Home ANS Reports Happy 99th Birthday Billy Graham – The Man Who Helped Launch My Career in Journalism

Happy 99th Birthday Billy Graham – The Man Who Helped Launch My Career in Journalism

by Dan Wooding

By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service

Billy Graham preaching smallerMONTREAT, NC (ANS – November 7, 2017) – Today (Tuesday, November 7, 2017) is Billy Graham’s 99th birthday, and although he rarely leaves his mountaintop home in Montreat, North Carolina any more, and though and can’t see or hear well, and doesn’t talk much, Franklin, his son, says that, “his mind is good … (and) his health is stable.”

“As a family, we are so grateful that he is still with us,” the younger Graham said in a statement released this week. Billy Graham was born four days before the end of World War I.

According to Tim Funk of the Charlotte Observer, Franklin revealed that his Charlotte-born father, who became famous as a globe-trotting evangelist and a pastor to U.S. presidents, will spend his birthday with family. And he’ll be served his favorite dessert — a lemon cake with lard icing.

Charlotte’s 10-year-old Billy Graham Library, 4330 Westmont Drive, will also have a celebration that day and offer birthday cake to everyone who stops by.

“As the elder Graham enters his 100th year, the library plans to honor his eight decades of ministry by highlighting a different event or aspect of his evangelism each month. For example, the library plans to spotlight his 16-week crusade in New York City in 1957, his impact on evangelism around the world and testimonies of people whose lives were changed by attending one of his crusades,” said Funk.

Also over the next year, the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association will post additional content about Graham and his career at billygraham.org and in Decision magazine.

“I know my father is grateful for all the prayers for him, and birthday wishes on this special occasion,” said Franklin Graham, who’s also an evangelist and now leads the BGEA.

Thank you Billy for my first job in journalism

Billy Graham had been having a deep impact in Great Britain with his many crusades there, and he and the BGEA made the decision to purchase The Christian, then the world’s oldest Evangelical publication.

Staff at The ChristianAlthough I had no training in journalism, I knew that this was the career I wanted to pursue, and I had been submitting stories to The Christian, which had all been published, and then, at a writer’s conference in Kent, England, in 1968, I met up with the Scottish-born editor. Dr. J.D. (Jim) Douglas, and I told him of my desire to join the staff. He suggested I went to their office in Camden Town, London, for an interview, and there I was offered a job, and Norma and I, along with our two sons, moved to London from Birmingham, and I began my career as a journalist.

One morning, when I arrived at the newspaper, I thought it was going to be just another day of re-writes, but before I could sit down at my desk, Dr. J.D. Douglas, called me into his office and asked me to sit down. My heart sunk as I feared that maybe he was going to tell me that my reporting wasn’t “up to scratch”, or even worse, that he was “letting me go.”

But then I got the surprise of my life when he locked eyes on me and said, “Dan, I’ve arranged for you to interview Coretta Scott King, the widow of Dr. King at St. Paul’s Cathedral. She’s going to speak at her late husband’s memorial service there later today. Can you go over to the quarters of Canon John Collins right away, as he is hosting Mrs. King?”

Dr. Douglas also told me that Mrs. King was to be the first woman to have ever delivered a sermon at a regularly appointed service in the cathedral, and then waved me off with, “Don’t let me down, Dan. This is going to be one of the biggest interviews you’ve ever done.”

In a bit of daze, I thanked him for putting his trust in me, stepped outside and hailed a black taxi cab and, after about 20 minutes, the who driver had weaved his way through the heavy London traffic, dropped me off at the front of the imposing Anglican Cathedral and I inquired from a staff member where Canon Collins residence was located.

He took me to his quarters and I soon realized that he was just the person to be hosting Mrs. King, as he had been an activist Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral for many years, and was a huge supporter of non-violence and a member of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship.

Now it was the time to meet this extraordinary woman, who had suffered so much at her late husband’s side. As she spotted me, she came over, smiled, shook my hand, and thanked me for coming.

Coretta Scott King with her husband in backgroundTo try and ease the situation, I made her smile, when I told her of my own African roots, having been born in Nigeria, West Africa, of British missionary parents.

“So, we already have a lot in common,” she said. “Please sit down.”

As I watched her four children scamper around the house — just like any other children of their age — I tried to imagine the pain they must all have been through.

I looked at Mrs. King and asked if she was worried about suffering the same fate as her husband.

“I have lived with the threat so long now I hardly think about it,” she said, her eyes ablaze. “I must do what I must do!”

She glanced across the room at her four children, and added, “My children are with me in this.”

We talked for about half-an-hour as she shared with me about the great love she and Martin had shared over their many years together, and then detailed the many campaigns they had shared together, especially when in early 1965, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) made Selma, Alabama, the focus of its efforts to register black voters in the South.

“That March,” she went onto say, “we were attempting to march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery were met with violent resistance by state and local authorities.”

I well remember that, as the world watched, the protesters (under the protection of federalized National Guard troops) finally achieved their goal, walking around the clock for three days to reach Montgomery. The historic march, and King’s participation in it, greatly helped raise awareness of the difficulty faced by black voters in the South, and the need for a Voting Rights Act, passed later that year.

Then her eyes lit up when she talked about that day on August 28, 1963, when Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” iconic speech to a massive group of civil rights marchers gathered around the Lincoln memorial in Washington DC.

I just couldn’t get enough of this fascinating American civil rights history lesson, when Canon Collins intervened and told me that it was time to end the interview.

But for me, it wasn’t all over as, a few hours later, I watched as Mrs. King climbed up to the same carved pulpit in the historic St. Paul’s Cathedral, where her husband had preached five years earlier.

“Many despair at all the evil and unrest and disorder in the world today,” she said from the pulpit to the packed cathedral, “but I see a new social order and I see the dawn of a new day.”

Mrs. King continued with the work of her late husband until her death on January 30, 2006 at the age of 78. She worked tirelessly for racial equality after he was assassinated and fought successfully for a national holiday in memory of him. She also founded The King Center in Atlanta to preserve his legacy.

Speaking in 2003 on the 40th anniversary of her husband’s best-known speech, Mrs. King urged the crowds to follow the peaceful path he preached.

Just like her husband, she also had a dream! Although they have both left us, long may their vision continue! We need it more than ever these days.

Without a doubt, that was one of the highlight of my earlier days in journalism, but sadly, after about a year, when I had become the paper’s Chief Reporter, the BGEA made the decision to close the paper, and it seemed that my career had come to a crashing halt. But fortunately, a weekly newspaper in Ealing, West London, gave me a job and my life in the world of words continue.

A few weeks after leaving The Christian, I almost blew my relationship with Billy Graham. I had been invited to cover a late-night event in London’s theater-land where Mr. Graham was to speak to a group of actors and actresses appearing in shows there. Billy moved around the room shaking hands with people and when he came to me, he said, “Hi, I’m Billy Graham. What is your name?” I told him, “Dan Wooding, Mr. Graham, you may remember that you fired me a few weeks ago from The Christian.” There was an embarrassed silence, and then he apologized for what had happened and explained that the decision had been taken by his board.

Because of this, I had thought that any work with Billy Graham had finished, but then, after I moved to Southern California, I was invited to go to Moscow in 1992 by A. Larry Ross, his then PR man, as a writer for his upcoming historic Moscow crusade.

It took place during a period of my life when I was rather ashamed of my tawdry tabloid career in London’s Fleet Street with the Sunday People and the Sunday Mirror, and my time as a correspondent for the National Enquirer, and I had all but given up on my journalism.

Norma, my wife, and I had moved to Southern California with our two sons, Andrew and Peter, from the UK ten years earlier, and we had eventually launched ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times), as a ministry to help persecuted Christians around the world.

As ASSIST began to grow, I had decided to concentrate on running the ministry. After all, wasn’t that more spiritual than being a journalist?

Or so I thought at the time!

But it all changed when I received a phone call from A. Larry Ross, Billy Graham’s press officer, in which he said, “Dan, you know that Mr. Graham has been going to Russia for years now.”

“Yes, and we are running a pen pal ministry with new believers there,” I cut in, thinking that he wanted to know more about our Bridge of Friendship Russia program.

Larry said politely that he thought that was “very interesting” and then added, “Mr. Graham has been invited to Moscow to hold a crusade there. It will be the first time that he can openly invite people to receive Christ.”

Dan with Billy Graham media team in Moscow in 1992He paused for a moment, and then said, “We’d like you to come and join our media team and use your journalistic skills to report on this historic Mission to Moscow.”

I felt all the air being sucked out of my lungs when he then said, “We feel your tabloid skills could be used to portray what is going to happen there. When could you get on a plane to Moscow?”

I stammered my thanks and said that I would be honored to go and so he said arrangements would be made for my air ticket and visa and he would like me there “as soon as possible.”

Within a few days, the tickets and the visa had come through and I drove to Los Angeles International Airport to fly to Moscow, via Frankfurt, Germany.

It was one of the most incredible three weeks of my life, being able to meet personally each day with Mr. Graham, and then write up the news releases for the for the crusade held at the indoor Olympic Stadium which, twelve years earlier, had been the site of the Moscow Olympic Games that the United States had boycotted.

I called the first night, “A Miracle in Moscow,” and it certainly was just that!

Each night eager Muscovites filled the 38,000-seat stadium to hear Billy. On the first evening inquirers coming forward signed 10,641 cards of commitment; on the second evening 12,628 signed. On the closing Sunday afternoon 50,000 persons had jammed into the stadium, and apparently the fire people didn’t limit them. Another 30,000 stood outside in the freezing cold where a huge television screen with audio echoed what was happening inside. The number of decision cards signed was 19,417.

Red Army choir in MoscowA highlight was being able to film the Red Army Choir singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which still sends shivers down my spine as I stood in front of them videoing their performance. Another, which I will never forget, was when, on the final night, Joni Eareckson Tada, who had been sitting in the wheelchair section of the stadium, was brought up onto the stage, to share her extraordinary story, and was interpreted by a blind Russian translator. By the way, Mr. Graham was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease when he spoke, and it was illustration to me on how God can use anyone, despite their disabilities, for His Glory.

When I got home, I then knew that I had to start up my journalistic career and so began the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net) as a first step.

I had finally realized that God can use even an ex-tabloid journalist to spread the word about what He is doing in His World.

It truly was “A Miracle in Moscow.”

And from then on, I was able to continue working as a writer with Billy Graham at his crusades in Essen, Germany, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, and I also attended the funeral of Pat Nixon, wife of Richard Nixon, at the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California, where Mr. Graham conducted the funeral. Following the service, Larry Ross took me into the foyer of the library, and we both spent several minutes chatting with Richard Nixon.

Dan Wooding with Billy and Ruth GrahamOn another occasion, I joined a group of journalists at his home in Montreat, when he showed me round his humble cabin, and I marveled at his humble abode.

All I can say is Happy Birthday Billy Graham. You have inspired so many around the world, including this now slightly elderly journalist. Looking back over the years, maybe if I hadn’t been “fired” from The Christian, many of these exciting things I’ve had the honor of being involved with, would never have occurred. And please enjoy your birthday lemon cake with lard icing. You deserve it!

Photo captions: 1) Billy Graham preaching. 2) Staff at The Christian. 3) Coretta Scott King with her husband in background. 4) Dan Wooding (left) with the Billy Graham media team in Moscow. 5) The Red Army Choir singing in Moscow. 6) Dan Wooding chats with Billy and Ruth Graham in the back yard of their humble mountain top home in Montreat, North Carolina.7) Dan with Billy Graham in Essen, Germany.

WebDanwithBilly1About the writer: Dan Wooding, 76, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist, who was born in Nigeria, West Africa, of British missionary parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding, who then worked with the Sudan Interior Mission, now known as SIM. Dan now lives in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for some 54 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder/president of the ASSIST News Service (ANS), and is also the author of numerous books. He has a radio show and two television programs, all based in Southern California.

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