Next week will mark the five year anniversary of Rev. Billy Graham’s passing on February 21, 2018. This month, in remembrance of his remarkable life and legacy, Buswell Library Archives & Special Collections commemorates the beginnings of Billy Graham’s evangelistic ministry as a fledgling undergraduate preacher at Wheaton College in 1940.
During Billy Graham’s time as a student at Florida Bible Institute (1937-1940), Alma Toff Edman, mother of then-interim president of Wheaton College, V. Raymond Edman, heard Graham preach at a local service. Impressed, she told her son Elner Edman and his friend Paul Fischer about the young preacher and urged that they hear him too. The two men invited Graham with them as a caddy for a round of golf. Similarly impressed with his passion for ministry and gift for speaking, they urged him to attend Wheaton College after graduating from FBI, to add a liberal arts education to his Bible and homiletics training. Graham applied to Wheaton and was accepted, starting on September 19, 1940.
On October 15, 1956, 65 years ago today, Christianity Today published their first issue. Explaining the place of the new magazine in an editorial titled “Why Christianity Today?”, the editors stated, “evangelical Christianity needs a clear voice, to speak with conviction, and love, and to state its true position and its relevance to the world crisis.” Employing that clear voice to wide effect, this first printing was sent to more than 250,000 pastors, seminary students, and evangelical Christian leaders across the world.
An autographed copy of this first issue, as well as correspondence, board meeting minutes, financial reports, memos, photographs, audio tapes, and other material mostly relating to the founding of the magazine and a wide range of religious, social, and political issues can be found in Collection 8: Records of Christianity Today, held here at the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives.
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.
“‘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).
“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.
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.
A rare image of Billy Graham as a young pastor, speaking at Western Springs Baptist Church in 1944.
Archival materials find their way to the Wheaton College 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 Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives. Discovered in a yard sale by a casual browser, the book’s fly leaf revealed a startling previous owner: Ruth Bell Graham.
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 Archives in 1997, where it is now housed in Collection 15: Papers of Billy Graham.