Character Number Twenty

Billy GrahamAnd then there was Billy Graham.

William Franklin “Billy” Graham was born in 1918 in a small dairy farm and when he was young, was very active, always running instead of walking. He liked reading and when he was seven, read all the Tarzan books and taught himself the yodeling Tarzan yell.  He then climbed trees and scared animals and people with it.  He was not a good student and went to several different schools and colleges.  His parents were of Scottish decent and were Presbyterians.  He went to religious oriented schools and colleges and in his early youth went to what is now Florida College in Hillsborough, FL.  At one of his schools a teacher told him to make sure he did not get lost in some small town as their minister because with his voice he could spread the Word of God more effectively and broadly.  He paddled a canoe across the Hillsborough River to a remote island where he preached to the birds, alligators and cypress stumps to practice his elocution.  A friend on the farm encouraged Billy to go to hear evangelist Mordecai Ham in one of his tent revivals.  The result was that he joined Ham and started sharing the preaching.  This converted him at age 16 to the words of the bible.  He went to Wheaton College in Illinois and got a degree in anthropology in 1943.  While there, he met Ruth Bell, a fellow student and a while later he and she were married, had five children and eventually celebrated their 64th anniversary together.

Billy started preaching on his own with a small tent and a big story and gradually his tents and his audiences got bigger. He was noticed by the Randolph Hearst Company newspapers and his relationship with them led into using wireless and the new television. He started touring the country with his message and he always invited anyone in the congregation to go down to the front and be an “inquirer”.  These people would be counselled one-on-one and given literature, pamphlets and bible extracts to consider and study.  This, together with his new notoriety due to the wireless and TV made him a national spread his gospel.  In 1947, He started the first of a series of Crusades in Grand Rapids, Michigan and then for the next 56 years he travelled to six continents, 185 countries preaching at 417 Crusades.  He became a good friend of Martin Luther King, bailing him out of jail on one occasion.  He was also a close associate of Dwight D. Eisenhour, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon.  (His closest personal relationship was surprisingly with the deceitful and course LBJ.)

After doing 38 Crusades all over the entire USA, Graham conducted Crusade 39 in London from March 1st to May 29th, 1954.  He spoke in many locations including Harringay  Stadium and the Albert Hall.  Sometime in April, I noticed an advertisement in the Imperial College Union, right next door to the Albert Hall.  It announced that the now famous American evangelist would be conducting a crusade in the Albert Hall and admission was free.   I was by then married to Doris and expecting a baby about May 20th.   We had not been going out much because I was adding finishing touches to my Ph.D. thesis and Doris was busy typing it so we thought it would be a nice and interesting break for us to go.  The hall was practically filled with students from all the South Kensington colleges and there was a great expectancy because of what we had been hearing on the BBC radio about this American Phenomenon.  The 36 year old Billy Graham pranced onto the small stage that had been erected and was instantly welcomed by the young crowd because of his smile and overall personality.  He entranced our audience even when preaching familiar gospel, the attraction being the lack of pomp, ceremony and the ecclesial trappings to which we were accustomed.  I cannot speak for my wife, but the overall experience, the elements of that Billy Graham crusade and much of his message have stayed with me ever since.

One thought on “Character Number Twenty

  1. Neat story. I have also paddled across the Hillsborough River but I didn’t preach to the birds or anything! There is no Florida College in Hillsborough County but maybe it changed its name….there is Hillsborough Community College. Hillsborough is a county and not a town. (There is a Hillboro Beach, FL in Broward County but that is nowhere near the Hillsborough River). I think his son preaches now. Did he ever charge admission? We argued over this at work one day and I said he never did. Good to see you are still writing.


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