanted to hand over the control of his life to Jesus with all his heart.
It was a quite different story than what the Church was teaching about faith. According to Lutheranism, we come to faith through baptism and that is all we need to do. That is easy, but I did not understand it. Nevertheless, I did not see that my own merit or my faith could be the key to heaven. Sins are forgiven by grace alone, through faith. That’s the truth.
I did not want to stay halfway
One could say that I was cultivated soil when I went to the Graham meeting. I considered myself a sinner, I wanted to repent, and not leave it halfway.
I was guided to a small group in the Lutheran church where we also prayed together. It all seemed very significant in the life of a young person.
When I heard about the criticism of the event, I was astonished. At least I needed a concrete invitation to give my life to Jesus and it happened at the stadium. Of course I understood and still understand that God calls us in different ways.
Graham’s interpreter was Kalevi Lehtinen. He and Ilkka Puhakka became mentors to me.
In junior high school I had poor self-esteem. Social situations excited me and at the same time there was a need to show off. It is a real miracle that I was able to get rid of my fears and that I can enjoy my work as a photographer. I see my profession as an advantage point.
My personal self-esteem problems help me to be with people. Many people are afraid of situations when I’m taking pictures and I understand them. When I know how scared they are, I do everything I can to help them relax.
The decision I made at the stadium brought me faith that has carried me through different stages of my life. My exuberance flows out of God’s grace.
Photo: Jani Laukkanen’s home archive