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 BGC 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 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

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 BGC 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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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 BGC Archives pauses to commemorate the beginnings of Rev. Graham’s evangelistic ministry as a fledgling undergraduate preacher at Wheaton College in 1941.

The BGC 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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Ruth Bell Graham and Peace With God

Archival materials find their way to the Billy Graham Center Archives in a myriad different ways. Some materials arrive en masse, in shipping pallets or moving trucks. Other materials wander through the Archives’ doors an item or two at a time. While most collections consist of preplanned donations, other items find their way to the Archives’ vault by way of serendipity—a chance discovery in a grandparent’s attic or secondhand bookseller.

In much the same way, this first edition copy of Billy Graham’s Peace with God traveled a circuitous road to the BGC Archives. Discovered in a yard sale by a casual browser, the book’s fly leaf revealed a startling previous owner: Ruth Bell Graham.

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The fly leaf of this first edition copy of Peace With God lists the Graham family home address in  Montreat, N.C. and contains Ruth Graham’s revisions for the second edition, published in 1984.

Not only did the slim, dark green first edition belong to Ruth Graham, its pages are riddled with her annotations. The unsuspecting yard sale browser quickly realized the unique value of the book and donated it to the Billy Graham Center Archives in 1997, where it is now housed in Collection 15: Papers of Billy Graham. Continue reading