The Rainbow in the Storm: The Final Voyage of the Zamzam

Cartoon by E. J. Pace celebrating the survivors of the Zamzam sinking. This image appeared on the front page of The Sunday School Times on August 16, 1941. From Collection 624, OS9.

For a brief moment in 1941, the attention of the Western world was transfixed by the unknown fate of the Zamzam, an aging cargo and passenger ship en route from the United States to Cape Town, South Africa. Built in 1909 as a British luxury liner and christened Leicestershire, the vessel was requisitioned to carry British troops during World War I. In peacetime, the steamer was purchased by an Egyptian company and renamed in honor of the Zamzam Well in Mecca, a holy site for Muslim pilgrims. Over the next decade, the Zamzam served primarily as a passenger ship ferrying pilgrims to the holy city of Mecca, but by 1940, its owners broadened services to transatlantic travelers and cargo. On March 20, 1941, the Zamzam sailed from Hoboken, New Jersey for Alexandria, Egypt, with planned stops at Baltimore, Trinidad, Recife, Cape Town, and Mombasa. Between passengers and crew, the Zamzam featured a truly international cast of characters—the Scottish captain and chief engineer, Greek stewards, Egyptian and Sudanese crew, and passengers from around the globe. The Zamzam’s passenger list featured 202 names, including twenty-four members of the British-American Ambulance Corps, traveling to North Africa to serve as noncombatants with the Allied forces. But the largest passenger contingent by far was American and British missionaries bound for Africa. Over 140 Christian workers, including 17 Roman Catholics and members of twenty-one Protestant denominational and independent faith missions, boarded the Zamzam, eager to begin Christian service across the African continent. But the aging steamer never reached its home port in Alexandria. In the early hours of April 17, 1941, the unarmed civilian vessel was shelled and sunk by the German surface raider, Atlantis, off the coast of southwestern Africa. This April, the Archives highlights the voices of missionaries who survived the final voyage of the Zamzam, a straightforward transatlantic crossing turned international event, eighty years ago this month.  

Continue reading

Letters from Lisuland: The Ministry of Isobel Kuhn

A portrait of Isobel Miller taken for her missionary application to China Inland Mission. ca. 1927.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives commemorates the many women whose unique voices and stories are preserved in our collections and who labored—in the public eye or in obscurity—in faithful Christian services as missionaries, writers, doctors, preachers, musicians, evangelists, and more. This March, the Archives highlights the ministry of Isobel Miller Kuhn, author and long-term missionary with her husband John to the Lisu people of southwest China and Thailand from 1928-1954 under the auspices of China Inland Mission. The Kuhns’ nearly three decade service with China Inland Mission is documented in the organization’s records, including the couple’s voluminous newsletters, a CIM-published biography of Isobel, and John’s report on missionary evacuations from China in 1951, following the Chinese Communist Revolution. Isobel Kuhn’s personal papers, including prayer letters, photographs, correspondence, and articles, are described in Collection 435: Ephemera of Isobel Miller Kuhn, and provide a glimpse into the daily struggles and joys of missionary service—the loneliness and isolation of rural evangelism and church planting, the breathtaking beauty of remote Yunnan Province, Lisu culture and customs, and her own deep Christian faith.

Continue reading

Tom Skinner’s “New Beginning”

Handbill advertising Tom Skinner evangelistic meetings held in St. Petersburg, Florida from October 28 to November 4, 1973.

In celebration of Black History Month this February, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives commemorates the spiritual legacy of Tom Skinner (1942-1994), Christian evangelist, social reformer, and persistent critic of racial divisions within American culture. Collection 430: Papers of Tom Skinner contains oral history interviews, correspondence, articles, newspaper clippings, photographs, and other materials documenting the development of Tom Skinner Associates and provides a fascinating glimpse into Skinner’s tireless efforts to challenge the white evangelical community to engage issues of systemic racism, while still prioritizing his call to Christian evangelism.

Continue reading

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]”

Continue reading

“World Evangelism: Why? How? Who?” A Backward Look at Urbana ’70

A publicity poster for the 1970 Urbana Student Missionary Convention. CN 300, Box 344, Folder 12.

This December, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives highlights the ninth triennial InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) Student Missionary Convention held 50 years ago this month. The traditional climax of IVCF’s ministry year, the five-day conference exists to mobilize college students for Christian evangelism, on university campuses across the globe. Since its first iteration in 1946, dubbed the “International Student Convention for Missionary Advance” held in Toronto, Canada, thousands of students from North America and around the world have dedicated themselves to the work of Christian evangelism and discipleship after hearing the likes of Billy Graham, John Stott, Stacey Woods, David Howard, Samuel Escobar, Elisabeth Elliot, and Francis Schaeffer describe the challenge and call of world evangelization. Today, significant numbers of men and women in full-time Christian service can trace their vocational inspiration back to an “Urbana” convention.

Continue reading

“Are We Electing Our Last President?”: The Chicago Convention Campaign

The event of a lifetime has become the opportunity of a lifetime!” So claimed the flashy mass marketing letter inviting one and all to the Chicago Convention Campaign. Spearheaded by Torrey Johnson, the tireless president of Youth for Christ, and drawing widespread support from churches and religious leaders across the Upper Midwest, the 1952 Convention Campaign offers a glimpse into mid-century mass evangelism efforts, particularly the potent combination of evangelistic and patriotic fervor.

Continue reading

“I Could Not Do Otherwise… Though It Put My Body in the Grave”: Elections As Apocalyptic Events

In the United States’ never-ending election cycle, the 2020 Presidential campaign is reaching a new level of intensity this month, as the voting day on November 3rd draws closer. The Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives contains many stories of individual Christians, who were impelled by their faith to influence local, state, and national elections.

In the first decades of the twentieth century, a key issue for many fundamentalist Protestants was Prohibition—a national ban on the manufacture and sale of alcohol for consumption. For example, Prohibition was a leading reason why evangelist Billy Sunday held his 1918 revival meetings in Chicago. The bombastic revival preacher was an outspoken advocate of Prohibition, and the Windy City was poised to determine via local initiative whether it should ban the sale of alcohol. Former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan also came to town to assist the effort. It failed. As the popular Frank Sinatra song “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)” boasts, “It’s the town Billy Sunday could not close down.” But the Eighteenth Amendment, ratified in 1919, made Prohibition the law of the land.

Continue reading

Celebrating 40 Years of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center!

BG_Groundbreaking

Billy Graham poses with Harold Anderson outside the partially constructed Billy Graham Center, August 1979.

Forty years ago this month, the newly completed Billy Graham Center was dedicated for Christian service on Wheaton College’s campus, the culmination of a decade’s worth of prayer, planning, and construction.  The open-air dedication ceremony featured an array of processions, invocations, addresses, and prayers, flanked by performances of Caesar Giovannini and Ralph Vaughan Williams by the Wheaton College Conservatory combined choral groups. The ceremony’s centerpiece was a dedicatory address (Part 1 and Part 2) by the building’s namesake, Dr. Billy Graham, detailing the evangelist’s own intentions for the Center and its impact on the global Christian Church through ongoing education, training, and resources. This September, we celebrate the ongoing realization of Graham’s guiding hopes and commemorate the past four decades of fruitful Christian ministry documented in the Archives’ Collection 3: Records of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Continue reading

Introducing the Records of International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES)

The summer months are a favorite season at the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives, a noticeable shift from the marathon of the academic year to the sprint of summer research visits. This year, the manuscripts reading room is eerily dark and quiet, while dissertations, articles, monographs, documentaries, and other research projects wait on pause during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Processed Box

Providing access to collections, however, is only one of many archival tasks. Long before researchers can scroll through finding aids, dig through boxes, or submit duplication requests, collections must be processed—a meticulous procedure of arranging, describing, and preserving historical documents. Depending on staff resources and the size and physical condition of the materials, some processing jobs can require years of effort.

This silent summer in the manuscripts reading room provided one unanticipated benefit for archivists—uninterrupted time for processing—and allowed us to put the final processing touches on a significant new collection.

This August, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives is pleased to announce the opening of Collection 640: Records of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) for research. Continue reading

“To Show Kindness to Israel”: William Blackstone’s Memorial

This July, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Archives highlights the evangelistic ministry of Eugene Blackstone (1841-1935), a self-educated American businessman, evangelist, and author, perhaps best known as the creator of the Blackstone Memorial, a petition calling for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

A fervent dispensationalist, Blackstone’s belief in the imminent return of Jesus Christ spurred his interest in Jewish evangelism and commitment to Christian Zionism. Blackstone played a prominent role in founding the Chicago Hebrew Mission (later American Messianic Fellowship) and became its first superintendent in 1889. He also served as the sole trustee of the Milton Stewart Evangelistic Fund, which financially supported Jewish evangelism efforts in far-flung corners of the globe. Recipients of the Milton Fund include Bible colleges, seminaries, and parachurch organizations, stretching from Poland to Palestine and New York City to Korea. Blackstone’s correspondents included professors, evangelists, missionaries, and administrators serving with the likes of the American Bible Society; All Russian Union of Evangelical Christians; Barbican Mission to the Jews; China Inland Mission (Blackstone’s parents were missionaries to China); Mount Carmel Bible School, Haifa; New York Gospel Mission to the Jews; and Women’s Bible Institute, Korea, among many others. In addition to his evangelistic efforts, Blackstone also authored multiple works, including Satan: His Kingdom and its Overthrow, The Millennium, and the the best-selling Jesus is Coming, which was translated into multiple languages.

Blackstone’s personal papers are described in Collection 540: Papers of William Eugene Blackstone. and include a variety of materials, including correspondence, sermons, manuscripts, reports, and periodicals.

Founders Montage

The photograph montage above of the founders of the Chicago Hebrew Mission (1887) illustrates Blackstone’s central place in the organization. He is in the center right oval, wearing spectacles. The image is found in “Twenty-Five Years of Blessing,” a commemorative pamphlet published in 1913. From Collection 540, Box 1, Folder 1.

Continue reading