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.
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.
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
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
On any given Saturday, thousands of Americans are giving garage sales and tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands are looking over these dubious treasures as they lay on card tables set up on the driveway and the lawn. One thought that must strike anyone who has glanced over these accumulations is that one person, one family in a lifetime sure collects a lot of stuff. Some of it is obvious – old TV guides, second best dinner settings. Others are inexplicable – a 1300-year-old coin, a vintage Monopoly board game. Archivists too, often have the same revelation. When we get the papers of an individual, it is because they contain substantial information on the topic which is the Archives’ main area of interest. But there will be other things as well that reflect all the unexpected corners one encounters when intruding in the remains of another person’s life. Continue reading
As a major research center dedicated to evangelism and global missions, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives houses a wide swath of materials from around the world – missionaries’ prayer letters from Peru, family correspondence from Iran, radio broadcasts from Monaco, church records in Swahili, travel reports from Russia, evangelistic tracts from China, maps of Tanzania, blueprints from Japan, and much more.
All missionaries, to some extent, document the culture where they serve—its people, customs, food, music, languages, landscape, and history. For many missionaries and Christian aid workers, this documentation is merely a small part of their work. It appears in throwaway line in a prayer letter to supporters at home, a handful of bullet points in the annual report for the mission headquarters, or a detailed paragraph in a personal diary entry. Together, these fragments can offer researchers today a glimpse into the experiences of past Christian workers as they encountered the new, unexpected, and often bewildering realities of missionary service around the globe.
This August, the Archives showcases one such item—a stunning photograph album created by Assemblies of God missionary Victor Plymire between 1926 and 1930. For nearly four decades, Victor Plymire (1881-1956) lived, toured, evangelized, and planted churches throughout Tibet. For much of his ministry, Plymire traveled with the Tibetan trade caravans that crisscrossed the country. Each stop along the trade route—cities, lamaseries, temples, and remote outposts—presented an opportunity to both preach the Christian gospel and document the local culture. A gifted amateur photographer, Plymire’s photographs reveal not only his exceptional eye for detail, but also his deep fascination with the Tibetan people and landscape. His photos and silent, black and white film footage capture the bustle and vibrancy of Tibetan cities, temples, and festivals, alongside breathtaking images of lonely mountain ranges and sprawling plains. Continue reading
Biographers of Billy Graham and scholars of American evangelicalism have long been interested in Graham’s involvement in U.S. politics, particularly his relationship with every U.S. president dating back to Harry S. Truman. While whole books have been dedicated to examining these connections, Graham’s earliest foray into presidential politics has, to date, escaped notice. This July, the Archives highlights Billy Graham’s brief, but fascinating, correspondence with presidential candidate Thomas Dewey during his 1944 election campaign against incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In August of 1944, the twenty-four year old Billy Graham was serving in his first and only pastorate, a small congregation in the Chicago suburbs. After graduating from Wheaton College the year before, Graham and his new wife Ruth accepted a call to Western Springs Baptist Church, where they ministered for the next two years. During his pastorate, Graham became increasingly involved with Youth for Christ, touring the upper Midwest and eventually coast to coast, preaching at youth rallies with Torrey Johnson and other rising YFC evangelists.
In the spring of 1962, John Stott (1921-2011) returned to the African continent for a second series of campus missions at colleges and universities at the invitation of the Pan-African Fellowship of Evangelical Students (PAFES) that was made up of English-speaking movements of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES). This model of campus missions was repeated again and again in the 1960s when Stott also traveled to North America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, and across Europe. Subsequent decades through the 1990s were marked by more travel and ministry. Known across the span of his life as an Anglican minister, Evangelical theologian, evangelist, and author, John Stott is described by his biographer, Timothy Dudley-Smith in the second volume of his two-part work, John Stott: A Global Ministry. “The start of the 1960s found John Stott an international figure in the field of student evangelism” (p. 105). During his Africa sojourn, Stott’s visits stretched from Sierra Leone to Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and down to Rhodesia. Dudley-Smith captured glimpses of these stops (pp. 106-110). Stott’s first trip to the African continent in 1959 focused primarily on meetings in various cities of South Africa, but also added ministry and bird watching stops in Ruanda-Urundi, Uganda, and Kenya.) Continue reading
Last Thursday we marked the one year anniversary of Billy Graham’s passing, the culmination of a remarkable life and legacy. This March, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives pauses to commemorate the beginnings of Rev. Graham’s evangelistic ministry as a fledgling undergraduate preacher at Wheaton College in 1940.
The Archives holds thousands of Billy Graham’s sermons and talks, on paper, wire recordings, phonograph records, audio tapes, digital files, films and videos. He delivered these messages in a wide variety of locations and circumstances, both in the United States and abroad, from the Sports Stadium in Berlin where Hitler once orated, to the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference in Monterey, CA, to the National Cathedral in Washington DC after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Of all the Billy Graham sermons the Archives contains, one of the most interesting as well as the earliest in the collection is “Strange Things.”