By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
LAKE FOREST, CA (ANS – March 1, 2018) – While watching and reading all the many wonderful tributes to Billy Graham, who is to be buried beside his beloved wife, Ruth, tomorrow (March 2, 2018) at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, memories came flooding back to the day in 1968 when Billy Graham, and his organization, launched my career in journalism.
I had always wanted to be a journalist, but my lack of academic qualifications appeared to make this impossible — that was until Billy Graham and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), bought The Christian, which was then the oldest evangelical newspaper in the world, and modernized it.
When I heard this news, I decided to seize my chance and began bombarding the paper with stories and, amazingly, each one was published, and so when I found out that they still needed staff, I managed to meet Dr. J.D. Douglas, the Scottish-born editor, and “suggested” that I was just the man they needed to complete the reporting staff.
He got me to travel to the Camden Town, London, office of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, where the paper was housed, and I was interviewed by Eric Mayer, the assistant editor, who said that he had enjoyed my stories, and he promptly offered me a job. As you can imagine, I was ecstatic.
However, this meant that my whole family — Norma and our two sons, Andrew and Peter — had to make the move from Birmingham to London, and I’ll never forget one of my first-ever interviews for The Christian. It was with Coretta Scott King at St. Paul’s Cathedral, where she was due to speak at the memorial service for her late slain husband, civil rights icon, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
For one year, during which I rose to become Chief Reporter of The Christian, I was walking on air, enjoying my new career, and meeting and interviewing some great people like Ruth Graham, Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, and the great American Gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson.
But sadly, a hammer blow suddenly came out of nowhere, when the BGEA decided to close the paper for “financial reasons,” and we were all out on the streets with two-weeks’ pay. It was a shock not only to those of us who had worked there, but also to many British Christians who began protesting the closure, and the way we had been treated.
Fortunately, I was soon able to secure a job on a local newspaper, The Middlesex County Times, in Ealing West London, and later I became a senior reporter with two British tabloids, the Sunday People and the Sunday Mirror, and was also appointed the London correspondent for the America-based National Enquirer.
I went through a period of great success as a journalist, but also as a great failure as a Christian, a husband and father, and had all but given up on my faith.
But then, one night, a friend called Ray Barnett, came into the Stab-in-the-Back pub, a notorious journalist’s watering hole, where he found me drunk as usual. Ray challenged me to give my life back to Christ, which I did in that smoky bar, and then he asked me to quit my career in Fleet Street, and go with him to Uganda, to work on a book with him called “Uganda Holocaust.”
It was the turning point in my life and we flew to the East African country, where I met and interviewed many of the survivors of Idi Amin’s savage eight years of misrule, when some 300,000 Christians were slaughtered by him and his thugs, before he fled to Libya and later to Saudi Arabia.
After the book was published, I began writing books and traveling the world reporting for Brother Andrew’s ministry, Open Doors. This lasted for two years, and then, we as a family moved to Southern California, where I became the Media Director for Open Doors USA, and later, in 1999, along with Norma, we started ASSIST — Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times.
By this time, I had become rather ashamed of my tawdry tabloid career in London, and I decided to give up my career in journalism. What clinched it was the day I was once told by someone on staff at Open Doors, that they were glad I was leaving, as I “couldn’t even write.”
This cut me to the quick, and as ASSIST began to grow, I decided to just 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 in 1992, I received a phone call from A. Larry Ross, who was then Billy Graham’s press officer. “Dan,” he began, “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 now been invited to Moscow to hold a crusade there. It will be the first time that he can openly invite people to receive Christ.”
He 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 added, “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 out 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.”
When I put the receiver down, Norma looked at me in a strange way.
“What’s up?” she asked. “You have gone as white as milk.”
“Larry Ross wants me to fly to Moscow to join his media team and use my journalistic skills,” I said trying to take in what was being asked of me. After all, I had once worked for Mr. Graham on The Christian, and there was some bad feeling about the way had been handled, that I never dreamed I would ever be able to work with the great evangelist again.
Norma smiled and said pointedly, “It’s a good thing that Billy Graham doesn’t know that you ‘can’t write.’” I smiled weakly in response.
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.
When I arrived at the President Hotel in Moscow, I was surprised when I was asked to conduct a Bible study for some of the Billy Graham team, and I talked about how Jesus healed the man with a withered hand, and how Russia had been “withered spiritually by the many years of communism.”
The next day, I met with Billy Graham and he expressed such joy in finally be able to openly preach the Gospel to the Russian people and he also welcomed me onto the team. There was no mention of the problems we had experienced with the closure of The Christian.
I began writing stories about the lead-up to his Moscow crusade, which was being held in October 1992 in the indoor Olympic Stadium which, twelve years earlier, had been the site of the Moscow Olympic Games that the United States had boycotted because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Early on, a special event was organized for Mr. Graham to meet many of the Christian dissidents who had recently been freed from the Soviet labor camps, and some of them told him that they had been mightily blessed, while they were imprisoned, by reading his book, Peace with God. He happily signed copies for them.
I spent three wonderful weeks with Billy Graham and, along with A. Larry Ross, I worked on the various news releases that went out around the world. The first one was headlined, “A Miracle in Moscow.”
What a crusade it was. 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 authority 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.
A highlight was being able to film the Red Army Choir singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which still sends shivers down my spine. 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 an illustration to me on how God can use anyone, despite their disabilities, for His Glory.
When I finally got home, I then knew that I had to re-start my journalistic career, and so I began by starting 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 news about what He is doing in His World.
And it all began with a phone call, and three incredible weeks in the Russian capital with an American evangelist. It truly was “A Miracle in Moscow.”
Photo captions: 1) Billy Graham preaching in Moscow. 2) Some of the staff of The Christian. 3) Dan and Ray Barnett on the road in Uganda. 4) The Billy Graham media team in Moscow. Larry Ross is the tall fellow in the middle of the picture and by his side is his wife, Autumn. 3) 5) Dan meeting at a later occasion with Billy and Ruth Graham at their home in Montreat, North Carolina. 6) Part of the huge crowd in the Olympic Stadium, Moscow (BGEA). 7) The Red Amy Choir singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” (BGEA). 8) Dan Wooding chatting with Billy Graham in Essen, Germany, during Mr. Graham’s crusade there.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 77, is an award-winning journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for almost 55 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS) and he hosts a radio show and two TV shows in Southern California. He began his journalistic career in 1968 working for Billy Graham’s British newspaper, The Christian, and has worked as a writer for Mr. Graham’s media team in Moscow, Russia; Essen, Germany, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
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