“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

Chariot Racing in the Archives

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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

Getting Lost in the Archives: A Conversation with Dr. Amber Thomas Reynolds

Thomas HeadshotThis September, we sat down with Dr. Amber Thomas Reynolds—Wheaton College Grad School alumna and archives enthusiast—and plied her with questions about the challenges, joys, and adventures of archival research. A longtime patron of the Billy Graham Center Archives, Dr. Reynolds relied heavily on our resources for both her MA thesis at Wheaton College and PhD dissertation at the University of Edinburgh. Currently serving as a guest assistant professor at Wheaton College, Dr. Reynolds can be found in the history department, where she is teaching World History Since 1500 and US Pop Culture Since 1900 this semester. Continue reading

Tibet Through Victor Plymire’s Camera

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.

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Victor Plymire in Tibet. Undated.

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

Billy Graham and the Presidential Election of 1944

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.

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A rare image of Billy Graham as a young pastor, speaking at Western Springs Baptist Church in 1944.

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Campus Ministry and Bird Watching: John Stott’s 1962 Africa Tour

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NAIROBI, KENYA. Stott with the GCU President at Nairobi.

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

Getting Acquainted with the Archives: A Student Worker’s Perspective

Hannah head shotAbout the author: Hannah Ting is a Wheaton College junior, majoring in anthropology and media communication. She has worked at the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives since August 2017.

Two years ago, I didn’t know exactly what I was signing up for. As a freshman at Wheaton College, I stumbled upon the unique opportunity to become a student worker at the Archives. Naively conjuring ambiguous, exaggerated notions of what an archives was and what archivists did, I ventured into the following school year, eager to begin my adventure in the mysterious place on the fourth floor of the Billy Graham Center. Continue reading

Billy Graham’s “Strange Things”

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 1941.

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.”

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The entire sermon outline of “Strange Things,” dated November 5, 1941. Over its lifespan, the document has obviously been folded in half, stored in a three-ring binder, and taped down the middle to hold it open during preaching.

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The Travels of Corrie ten Boom

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Corrie ten Boom on her travels.

Dutch evangelist and writer Corrie ten Boom is likely best known today for her best-selling autobiography The Hiding Place. Published in 1971, The Hiding Place describes the ten Boom family’s courageous efforts, inspired by their Christian faith, to hide Jewish refugees during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The book documents the ten Boom’s harrowing work in Amsterdam, ultimate discovery by the Nazis, and Corrie and her sister Betsie’s experiences in Ravensbrück, a women’s concentration camp in northern Germany, where Betsie died of starvation in December 1944. To date, The Hiding Place has sold millions of copies worldwide and was adapted into a film of the same title by World Wide Pictures in 1975.

While Corrie ten Boom’s legacy of love, sacrifice, and forgiveness during the horrors of World War II is remembered and celebrated, less well-known is her Christian service after the war. Following her release—due to a clerical error—in December 1944, Corrie returned to the Netherlands where she established a home called the Schapendunien for concentration camp survivors. That same year she founded the Ten Boom Foundation (reorganized as the Corrie ten Boom Stichting in 1960) and published her first account of her wartime experiences titled Gevangene En Toch… Herrinneringen Uit Scheveningen, Vught En Ravensbruck (1946). From 1945 until she retired from active ministry in 1977, Corrie became a sought-after writer and evangelist, publishing books in multiple languages and crisscrossing the globe to speak at events sponsored by Youth for Christ, J. Edwin Orr’s Revival Fellowship Team, the International Congress on World Evangelization, and eventually under the auspices of her own Foundation, among many others.

Today, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives is home to an assortment of Corrie ten Boom materials, including family photo albums, recordings of evangelistic messages, personal correspondence, and Corrie ten Boom Stichting publications. Continue reading