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.  

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“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.

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“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.

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Celebrating 40 Years of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center!

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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

“This is My Story, This is My Song”: Celebrating Two Centuries of Fanny Crosby

Fanny Crosby Portrait

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

“Stam Baby Safe”: Remembering John and Betty Stam

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.

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Telegram sent by Robert Glover, China Inland Mission Home Director for North America from 1929-1943. The original telegram is found in Collection 449: Ephemera of the Stam Family.

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

Still “Geared to the Times, Anchored to the Rock”: Celebrating 75 Years of Youth for Christ

“‘What are you doing? Can’t we do it here? How do you get started?” And we did everything we possibly could to help everybody we possibly could. And they came here, and we sent people out there, and we were busy” (CN 285, Tape 3).

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Torrey Johnson, founding member and first president of Youth for Christ.

“Busy” is how Torrey Maynard Johnson describes the explosion of interest in youth evangelism stemming from the runaway success of Youth for Christ evangelistic rallies in Chicago in 1944. In a 1984 oral history interview with Archives staff, Johnson recalls the rapid emergence of Youth for Christ during World War II, a movement that innovated evangelism practices—specifically targeting young people—launched the career of a young Billy Graham, and became an international phenomenon still ministering to young adults today.

This November, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives celebrates seventy-five years of Youth for Christ, and explores the origins and early rallies of Youth for Christ in Chicago prior to its formal establishment in November 1944. Continue reading