Juhani Peltonen

Secretary General of Mission Helsinki, Juhani Peltonen:

Finns long still for grace

The Mission was a huge thing, says Secretary General Juhani Peltonen 30 years after the meeting. Mission Helsinki 1987’s success was beyond expectations and rounded up to 183 000 attendants.. But there were also issues that Juhani emphasizes now a little bit differently.

”It is hard to evaluate the outome of Mission Helsinki comprehensively. But, I can say, that at least without Mission Helsinki the state of the spiritual life in Finland would be much worse,” says Secretary General Juhani Peltonen.

In the first decade of the 1980’s there where many evangelism outreach events that happened in about 150 churches, namely the Tässä elämä –event. After that there were the Helsinki Luis Palau meetings and in the spring of 1986 the Jumala on -event. After those events people thought more about a possible Billy Graham event,” says Peltonen. He presented the idea to invite Graham to the Joint Evangelical Committee in 1985.

”The committee didn’t accept the idea without hesitation. We realized that if we wanted to push something forward, we needed to have Samuel Lehtonen, the bishop of Helsinki, on board. At the same time I was chosen as chairman of the Joint Evangelical Committee and the preparations started.”

At that time, evangelism of the Lutheran Church was delegated to SKSK’s Evangelism Outreach Work Committee, whose chairman was Samuel Lehtonen, the bishop of Helsinki. He was the one who invited Dr. Graham to come to Finland.

Clear guidance

In the spring of 1986 Juhani Peltonen received a phone call from Henry Holley, the representative of the Billy Graham team.

”Holley asked, if I could arrange a meeting between Samuel Lehtonen, Orthodox Church Metropolis Johannes, Catholic bishop Paul Verschuren, Ahti Hirvonen, managing director of SYP, and Kai Antturi, who was the leader of the Helsinki Saalem Church. I was able to reach them all the same day and they all answered affirmatively, which I considered as God’s guidance.”

Less than a month from that meeting Henry Holley called again and asked if Helsinki Olympiastadion was free after about a year. Peltonen went to visit stadium and it was!

”I received instructions after Holley’s Finland visit from bishop Lehtonen to write to the Helsinki Lutheran Church Council to ask, if the congregation would be interested in getting involved to organize a mission. Responses were requested by August. A clear majority liked the project.”

At this stage of the invitation process, the Finns met Billy Graham’s representatives first in St. Petersburg and then at the the Congress for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam in August, which included a delegation from Finland.

”One night during this congress, Ahti Hirvonen and I were invited to the podium and were presented to some 8,000 participants. I am saying this because it showed BGEA’s readiness to come to Finland.”

”Ahti Hirvonen was also with us in Amsterdam. I was Hirvonen’s roommate, and at the time he was still pondering about being on the Mission Helsinki Managing Board. I told him that the chairman should be a layman,” tells Juhani Peltonen.

Ahti Hirvonen received or had already received a strong green light from Mika Tiivola, the chairman of SYP’s and took over the chairmanship. On October 3, Blair Carlson, a representative for the Billy Graham team arrived in Finland, and he told us that Dr. Graham would accept an invitation from Finland. The execution time had come.

A short preparation process

”SYP leased business premises on the corner of Central railway station, but they also supported the mission financially very much. Mauri Larkio, the leader of the Parish Congregation, presented to the Joint Church Council a grant proposal of FIM 300,000, which was also approved. That’s how we got started”, Juhani Peltonen remembers.

Graham’s team got involved with the preparation from the start. The Secretary-General whom I met during the previous year in a Paris mission said in a descriptive way: ”You invite Billy Graham and you get the whole organizational skills”. Without these skills we couldn’t have succeeded.

”When the decision was made in Finland, the Graham team sent their first line under the leadership of Blair Carlson. A number of Christian student organization’s active groups participated from the Finnish side. Without them, we would not have achieved a mission, because we had only approximately 10 months to prepare for the event. For this success, we have to thank our professional Executive Committee and its chairman, as well as our unreservedly committed paid employees in Helsinki and, above all, hundreds of volunteers all over Finland,” Says Juhani Peltonen.

Archbishop John Vikström met Billy Graham separately at Kalastajatorppa, but he did not attend the closing ceremony where Bishop Erik Vikström of Porvoo was present. The role of bishop Samuel Lehtonen as honorary chairman and a participant in the overwhelming debate was quite important. Dr. Billy Graham has almost always met a head of his destination country, but in Finland the meeting with President Koivisto did not succeed. However, after Graham’s visit to the Kauppatori coffee stand, Graham met Prime Minister Harri Holkeri.

”We received critical reactions from the Church, perhaps the main cause of the accusation of the so-called “Christianity solution”, which, in the opinion of the critics, is likely to increase the human’s share and to make worthless the absolute superiority of grace alone as God’s work. The most difficult thing seemed to be the attitude amongst the people from the ”Körtti Movement.” After the mission, however, I received an invitation to their meeting”, Peltonen smiles.

What would I do differently?

Juhani Peltonen says that if he now faced the same task, he would concentrate more on the metropolitan area and not so much on the whole country. Slightly longer preparation time would also be good. Overall Peltonen, however, is still pleased with Mission Helsinki.

According to Peltonen, mission results have not been properly recorded or followed up. Here he would do things differently. He says that Finland should have had more discussions in advance about the so-called Andreas activity, which at Graham meetings is usually a strong factor. It means that people are asked to invite someone to the events: friends or neighbors. In that way Mission Helsinki could have been more effective. The motivation of people actively involved in activities of the parish to invite others is still relevant inside the Lutheran Church and, to some extent, in other denominations.

”The directing of those interested in the congregations was successful. The principle was that when a person told to what church he orshe belonged, then they were guided to the activities of his/her own parish. A lot of small groups were created and some of them are still in existance after 30 years. Martti Pitkänen and his team handled the registration cards from the Olympic Stadium to the parishes.”

A total of 183,000 people attended the meetings and, according to statistics, 9460 people walked on the green.

Mission consequences

Juhani Peltonen says that Mission Helsinki created quite a number of waves. One of the greatest legacies was that Billy Graham’s interpretor, evangelist Kalevi Lehtinen’s, was able to organize ten missions in Finland, the Baltic States, and the former Soviet Union. At the end of his last speech, Billy Graham encouraged Rev.. Lehtinen to hold crusades. The effects of Mission Helsinki were multiplied after the collapse of communism when people sought new ways for their lives.

In Finland one of the visible effects was, Tuomasmessu, which was born before the stadium meetings and which continues to work firmly, and where Mission Helsinki had a positive impact on its operations. Tuomasmessu initiators Olli Valtonen and Miikka Ruokanen came to Peltonen after the mission and asked him to join the planning team.

”But in my opinion it was in conflict with the idea of guiding those who had made their decision of faith to their own parish, which was a very important principle of BGEA’s activities. That’s why I let it be. Now I would do otherwise!”

”The press and media’s attitude to spiritual matters also changed during Mission Helsinki. The reporters reacted initially mistrustful against Billy Graham, but his simple preaching also assured many journalists and they learned to wait for a good story of spiritual matters,” Peltonen estimates.

A clear message about Jesus

”Now, 30 years later, secularism has advanced in Finland so far that the word ”evangelization” does not appear to be at all in the Church’s activity reports,” says Juhani Peltonen.

He thinks that Gospel preaching has drifted pretty far. Where would we have been if the Mission Helsinki had not happened? The Mission Helsinki’s activities are over, but the need for them is not.. Billy Graham repeated in each of his speeches: “All the disciples whom Jesus called, he called publicly “.

”Evangelization no longer transcends the churches as it was intended in the 80s. It is difficult nowadays to find the gospel in the priests’ preaching at this time. Instead the Gospel preaching is the main focus of the Churchs’ basic mission, hv, evangelism is concentrating on the main business of the churches. Accrording to Peltonen, it should be the proclamation of God’s forgiveness for man, based on the reconciliation of our sins on the cross of Jesus. Without this, Grace will become cheap and the Gospel will turn simply “come as you are” proclamation.”

”I do not miss any preaching of legalism, but we clearly need still the proclamation of the Grace of God,” Juhani Peltonen says.