Many Christians around the world were rocked by recent news that the “father of the Jesus Movement,” Chuck Smith, has developed lung cancer. He made the announcement to his Calvary Chapel congregation just two weeks ago.
Chemotherapy and radiation lie in front of the 82-year old pastor, but behind him is a legacy that will live for decades to come, if not eternity.
Smith graciously talked with WND despite his recent diagnosis and his full schedule as pastor of one of the biggest churches in the U.S.
On deciding to become a preacher, or as he prefers to be called, a teacher, Smith recalls the words of a youth camp counselor back in the 1940s, words that, along with a nudging by the Holy Spirit, propelled him into the ministry: “You have only one life – it will soon be past, and only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Smith described for WND the beginning of the “Jesus Movement,” during the turmoil of the 1960s.
“My wife truly had a heart for the lost youth of the day,” Smith recounted. “She used to make me park the car near Huntington Beach, just so we could watch the kid’s wandering aimlessly up and down the sidewalk. They were searching for peace and love.”
Through his wife, Kay, God placed a love for those youth deep in Chuck’s heart, and he said, “We just knew we had to reach out to them with the hope and peace offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ. These kids were ripe for hearing the gospel. The message resonated with them.”
Smith said that the hippie festivals of the day featured drugs and bands whose leaders encouraged the kids to join the counter-culture revolution, but when the Jesus Movement began, young people came in droves, beckoned by word-of-mouth to the corner of Greenville and Sunflower in South Santa Ana, to hear more about the love of Jesus.
Smith told WND that at the beginning of the Jesus Movement, his daughter was “dating a fellow named John – an outstanding witness for the Lord.”
“He had been a part of the hippie movement and used to eat dinner with our family and told about meeting scores of hippies and leading them to the Lord,” Smith recalled. “He used to pick up hitchhikers for the sole purpose of witnessing to them.
“One day he picked up a hitchhiker in order to witness to him,” Smith says. “It turned out the young man was Lonnie Frisbee, who was only hitchhiking so he could witness to drivers who picked him up.”
John brought Frisbee over to the Smith’s, and a friendship was born.
“He moved in to our home and every few days would bring home a group of kids to be baptized in our pool,” said Smith.
In a recent televised conversation with Smith, hippie-convert-turned-pastor Greg Laurie said, “Kids came to your Calvary Chapel because of Lonnie, but they stayed because of you.
“He was the nitro to your glycerin, and together you were an explosive combination,” Laurie said.
Laurie explained that not only was the Jesus Movement started under Smith, but also contemporary Christian music and contemporary praise and worship.
Smith said that the new Christian kids needed peace and love, but also a place to stay, where they could fellowship and learn more about God.
Before long, Smith and his wife had taken in around 20 young hippies, and they knew it was time for this ministry to grow. Within months, they had arranged for dozens of communal homes for the young Christians to live in.
“It was an exciting time,” Smith said. “We had a full-blown revival on our hands.”