In 1931, a bakery clerk began to hold evangelistic meetings in the streets of his home town of Belfast, Ireland. The next year he set off on a lifelong journey that would take him around the world to stadiums and tiny churches and academic lecture halls. It was a ministry and vocation which included rigorous historical scholarship into deep spiritual mysteries and enthusiastic preaching to crowds of seekers.
J. Edwin Orr speaking to a group of university students in India, 1956.
Collection 355: Papers of J. Edwin Orr, not only tell Orr’s life story, but also documents Protestant evangelicalism around the world in every continent except Antarctica. This June, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives is pleased to announce that this greatly expanded collection can now be used by Christian workers, scholars, and the general public. Continue reading
The cover of a well-used copy of “The Story of a Nail” curriculum kit held in Small Collection 113. Undated.
Storytelling is a ubiquitous tool in evangelism efforts—The Archives’ collections are replete with examples of evangelists, missionaries, and lay preachers wielding the power of simple narratives to explain the Christian gospel. While the most famous example of storytelling evangelism might be The Jesus Film (1979), sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ, many parachurch organizations have developed their own curricula for communicating biblical stories or theological concepts with dance, music, puppets, posters, flannelgraph, mime, and more.
This May, the Archives features “The Story of a Nail,” an evangelism kit using a simple narrative and illustrations to present the story of the crucifixion. Originally developed for radio broadcast by Bob Pierce, founder of both Samaritan’s Purse and World Vision, “The Story of a Nail” was later published as a pamphlet with eight illustrated panels. The pamphlet includes tips and techniques for presenting “The Story of a Nail” to Sunday school classes, Vacation Bible School audiences, and other groups using the “flash card” method to match the colorful panels to narrative cues. Presenters are encouraged to memorize the KJV scripture verses in advance and to maintain eye contact throughout the story. Continue reading
In the Archives’ collections, personal signatures are everywhere, littering correspondence, membership rosters, covenants, and random scraps of paper. These signatures come in all shapes and sizes, some deliberate and others barely more than doodles—breezy nicknames closing a letter, hasty initials scrawled on a memo, or elaborate signatures finalizing deeds and contracts, or legitimizing passports. Occasionally, signatures are accompanied by additional information, like a favorite biblical text, personal motto, illustrations, or decorative flourishes. Depending on the size and style of handwriting, signatures can give researchers insight into a subject’s personality, level of education, and even nationality.
This April, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives features the autograph album of Edna Asher Case (1905-1999), a Chicago native and 1929 graduate of Wheaton College. In the 1920s, autograph albums were a popular way to document and remember the places and people you encountered and to exchange personal messages. Case’s autograph album—a slim 4×6 leather bound book with brightly-colored pages—offers readers today a glimpse into the bustling world of 1920s American evangelistic fervor, captured in the sprawling signatures and well wishes of celebrity revivalists, musicians, and urban social work crusaders who spread the gospel through revival meetings and rescue missions in the city that came to epitomize the Jazz Age.
Born in 1905 to parents deeply involved in evangelism work in Chicago and St. Louis, Edna’s childhood coincided with the pinnacle of Billy Sunday’s revival ministry. Sunday’s traveling evangelistic team included Edna’s aunt, the vocalist and speaker, Virginia Healey Asher. Through her aunt’s connections, Edna was introduced to many of the leading evangelists and revival preachers of the early twentieth century whose signatures and personal messages fill her autograph book. The album contains dated entries spanning 1922-1929, and ranges from Chicago to Winona Lake, Indiana. Continue reading
Fanny Crosby in 1895. Accession 15-01.
When commemorating National Women’s History Month, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives could celebrate any number of extraordinary women represented in its collections: author and missionary Elisabeth Elliot, evangelist Helen “Ma” Sunday, prison preacher Rev. Consuella York, Mission Aviation Fellowship pilot Betty Greene, Holocaust-survivor and author Corrie ten Boom, faith-healer and evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman, and many others. But this March, the Archives remembers poet, hymnist, composer, social reformer, and public speaker, Fanny Crosby (1820-1915), born two hundred years ago this month.
Although she could print little more than her name, Fanny Crosby became the most prolific American hymnist of the nineteenth century, writing thousands of sacred songs, sometimes composing up to six or seven hymns a day. Her most famous works include “Blessed Assurance”, “To God be the Glory”, “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior”, and “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.” A household name in her lifetime, Fanny Crosby’s compositions still litter hymnals across American Protestant denominations today. Crosby’s enduring popularity is a testimony not only to the extraordinary volume of her musical corpus but also to the simplicity and power of her lyrics to convict, comfort, and inspire audiences around the globe.
In addition to photographs, song books, and memorabilia, the Archives holds nearly 2,400 original manuscripts of Crosby’s hymns and poetry, composed between 1862 and 1915. The majority of the manuscripts are numbered and dated, a helpful guide for researchers tracing Crosby’s immense literary output. The finding aid for Collection 35: Papers of Fanny Crosby provides more details about these materials. Continue reading
This February, in celebration of African-American History Month, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives commemorates the life and spiritual legacy of Rev. Consuella York (1923-1995), the “Jail Preacher,” and showcases a few items from her personal papers.
Affectionately known as “Mother York,” she ministered in the Cook County correctional system for over 43 years, bringing the Christian message of love and redemption to inmates and correctional officers alike.
Born and raised in Chicago, Consuella York demonstrated an early aptitude for preaching, inherited from her Baptist preacher father. In her 1988 oral history interviews held in the Archives, York recalls winning a prize for oratory in 1948 and shortly afterward entered the Chicago Baptist Institute, where she studied advanced homiletics and pastoral theology, despite the fact that her church denomination did not ordain women as clergy members or allow them to preach. In the same oral history interview, York describes the day 1952 that changed the direction of her life: Continue reading
Accession 19-31. A portion of the Elisabeth Elliot Gren papers, which were donated in 2019 by her husband, Lars Gren, with assistance from Kathy and David Reeg.
As the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives greets New Year 2020, we remember with thanks the accessions of 2019. Every profession has its own special terminology, rarely used by those outside it. Architects have muntin. Archivists have accession. We share the word with libraries, museums, and some monarchs. As a verb (in archival usage), to accession or accessioning means logging a new item into our collections. As a noun, it refers to an individual addition, which might be a single photograph or hundreds of boxes of correspondence. Archivists accept diverse material from a wide variety of sources and are much more inclined to collect than divest materials (although in recent years deaccessioning has become more of a priority among institutions). For the Archives, 2019 will always be remembered as the year when the records from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association that had been deposited in the Archives were returned to the BGEA at its request. But it was also a year that brought a variety of significant, unusual, and wonderful additions.
Accession 19-34. Undated photo of the staff of the American Sunday School Union. An example of the many individual items sent to us unsolicited by kind donors.
The telegram contained only a single sentence: “Cablegram from mission headquarters Shanghai reports Stam baby safe Wuhu.”
Viewed today, the fragile, yellowing Western Union message is unremarkable, but to Peter Stam, its original recipient in Paterson, New Jersey, the telegram furnished yet another detail in a still-unfolding tragedy on the other side of the world. But this time it was good news. Signed by Robert Glover, longtime North America Home Director for China Inland Mission, the telegram announced to desperate, waiting relatives that their granddaughter was alive and safe at Wuhu General Hospital in Anhui Province, China, the same institution where she had been born three months earlier. Only now she was an orphan.
The deaths of John and Betty Stam at the hands of communist soldiers and the “miraculous” survival of their daughter, Helen Priscilla, have been documented in multiple books, articles, blogs, and testimonies over the decades, becoming something of twentieth-century American evangelical missionary lore. Much like Jim Elliot and the “Auca Incident” twenty years later, the Stams’ deaths shocked American Fundamentalists, heightening anxiety over the spread of global communism and inspiring a new generation of missions efforts. Continue reading