Ring in the New, Accession the Old: 2020 Edition

In grim 2020, the staff of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives had much to be thankful for in our miniscule corner of the world. Our staff remained healthy and productive. Although on-site access to the collections for researchers was either completely or mostly restricted for the year after March, we were not only able to acquire, but to make a significant amount of material available online. It was indeed the best of times, the worst of times.

Map of the 1939 World’s Fair from the new material added to Collection 278 The papers of Elisabeth Elliot in 2020. Written on the back, “Pop took me in Sept. [1940]”

New acquisitions to the Archives in 2020 were relatively sparse, mainly due to travel restrictions. Despite these limitations, the Archives staff did accession and preserve some choice items. More than half of new accessions were oral history interviews, about eleven hours altogether. These interviews are sessions that the staff recorded with individuals working in Christian ministry. Interviewees described their lives and ministries in evangelism, relief work or educational ministry in the Chicago area, as well as Libya, Belgium, Mozambique, Sudan, and Nigeria. In addition, Jane Hawthorne recorded memories of her brother, missionary Jim Elliot.

Participant notebook, papers, prayer card and hymnal from the Wheaton ’83 conference received in August from William Shoemaker Sr, former director of the Billy Graham Center and a major planner of the conference.

Besides oral history interviews, we also collected multitudes of documents: paper-based records, sound and video recordings, photographs, and all kinds of born-digital materials. These new additions included presentations and planning materials from the Wheaton’83 conference, a meeting convened by the World Evangelical Fellowship, with attendees from Evangelical groups around the world, to discussion the nature and mission of the Christian church at that moment in time. Another accession contained correspondence courses from the church in India, used by to train laypeople in the Bible and Christian belief throughout the second half of the twentieth century.

Directories of Protestant missions organizations in Central American countries, compiled by Latin American Mission, ca. 1980. Accession received in July from Timothy Hall, a former LAM worker.

Finally, the Archives received documents illustrating three decades of the work in Central and South America of OC International, and Latin America Mission, including strategy, field work, training, and fund raising.

Besides acquiring new old stuff, the staff opened to researchers some significant collections during the year. These included two international ministries. One was J. Edwin Orr’s work as a globe-trotting evangelist, scholar, and teacher of revival history (Collection 355). The other documented college and university outreach endeavors around the globe in the records of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (Collection 640). Both these collections were described in previous blog posts, as were the materials added to Collection 118, evangelist Mordecai Ham’s letters describing his efforts to defeat presidential candidate Al Smith in the election of 1928.

Putting the finishes touches on Collection 640: Records of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.

Another collection updated this year was the papers of Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015), a major Evangelical writer, thinker and speaker. Our 2019 January blog post described how the Elliot family had not only generously given the Archives the correspondence of Jim Elliot and Elisabeth Howard during their courtship, engagement and marriage, but also multiple boxes of material spanning Elliot’s entire life and ministry. This year we can write that all of these materials have now been processed and described and are open to researchers.

A selection of sound recordings of containing Elisabeth Elliot’s speaking engagements and audio books added to Collection 278. The new materials were opened for research in October.

The new letters, photos, recordings, and scrapbooks cover Elliot’s entire life, from her 1930s girlhood memory book to recordings of her talks to a variety of groups on a range of spiritual topics at the end of the last century and the beginning of this one. These materials demonstrate how Elliot’s thought developed over time, affected by her life and ministry in the United States and Ecuador and the progress of her career as an author, speaker, and radio broadcaster. Also, of great interest are the letters she received from her readers and those who listened to her radio broadcasts or attended her lectures. Now contained in multiple folders, Elliot’s fan mail illustrates how her audiences received and interacted with her messages on topics like personal suffering, relations between men and women, and the providence of God.

Condemned by the pandemic to work from home for nearly half of 2020, the Archives staff poured their energy into processing and transcribing oral history collections. The result was an enormous addition to the Archives digital resources in the form of twenty-three new collection guides with the appropriate audio files now available online. These include Collections documenting the work of evangelism and missions around the world, including: Collection 569 (Taiwan), Collection 576 (Sierra Leone) Collection 583 (Bosnia), Collection 617 (Korean-American ministry), Collection 623 (Burkina Faso), Collection 626 (Tamil church in India), Collections 630, 641, & 690 (Kenya), Collection 631 (Germany), Collection 635 (Ukraine & Russia), Collection 642 (Indonesia), Collection 651 (Bolivia), Collection 655 (Nigeria), Collection 656 (Poland), Collections 662 & 668 (Brazil), Collection 662 (Kyrgyzstan), Collection 672 (Afghanistan & Nepal), Collections 679 & 680 (China & Thailand), Collections 679 & 680, 688 (Short-Term Missions movement), Collection 707 (IFES), Collection 709 (music of the Billy Graham’s ministry). These new collections represent over seventy-seven hours of interviews on sixty-one recordings. The interviews, which include American, Brazilian, Korean, Sierra Leonean, Indian, Kenyan, Nigerian and Polish interviewees, and provide a picture of Evangelical Christian faith and practice around the world at the end of the twentieth century and the dawn of the twenty-first.  

In addition to recording an oral history interview, Louis Almond allowed the Archives staff to digitize family diaries from their documenting their missionary service in China. This page from Stella Almond’s diary, describes her house arrest in Kiangtsing [now Jiangjin] shortly after the Communists took power in 1951. The diary is held in Collection 680: Papers of the Almond Family.

A few of the topics documented in the recordings are the work of an African pastor working with a European congregation, college and university ministries in Central and South America, Bible translation and church planting in many cultures, the place of women in church leadership, the development of the short-term mission movement in the United States over the past forty years, the interaction between Maasai culture and Christianity in Kenya, and the value of Christian camp ministry for the church.

Finally, the staff transcribed and transcribed and transcribed throughout 2020—eighty-one recordings from eight collections representing almost sixty hours of interviews were transmuted into 1281 pages of text. Because the Archives maintains a policy of restricting transcripts of living interviewees from online access, many of these transcripts are only available in the Manuscripts Reading Room and not online. Transcripts that are available online are marked with an asterik.*

Of the eighty-one transcripts, forty-eight are from Collection 514, which contains documents and interviews about religious revivals or renewals on the Wheaton College campus. Almost all of the interviews are with participants in the 1995 revival on campus, in which hundreds of students participated in nightly services of confession and prayer. Most of the interviews occurred within days or weeks of the event, but there are also a series of interviews conducted two years later with people interviewed earlier to get their later reflections.

Briefly listed, here are the contents of the other transcripts

*Collection 391. Robert Schneider on his work among Arab and Berber people in Morocco and Spain.

Collection 398. Wayne Gordon on his own spiritual development and the founding of the Lawndale Community Church in the Chicago African American community.  

 *Collection 414 and *Collection 434. Wade Coggins and Edward “Jack” Frizen. These men were the long-time directors of, respectively, the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association and the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association. For the last third of the twentieth century they were at the center of Evangelical and Fundamentalist missions.

 Collection 508. Tien Leong. Campus Crusade for Christ staff worker in his home country of Malaysia among college and university students and young professionals.

 Collection 582. Michael Cassidy, South African evangelist and founder of African Enterprise, described his youth, formation of his faith, his education in South Africa, England, and the United States and the beginning of his ministry. Not available online but in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

 *Collection 624. Ephemera of the Zamzam Incident: Interviews of Zamzam passengers, mainly American missionaries, who were aboard the ship when it was sunk in the south Atlantic Ocean in 1941 by a German warship. Materials describe the sinking, the subsequent experiences of the passengers as German prisoners and the internment of some for the duration of the war, and reunions held in later years by the survivors and their families.

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