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

 

 

Grateful for the Wiseman Snow Globe

I know you are done with Christmas, but I want you to hear the story of the snow globe wiseman and a mother who is grateful every New Year.

Not Three, But One

The traditional three wisemen

Of course, traditionally wisemen come in sets of three. But when my son was 19 he gave me a stocking stuffer of one bearded Mideasterner trekking in a snowy globe. This gift was unwrapped after we had worshipped together at a candlelight service singing Silent Night, Holy Night.

I remember looking at my soldier holding his candle and realizing that this could be our last Christmas together. I was thinking about a Georgia graduation days before and

He would experience much combat.

the Ranger commander’s voice ringing out his declaration: “Family and friends, I am here to tell you that your Ranger will see combat! I guarantee it! But I am also here to tell you that he is among the best fighters in the world!”

Our son was deployed to Iraq that New Year’s Eve fourteen years ago. My little wiseman snow globe became a symbol of that time and our soldier.

Prayer and Peace

Looking back, I marvel that there was so much peace about this deployment. Later, I would hear combat stories and shiver in wonder. But during this time, I had an army of family and friends praying for him. A couple of times I imagined two soldiers walking up the sidewalk and ringing our doorbell with bad news. But generally there was much peace, and our son came home.

Not that lucky

 

Today, he saves lives in a hospital ER. This Christmas I showed him the snow globe and asked if he remembered it. He did not.

Recently he asked me what I say to atheists who ask why I believe in God. He said, “You know what I tell them, Mom? I say, ‘I am just not that lucky.’”

 

To this God I am eternally grateful for a mother’s prayer answered. And the little wiseman snow globe is my yearly reminder.

One little wiseman
Two grateful grandparents