My Press Conference with Billy Graham

It’s time to be grateful for Billy Graham, who died Wednesday at age 99. I have several BG stories, but what means the most is that Billy was the focal point of my first press conference in 1971. Afterward, the story that resulted became my first journalistic byline in Texas Christian University’s The Daily Skiff. It meant a lot that this inaugural byline story combined journalism and faith.

TCU Horned Frog and Campus Crusader Doug Macfarline arranged passes for us to this press-only event. I had the “sort of” legitimate press credential, majoring in journalism and getting the editors’ permission to represent The Daily Skiff. Our friend and driver Mike Sears provided car and camera. We were set for the conference at the Cowboys’ Texas Stadium press room. Not only was Billy Graham there but also Dallas Cowboy’s coach Tom Landry and quarterback Roger Staubach. Texas heaven! Handsome Billy was larger than life with a firm handshake and steady eye contact. Tom and Roger impressed us, because they quietly made time to meet the college students.

Billy Graham, 1971, Dallas
Billy Graham visits with Doug Macfarline and blurry me. Photo by Mike Sears

This week I dug out my “Evangelist Says Young Are Vital.” It strikes me from

How the story appeared.

reading it that back in the 1970s American youth led the way to many cultural changes. Perhaps they are doing the same this past week in protesting the cultural violence that has become too commonplace.   Here is the story:

 

Evangelist Says Young Are Vital

By Cynthia Schaible

Evangelist Billy Graham confessed Wednesday, Sept. 15, his work would have “petered out” except for the interest of young people.

He talked about youth and the Jesus Revolution to some 50 media persons at a press conference in Dallas’ Texas Stadium.

Coach of the Dallas Cowboys Tom Landry, also executive chairman of Graham’s Dallas Crusade, introduced Graham by saying, “His team has only one quarterback. If I had his quarterback, I wouldn’t have any trouble either.”

Graham, 52, said he feels that his evangelism is much more acceptable now than in the first few years of his 21-year career. Some 60 to 70 percent of the audiences are under 25 years of age. “Young people want more than a creed in their heads; they want an experience in their hearts.”

Jesus People

“Problems are deeper than materialism. Our problems are with the heart. This is something my generation has not understood. We’ve got the finest set of civil rights laws ever, but it does not solve the race problems. Love must come from the heart and Jesus can put it there,” Graham said.

Graham, who just returned from a tour of Europe, commented on his amazement at the interest in the Jesus Revolution both there and here, “We’re all Jesus people, who love Jesus.”

He said that five years ago the youth were turning to drugs and eastern religions for answers, but now young Americans are becoming aware these are not the answers.

Commenting on the difference between the old generation and the new, Graham said parents who suffered in the Depression and World War II did not want their children to suffer in that way, but he added, “I think my generation somehow got the idea that man can ‘live by bread alone’.”

“Problems are deeper than materialism. Our problems are with the heart. This is something my generation has not understood. We’ve got the finest set of civil rights laws ever, but it does not solve the race problems. Love must come from the heart and Jesus can put it there,” Graham said.

Included in the Jesus Movement is the Pentecostal Movement. Graham said this movement is happening because “we went through a period where the church starved for true experience. People are hungry to know Christ personally. Some are going to extremes. Emotionalism could cause a backlash.”

Church Errs

One purpose of the Crusades is to relate young people to the Church. Graham said some churches make either one of two errors. The fundamentalist error is the view that all a person needs is to be saved; the other error—achieving social justice and not worrying about salvation.

“I think there is only one gospel. The first commandment Jesus talks about is to love God with all your hearts, souls, and minds, and then love our neighbors as ourselves…The first four commandments talk about a relationship with God; the next six talk about a relationship with man…there needs to be a balance.”

Graham, crusading for the third time in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, hasn’t been here since 1953. The Crusade runs Sept. 17-Sept. 26, the first event in the almost completed Texas Stadium.

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A Little More on Billy and Ruth

“Some day you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

Billy Graham preaching at crusade, Charlotte Armory, 1947, (photo, Billy Graham Library).
Billy and Ruth Graham comfort victims from a 7.5 earthquake in Guatemala, 1976 (photo, Billy Graham Library).

 

A cemetery gravesite for two shows the marker for Ruth Bell Graham, surrounded by grass, flowers, and tree.
Ruth Bell Graham’s gravesite on the Billy Graham Library property in Charlotte, North Carolina (CSB photo, 2017).

 

A marker at Ruth Bell Graham’s gravesite says, “While riding down the highway years ago, Ruth noticed a sign beside the road, “End of Construction–Thank you for your patience.” With a smile, she said that these were the words she wanted on her gravestone.”

A marker at Ruth Bell Graham's gravesite says, "While riding down the highway years ago, Ruth noticed a sign beside the road, "End of Construction--Thank you for your patience." With a smile, she said that these were the words she wanted on her gravestone"

Our New Friend Knew Hitler

He is an elderly man with Einstein hair and a blue cane covered with stars and suns. After shuffling into the booth next to our table at IHOP, he chats in a friendly German accent about pancakes, weather, and Adolf Hitler. We introduce ourselves, and he says his name is Wolfgang. Here is some of our conversation.

IHOP Crepes
IHOP crepes–Chef Wolfgang’s recommendation

Sleepovers at Hitler’s Home

Wolfgang says his father was one of Hitler’s drivers prior to World War 2.  Every year Adolf would hold spring and fall picnics for employees and their families. However, babies were not allowed; the invitation extended to those ages four and up.

At one of these picnics Wolfgang discovers a playmate in Kristina. She is one of at least two children fathered by Hitler through different prostitutes and reared in the Hitler household. “No one talks about any of this,” says Wolfgang, but he states he knows the truth because he experienced it.

Hitler poses with a little boy and girl who look like they are caught by surprise. Identities unknown.

Wolfgang spends many overnights at Hitler’s home, sleeping with his childhood friend. At age eight Kristina and he declare they will marry each other when they grow up.

Soldier at Age 12

War disrupts those plans. Wolfgang  says he is drafted into the army at age 12 and a half. He is placed in charge of four other boys simply because he is the tallest. Toward the end of the Battle of the Bulge his charges are dead, and he finds himself dropping into a foxhole in No Man’s Land. He claims that an American soldier, not much older than himself, is already in the hole.

The two young soldiers eye each other with suspicion and dread as the bombs explode over them. Wolfgang says it seems like two hours but probably is only twenty minutes.

American soldiers of the 290th Infantry Regiment 75th Division photographed in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge. {Amonines, Belgium 4 January 1945}
American soldiers of the 290th Infantry Regiment 75th Division photographed in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge. (Amonines, Belgium, January 4, 1945, Wikipedia photo)

The American soldier suggests, “You crawl out first; I’ll follow.” Wolfgang knows better. “No, you go first.”

Their situation is so crazy they finally break out laughing.

Then they agree to both throw their weapons toward their respective front lines. Wolfgang hangs onto the soldier’s leg until both of them are out together and both run in opposite directions.

POW Life

Not that day, but eventually Wolfgang becomes a POW. He is fortunate to get a job assisting in a GI kitchen near his village. Unfortunately,  he runs away with some food to take to his starving mother and two siblings. He is caught and presumed AWOL.

German soldiers surrender from The Battle of the Bulge (December/January, 1945).

He says he is lined up against a wall with four soldiers ready to fire upon him.

The officer in charge, however, asks him why he ran away. He explains that he intended to return after giving the food to his family. Mercifully, the officer believes him and returns him to the kitchen.

A week later he is called into the commander’s office where two soldiers stand at attention. Wolfgang says he again fears for his life.

But the commander points to a large basket of food and says, “You will go into the village to your family with these soldiers. When the weekend is over, they will pick you up and bring you to work in the kitchen.” For some time that becomes Wolfgang’s routine.

After the War

Chef rather than Cook

After the war, Wolfgang receives a letter from Kristina in Argentina. She wants him to come to her. His parents tell him absolutely not, and he obeys.

As an adult Wolfgang travels the world learning various cooking styles. He tells us about several local jobs he quit, because the employer wanted a cook rather than a chef.

Wolfgang and Prayers

We converse a little about faith, but Wolfgang is absolute in his agnosticism. He reasons one really cannot know what truth is because everyone believes so differently. He is neutral about whether God exists or not. I tell this elderly man  I will pray he finds Jesus close to him in the days ahead. Wolfgang says he is fine with that.

It is a remarkable conversation one doesn’t expect while eating bacon and eggs at IHOP. Chef Wolfgang declares he likes to eat his crepes cold, but we are long done with our breakfast. It is time to say Auf Wiedersehen.

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Note: I could not document the girl Kristina in a quick online search. Wolfgang says he is writing his story and sending excerpts to his sister in Germany, who puts them on a website. 

My cousin Jeannie has a newspaper photograph clipping of my Great Grandmother about to shake hands with Hitler. My Uncle Johnny, a WW2 veteran, couldn’t stand that picture and almost threw it away. Unknown to me he decided to keep it.  I am glad my cousin Jeannie recently shared this info with me. The fact remains that Hitler, in his time, could appear as an angel of light to many. (Note: an earlier version of this blog unknowingly stated the clipping was destroyed. A copy of it is below.)

Great-grandmother, far left

 

 

What I Learned From Refugees

In light of current events I’m reposting a blog about  tutoring refugees in 2015. Two facts: 1) They need support. 2) We won’t be able to help them all.

But here’s a challenge: our government, under Democrat and Republican presidents, has not and cannot do as much as people wish. I urge you to consider thoughtfully and prayerfully doing something that makes life better for at least one refugee. Protesting makes a point, but volunteer hands and feet, and private pocketbooks, speak louder. There are opportunities everywhere.

This could happen to any of us. (two photos by anonymous friend)

Heartbreaking Statistics

For the first time since WWII more than 50 million refugees worldwide are displaced permanently, and the number is climbing. The media has shown

 

Syrian refugees in 2015 seek safe refuge in Europe.  Photo courtesy of the UN Refugee Agency.

 

many disturbing images. In the summer of 2015, I tutored refugees in an English as a Second Language class. Fresh off the planes, they came from Burma, the Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba. Here are some impressions:

KFC, Cheesecake, Ice Cream

“I like KFC. It–it is good,” says the middle-aged Iraqi woman, when asked her favorite American foods. “Oh, and cheesecake is very delicious,” she adds. She tells me she spent four years in Jordan after fleeing Iraq. She wants to work as a chef. One of her adult sons is with her in the U.S., but she worries about the other one still in Iraq. “It is very dangerous,” she says.

When her U.S. son picks her up from class, he asks how his mother is doing. His English is good. I suggest he might help her with homework. He frowns, “I want her to learn to do it herself.” I gently say she might learn faster if he helps. There’s silence. I don’t think this idea is going to fly in entrenched cultural roles.

“I like ice cream,” smiles the petite, shy twenty-year-old from Burma. She draws a picture of her former home—a thatched hut on stilts. Now she lives in a city apartment with her sister and brother-in-law. She enjoys listening to Christian music on her iPhone and wants to be a tailor. She is always early to class with homework completed.

Afghan Brothers

“My father is old; my mother is happy; my girlfriend is beautiful.” These are the sentences using adjectives that two Afghani brothers create. They have only been in the U.S. a few days. Their English is poor, they say, because they have spent five years in Hungary, followed by four in Turkey. They yawn a lot from jet lag and are cautious. After asking their ages, I realize they were ten and eleven years old when they left Afghanistan.

The Congo Family Refugees

As summer progresses the Congo family from a Burundi refugee camp is a joy to tutor and a mystery. During their first time to class, they have only been in the U.S. about 10 days. Trauma is evident in tense bodies, sad eyes, and the way they interact with one another. They speak mostly French and Swahili. I notice the depressed mother and 22-year-old daughter have several scars on their arms; the mother has scars across her throat. The son, about 21-years-old, seems healthy, but he misses classes because of sickness and doctor appointments.

From the start, they are A students. The daughter tells me she has seven brothers and sisters. About a month later, the daughter reports her three middle school brothers have arrived at the airport. Mom will not be coming to class anymore.

Cubans and Iraqi Refugees

My tutoring also includes a beefy mechanic from Cuba, who is interested in learning about the Craigslist classified jobs. A sad Cuban woman comes to class only twice—she is grieving the eight-year-old son she left behind with grandma for economic opportunities. She says it is never possible for her son to come to the U.S. I don’t know if this is true, but it is true for her at that moment.

Most of the refugees I meet are motivated to work and want to make lots of money. Sometimes they are disappointed they cannot have the jobs they dreamed about. In the case of the Iraqis, many are white collar professionals, who risked their lives to help the U.S. military. Now they must work at lower-paying jobs like valet parking, janitorial work, and housekeeping and restaurant services. Still, they are the fortunate ones who won the residential lottery.

Kevin and Vicki Witte with 12 of their Nepali friends, former refugees now settled in Colorado. (photo provided by Vicki Witte)
Kevin and Vicki Witte with some of their Nepali friends, former refugees now settled in Colorado. (photo provided by Vicki Witte) Find Vicki’s insightful blog at:

Is a Nickel Worth More Than a Dime?

World Relief offers a free study guide download and first chapter of this book at https://www.worldrelief.org/seekingrefuge

In class, students and teachers smile a lot and use hand gestures. I learn too.  For example, I never thought about how foreigners must discern that even though a dime is smaller than a nickel, its value is twice as much. Initially, they confuse a quarter with a nickel.

When we “read” 1:00 p.m. we say, “one o’clock”—not zero o’clock. Some of the refugees do not comprehend our mail system or banking, because they do not have access to these systems in their countries.

Running a Fever?

During one session Teacher Cameron goes over the basics of a health clinic and pharmacy. How can one understand what “running a fever” is, when one doesn’t speak or read English? Could they explain to a doctor such words as constipation or diarrhea. Will they give the proper dosage of medicine to a sick child? Will they accurately tell the doctor which body part hurts? So many daily culture actions we do automatically.

In my summer as an ESL tutor, my greatest reward was seeing several refugees become less stressed. Their body language became more relaxed, and there were genuine smiles and some joking. They all said they appreciated America’s safety.

Do You know the Difference Between “Refugee” and “Immigrant”?

I thought these nouns were interchangeable. Now I know an immigrant has more choices in migrating to another country.  Because of war or natural catastrophe, a refugee never goes “home.” Refugees, many who live for nine years in a camp, must wait for someone–some country–to adopt them. Sadly, children and women are not safe in many of these camps.

I learned the U.S. is one of the only countries that accepts refugees with health issues. In 2015, there were approximately 70,000 refugees per year admitted to the U.S.–this number was down from the 100,000 per year that came to the U.S. under President Clinton. The government decides which refugees to take and from which countries. Why some countries and not others? A refugee worker I heard answered, “Who knows? But it is no secret that the government doesn’t do anything for free.”

We can always do better. The question is, “What does that look like?” Our political system’s failure cannot be an excuse for doing less or nothing at all. “Who is my neighbor?” is a soul-searching question that dances with “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” Each person must wrestle with the answers, and then hopefully do something to help, even if it is outside the comfort zone.

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A Blog About Refugees

Friend Vicki Witte spends a lot of time helping refugees, and she blogs about it at:

https://stand4welcome.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/american-dream/

A Good Movie

Reese Witherspoon, starring as a social worker in "The Good Lie" movie greets three Sudanese refugees at a Kansas airport.
I recommend the movie The Good Lie, with Reese Witherspoon. Here, as a social worker, she greets Sudanese arrivals at a Kansas airport. Some of the actors are former refugees. Photo courtesy of Alcorn Entertainment/Warner Bros.