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"

Samaritan’s Purse and BG’s RRT After Hurricane Harvey

A map of south Houston shows Santa Fe circled bearing south of Houston and west of Galveston.
Santa Fe, Texas, is south of Houston in Galveston County. Record rain from Hurricane Harvey fell beginning August 25.

Recently, I went to hurricane-hit Galveston County, Texas, with the Billy Graham’s Rapid Response Team (RRT) chaplains in tandem with Samaritan’s Purse volunteers. It was a hope-filled experience. Even now, hundreds of Americans are still quietly helping recent disaster victims find a new normal.

The “Orange Shirts” of  Samaritan’s Purse 

Sixteen men and women in orange shirts stand in front of a black semi-truck that bears the name Samaritan's Purse.

Women with long brownish-grey hair sits in a car and talks to a chaplain in blue shirt and tan cap.
Homeowner Rita is relieved Samaritan’s Purse crew help rid her home of mold.

Many of these volunteers work under Samaritan’s Purse and are nicknamed the “Orange Shirts.” They come from all over the country and do home clean-up and rebuilding. They range in age from teenagers to senior citizens.   Working with them are the “Blue Shirts” or RRT chaplains who offer emotional and spiritual care to volunteers, home owners, and their communities. Chaplains do a lot of listening, a lot of praying, and a lot of traveling in rent-a-cars from one work site to another. In between, they are available to pray and visit with anyone who shows interest.

A large group of sitting orange shirt volunteers and two blue shirt volunteers listen to a speaker standing by a white board.
Morning meeting and a devotion from Ohio’s Pastor Spencer
Three U-haul trucks in a parking lot have three groups of orange-shirt volunteers in prayer huddles.
Prayer huddles before morning work begins.

Some Q’s and A’s

Do volunteers alleviate all the disaster problems? No. Statistics are fairly constant that 70-80 percent of disaster victims already are dealing with a crisis before a disaster occurs. Problems, for example, might be legal (divorce), medical (dialysis, cancer, drug addiction), financial (unemployment, bankruptcy), or emotional (grief, depression). One of my trainers says “travel in their lane” when offering comfort and “listen, listen, listen.” After a disaster, healing comes more readily when victims articulate their stories and feelings to a safe person.

Do I feel spiritually worthy to be a chaplain? Not really. I bank on the fact that God uses weaknesses.

Two blue-shirt women and a man in orange shirt flank a smiling blond-hair grandma with two little girls dressed in princess customs. Behind them are a wall of crosses and the words "God Be With You."
Homeowner Holly and her two granddaughters joined us for supper. All homeowners are invited for a meal. Also pictured are team lead Brian Bartholme and Chaplain Linda Wentzel.
Woman sitting in car touches a Bible that another woman, standing by her, is holding. Both are smiling.
Orange Shirts autograph the special Bible each homeowner receives after a completed project. Here homeowner Rita is with her friend Kate.

 Am I trained and vetted? Yes. Earlier this year I spent five days at Billy Graham Association’s training facility “The Cove,” Asheville, North Carolina. Prior to that I filled out a lengthy application form which required seven references and an FBI check.  I also had a phone interview with a staff member. Training courses are available online too, and some are mandatory.

Why did I feel that I should go? It is difficult to explain, but I sensed a nudging and a calling to do it.

A corner of an empty room, with tan walls and brown carpet, shows an air mattress with sheets and blanket on it and a blue and purple towel draped over a folding chair, with black suitcase and tan travel bag on the side and end of mattress.
Cozy corner
The tan wall has the word "Yes" painted on it in darker tan paint.
The wall graffiti helped me decide which Sunday school classroom to choose for a bedroom.

Was I scared? Yes, a little bit. I was uncertain I would last the week.

Did God show up? Yes. He was right there.

 

Three smiling middle age women in orange shirt and one smiling woman in blue shirt link arms for photo.
My roomies: Gloria, Bev, and Hatti, from Missouri and Arizona

Many Hands Needed

Because there is overwhelming needs after a disaster most help from both religious and secular organizations is welcomed.

Samaritan’s Purse is probably best known for its Christmas shoe box ministry for underprivileged children, but it also is an international relief ministry. Following NYC’s 911 in 2001, Franklin Graham witnessed so much emotional and spiritual pain that he started the BGRRT chaplaincy program. Since then hundreds of chaplains have been trained and now regularly receive email lists of deployment dates.

Some, but not all chaplains, are trained for manmade disasters such as the recent Las Vegas shooting. When a chaplain finds a week-long date convenient, he or she emails back availability. Then a staff member in North Carolina puts together a team and lets the chaplains know when they will be deployed.  I served with eight other chaplains in Santa Fe, Texas, among about 90 Samaritan’s Purse volunteers. There were seven such sites in Texas at that time. Our site had over 800 work orders for damaged properties garnered from Samaritan’s Purse staff who make the initial contacts and assess damaged homes.

Hallway shows many different kinds of muddy shoes on both walls with a blue plastic "Samaritan's Purse" cover on the floor.
Flood work shoes are contaminated; they were taken off at night and put back on in the morning.

Our group was housed in the educational center of Santa Fe’s First Baptist Church–Alta Loma.  Cooks prepared breakfasts and suppers for us in the church dining hall (we also packed brown bag lunches).  Samaritan’s Purse rolled in a semi-truck equipped with eight private, air conditioned showers. [Thank you!]

A bearded man, woman in apron and cap, and another woman in grey t-shirt sit at a round table smiling.
Resting a little after feeding breakfast to hungry volunteers are California cooks Carl and Lana Wray with Pennsylvania manager Cheryl Bradbury.

Heroes

After my “rookie chaplain” experience, the homeowners and local churches now remain in my prayers. They are my heroes as they persevere with daily tasks and work to get their lives back together the best they can. This Thanksgiving and Christmas will be rough for them so keep them in your prayers and donate where and when you can.Ranch house has new insulation on its outside, with lots of garbage on the curbs between the red pick-up in the driveway.

Lots of leaves and some trash cover the driveway by a brick house. Second photo shows all the debris is gone.
Before and after photos of yard clean-up

There were other new heroes for me. I came away with greater appreciation for Samaritan’s Purse staff and the “Orange Shirts,”  who work all day in sweltering heat and do yucky jobs like “mucking out” flooded houses.

Let’s just say when stuff rots for eight weeks there is a lot of  yuckiness to remove. I heard minimal complaining from the volunteers. They really are the salt of the earth.

 

A photo from car showing a street lined with lots of discarded household items and garbage that was flood-damaged.

Orange shirted men are kneeling beside a kitchen sink with masked covering their mouths and noses.
Unexpected mold is the enemy

 

Man on roof of small building is clearing away debris. A red ladder is leaned against the building and another man is walking toward the building.
Tarping a roof

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An orange shirted man holds a ladder while another man stands on it and adjusts a raised American flag and pole.
Restoring a veteran’s flag and pole
Standing inside a U-haul, an orange shirted man is helping an orange-shirted woman adjust her mask.
Samaritan’s Purse volunteer Denise Houchins prepares for some serious mold spraying.

 

A group of 15 men and woman of various ages wave at the camera with big smiles.
Ohio church team waves farewell before heading home.

 

A young man and a middle age man sit at a round table and smile.
Father and son team Vaughn and Jake Ticknor from Montana led work crews while taking time off from their family’s construction business.

Billy Graham’s RRT Chaplains

Of course my heart is with the “Blue Shirts,”  who are compassionate “people persons.” It was a privilege to serve with each one.

A blue shirt man and two blue shirt woman look down at a lot of paperwork on a round table while two blue shirted women stand and smile at the camera.
There is lots of paper work to keep track of who goes where and does what. Chaplain Marilyn is giving me rabbit ears.
A posed shot of six women and one man in the center, all in blue shirts with red lanyards and ids.
From left to right: Chaplains Linda, Donna, Cindy, Larry, Karen, Beth and Kate

Would I do it again? Yes, my two blue shirts are clean and folded in the suitcase with the air mattress.

Orange shirt woman stands with older man and his walker, smiling at camera outside his brick home.
Johna with homeowner Cyrus

I want to thank photographer and Samaritan’s Purse volunteer Johna Brock from Wisconsin and Chaplains Donna and Linda for giving me permission to share many of the above photos. 

 

 

Samaritan’s Purse link: https://www.samaritanspurse.org

Billy Graham Rapid Response Team link: https://billygraham.org/what-we-do/evangelism-outreach/rapid-response-team/about/

The Prodigal Son Story–Which Character Are You?

This is an open Bible on black and white with the page open to The Parable of the Prodigal Son according to Luke.
James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902), The Prodigal Son in Modern Life, 1881, etching with drypoint

Do you remember the marvelous story from Jesus concerning the lost son? Recently, I viewed artistic interpretations of the Prodigal Son from the Larry and Mary Gerbens Collection owned by Calvin College. This collection illustrates how one little powerful parable about two young men and their father can communicate forgiveness and love, as well as greed and hard-heartedness. Calvin College gave me permission to share some of the art with you.

I hope the artistic interpretations accompanying this story help you appreciate the Prodigal Son in fresh ways. Also, I recommend theologian Henri Nouwen’s study of Rembrandt’s Prodigal (The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming). Nouwen’s meditation is the kind of little book that wedges into the soul. Like Nouwen, I came away from this parable realizing that at times I have been like one of all three main characters. Dr. Tim McConnell observes that Jesus left his home and Father, not from rebellion but from humility, to provide an opportunity for all prodigals to come home. How about you? What is your take away from this story?

“The Father and His Two Sons”

Luke 15:11-32 (New King James Version)

Then Jesus said: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.

To ask for an inheritance in biblical times was the same as saying, “I wish you were dead” (Tissot, The Prodigal Son in Modern Life: No. 1–The Departure, 1881).

 

“And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.”

At first, Steve Prince’s linoleum cuts were my least favorite of this collection. But Steve, a passionate artist is shouting the message of sin’s deceptive hold on our minds and hearts. He aptly illustrates that various spirits compete for our attentions as they did for the Prodigal’s mind. (The Prodigal Trilogy–The Prodigal Journey: Exit Wounds, 2004)
The Prodigal and his friend listen to rap messages. “Sex” and “Dope” are tattooed words (Steve Prince, The Prodigal Trilogy–The Prodigal Appetite: Halloo, 2004, linoleum cut).
Notice this rapper’s women are depicted as dogs–a derogatory usage for women  in some rap lyrics (cropped section).

He Should Have Left the Party Sooner

Jesus’ Jewish audience would believe this man was totally unclean and rejected because he cared for pigs (William Strang, 1859-1921, The Prodigal Son, 1882).

“But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.”

 

 

Artist Joel Tanis scrawls on his art: “The Prodigal son spent all his allowance on goofing around and partying and stuff. Then he ended up in a pig sty trying to eat Pig Food,” and at bottom right: “He should have left the party sooner”(The Prodigal Son, 1994).

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’

“And he arose and came to his father.”

The parent suffers in a void of unknowing. He can pray and must silently hope and wait (Karl Kwekel, Return of the Prodigal Son, 1982, ink drawing).

Love That Knows No Boundaries

“But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.”

In biblical times a father did not lift his robes and run. Scholar Ken Bailey writes the father kept vigil and then recognized his son, even from afar. He also was anxious to protect his son before villagers would mete out punishment (Edward Riojas, The Prodigal Son, 2004, oil on board).
Robert Barnum, The Prodigal Son, 1998, watercolor. Collector Larry Gerbens writes about this piece: “I was immediately struck by two things. First was the complete emptiness of the son as visualized by the empty suitcase. Second was the radical nature of grace so dramatic that the buildings are shaken off their very foundations.”
A snow covered farm house is in the distance with its lights on as day is ending. The happy father kneels at the coral gate with arm uplifted. The son is standing to the left with his hands covering his face.
Jon McDonald, Shelter From the Storm, 2007, oil on board

Changed Minds and Hearts

Black and white this linoleum cut shows a powerful embrace of a black father and son with tears on both faces.
Steve Prince, linoleum cut inset from The Prodigal Return: Your Past May Be Stained but Your Future’s Untouched, 2004

 

“And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’”

In Byzantine style of bright colors and medieval setting a haloed Jesus is the father that embraces the Prodigal. People around them have musical instruments and one man is cutting the fatted calf.
Athanasios Clark, The Byzantine Orthodox Icon of the Prodigal Son, 2004, egg tempera with gold leaf
Edgar Boevé, The Prodigal Son: Forgiveness, 2004, fabric collage

Celebrate!

A smokey blue pot depicts folk art father and prodigal son embracing with the other son standing in the background.
Gary Wilson, Prodigal Son, 1996, ceramic

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.”

A shaved-hair man buries his face into his father's body. The father's hands are firmly and lovingly on the son's back.
Cropped from Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal c. 1661-1669

The Son Who Judged by Works

Cropped from Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” depicting displeasure from other son.

“Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ But he was angry and would not go in.”

A man in boat sailing clothing has one foot up on the deck, while his fellow oarsmen are shown in the background. His expression is one of disbelieve and questioning.
Cropped from Tissot’s The Prodigal Son in Modern Life: No. IV-The Fatted Calf, 1881, etching with Drypoint. In the Prodigal story, the father must walk the distance to both sons.

“Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’

Embrace Love

“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.  It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”

Elmer Yazzie, The Prodigal Sons and The Father, 2004, acrylic. Yazzie, member of the Navajo Nation, makes and uses brushes from Yucca plants.

Reject or Believe the Story

Included in the Geffen collection are artworks that reject the way Jesus told the story, and spin an interpretation on the Prodigal returning to a home that is gone. One of the puzzling cleverness of a parable is that one might not understand it or may reject it.

In black and white ink, Benton shows a prodigal returning to an empty, run down home, with a cow skeleton in the lower right foreground.
Thomas Hart Benton, 1889-1975, Return of the Prodigal Son, 1939, lithograph

 

But for those who comprehend Jesus’ meaning in the Prodigal Sons, there is great peace and joy.

Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal (c. 1661-1669)

Resources:

For insight into Elmer Yazzie’s artistic views as a Navajo Christian see “Arts: The Callings of Elmer Yazzie at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1998/november16/8td086.html?share=

For more info on Steve Prince try: https://imagejournal.org/2016/10/05/art-steve-prince/  and where his art [and that of many artists above] is sold: http://www.eyekons.com/steve_prince/steve_prince_home 

Find Joel Tanis here: http://www.joelschoontanisart.com

“The Father and His Two Sons–The Art of Forgiveness” is an occasional traveling exhibit out of Calvin College from the Larry and Mary Gerbens Collection. A book with this title is also available for purchase (Eyekons Publishing).

If you like actor Robert Powell’s portrayal of Jesus in the movie Jesus of Nazareth, here is his six-minute recitation of The Prodigal Son:

https://youtu.be/14epxvU8XIA