By Ralph Kurtenbach, Special to ASSIST News Service
QUITO, ECUADOR (ANS – March 6, 2018) — As technology offered communications opportunities in the latter half of the 20th century, Billy Graham seized upon them with a singular purpose in mind — to preach salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. It was his driving passion during a lifetime that spanned nearly a century. He died on February 21 at his home in Montreat, N.C.,
Under a tin-roofed tabernacle built for a series of revival meetings in 1934 at his native North Carolina, Graham came to Christ as a teenager. Some nine years later as a recent graduate of Wheaton College, he pastored in the Chicago suburb of Western Springs when the church’s board agreed to fund a weekly radio production, Songs in the Night.
Despite challenges of the early broadcasts from Chicago and later from Western Springs in early 1944 — letters soon began arriving from listeners. First there were a few, growing to hundreds each month and providing the young Graham a glimpse of sharing the gospel via media.
In 1948 Songs in the Night expanded to an international reach with the church’s regular mailings of transcription recordings (on disks larger than long play records) for airing on international shortwave by missionary radio station HCJB in Ecuador. Concurrent with this expansion, Graham’s evangelism with Youth for Christ called on him to speak to servicemen at rallies across the U.S. and Europe. His message filled stadiums and arenas as people came to hear him tell of the importance of making a personal decision to receive God’s forgiveness offered in Christ.
The following year, the Billy Graham Crusade began drawing crowds who filled large tents known as the “Canvas Cathedral.” His three-week Los Angeles evangelism meetings stretched into eight weeks — a fact some attribute in part to a directive by newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst, to his editors: “puff Graham.”
Meanwhile, his own Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) launched the weekly Hour of Decision radio program, carried across the United States on the American Broadcasting Company network. In faraway Argentina, a teenaged Luis Palau heard Graham on a radio broadcast emanating from Portland, Oregon and drew inspiration from him. Palau later worked for Graham, interpreting his messages into Spanish as well as serving as an evangelist in his own right. Then in 1970, Palau began his own ministry, modeled after Graham’s and with seed money from the U.S. evangelist.
Graham’s sermons in 1957 in New York City filled Madison Square Garden for 16 consecutive weeks. Among his guests on the dais were Rachel Saint, missionary to the Waorani of Ecuador, and Dayuma, one of the tribe’s first converts to Christianity. The high attendance at Graham’s New York City services caught the attention of ABC News, which produced a television special on him.
Graham also accepted invitations to appear on mainstream TV talk shows, making numerous appearances on “The Tonight Show” when Jack Paar hosted and four visits during Johnny Carson’s reign. In 1960, he appeared as the “mystery guest” on the weekly series, “What’s My Line.”
On one televised appearance, talk show host David Frost asked Graham how he would like to be remembered. “As a person who had integrity, and who was faithful to his calling, and who loved God with all his heart, mind, and soul,” Graham answered. Integrity was important to Graham, who pledged early in his career not to be alone in a room with a woman other than his wife, Ruth Bell Graham. As to finances, he received a fixed salary from his organization, the BGEA. He also helped establish the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), which operates yet today. The ministries that affiliate with ECFA do so voluntarily.
In 1962, Graham travelled to Ecuador to conduct evangelistic meetings. He also told his Hour of Decision listeners on a recorded message of how in Quito, “we had intellectuals, government officials and primitive Indians sitting side by side.” (https://billygraham.org/audio/the-miraculous-love-of-god/)
“How could a message be preached to both groups at that same time that they would understand and could receive?” Graham asked, “And yet, when the appeal was made, people from all strata of society came forward to receive Christ as Savior.”
At the HCJB studio console for the 1962 recording was Chuck Howard, who as a ten-year-old in 1956 had attended a Graham crusade in New York City with his parents. “I had the privilege of shaking hands with him,” Howard told HCJB after the evangelist’s death.
“He signed my Bible,” Howard continued, “We saw a man completely sold out to the Lord—a humble man, a man who depended upon prayer and Bible study. And he preached a simple message that was easy to understand, about the love of God for a lost world.” Howard and his wife, Anita, are now active Reach Beyond retirees after decades with the mission, serving at Hospital Vozandes Shell, Reach Beyond in Quito and at Alliance Academy International.
In addition, HCJB had been granted a frequency for the television station, HCJB TV La Ventana de Los Andes (The Window of the Andes) just a year earlier. A Reach Beyond archive photo shows Graham and a BGEA colleague, Cliff Barrows, during a television interview in the Quito studio. Reach Beyond historian Duane Birkey said that mission archives contain several rolls of film from the Graham visit, indicating that HCJB “apparently helped with a number of things.” Graham subsequently preached in nine South American countries during 1962.
Throughout the intervening decades, Graham’s influence permeated the Latin America church through such means as HCJB broadcasts, including the popular program, Cruzada con Luis Palau, by his protégé. Then in March 1995, the BGEA assembled and carried out Global Mission, an ambitious and far-reaching endeavor that transmitted to television viewers and radio listeners around the world sermons and songs from San Juan, Puerto Rico, the site of the Greater Puerto Rico Billy Graham Crusade. Satellite uplinks transmitted Graham’s services to revival sites in 175 countries, reaching up to 8 million people nightly. It was called by BGEA, “the greatest gospel outreach in history.”
“We’re not going to reach the whole world, of course, in Global Mission, but we’re going to be the early forerunners of how it can be done technologically,” said Graham, then 76 years old. His messages were translated into 150 languages.
HCJB aired the evangelistic messages in English and Spanish after receiving them via satellite from the Bonaire facilities of Trans World Radio, a broadcast partner in a collaborative worldwide broadcasting project called World by 2000.
“In our Quito studios, producers Curt Cole and Allen Graham [no relation to Billy] taped the 90-minute programs as they came off the satellite and edited them down into a daily 57-minute presentation,” wrote a co-worker, Ken MacHarg in Christianity Today, a magazine that Graham had founded in late 1956.
The Graham messages pre-empted the English Language Service’s flagship program, Studio 9, a news/magazine program that historically drew a large audience. At the time, the Spanish and Portuguese language services also had plans to use sermon content in their programs for shortwave radio listeners.
One such listener was Irish, and wrote with thanks after finding the sermons on shortwave after local media had delivered no Global Mission sermons. “So, you can imagine my delight when I was searching my shortwave band. . . and came across your program. I just want to thank you for your faithfulness to God and to let you know of the great blessing that program was to me.”
Just over a decade later in 2006, Reach Beyond utilized its Christian satellite network, ALAS- HCJB, to send to 23 affiliate stations the live coverage of a Festival de Esperanza (Festival of Hope) in Quito with Graham’s son, Franklin Graham. He heads the BGEA as well as Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian response organization ready to send health professionals, logistical staff and others to disaster zones around the world on short notice.
Visiting the station’s campus, the younger Graham spoke briefly, with translation, live on the air on Hola Familia (Hello Family) for local audiences and via satellite to the continent. The interview was in a studio where Spanish-language versions of BGEA radio programs (Hour of Decision, Decision Minute) were produced for broadcast throughout Latin America. (ALAS-HCJB distribution of Momentos de Decisión ended in 2014 and BGEA ceased production of Spanish-language programs.)
Afterwards Franklin Graham—presented with the 1962 photo of his father at HCJB TV — showed the wit that also characterized his father. “Look at Cliff [Barrows]; he’s thinking, ‘I just wish Billy would keep his answers short,’” he quipped. Then upon touring Hospital Vozandes-Quito (HVQ) he was greeted by missionary physician Dick Douce with the words, “I received the Lord with your dad. So welcome!” Later in the tour, Graham wanted to know of the hospital’s needs.
The following year Samaritan’s Purse responded with a donation of over $200,000 worth of much-needed medical equipment. Graham was back in Ecuador for a Festival de Esperanza in the coastal city of Guayaquil, where 16,117 people came to Christ. In the ensuing years, medical teams traveled from Quito at Samaritan’s Purse’s invitation to different parts of the world to help out in disaster zones.
Just four years later in 2011, Reach Beyond again lent its communications expertise on another Festival of Hope, this one based in Los Angeles. Audio recordings of the late June event later aired via the ALAS-HCJB Spanish satellite radio network. To maximize the impact of the festival, Reach Beyond and BGEA coordinated beforehand for promotion and follow-up work in 16 countries throughout the Americas.
According to the BGEA, by the time Billy Graham conducted his final crusade in 2005 in New York City, he had preached in person to more than 210 million people worldwide. All told, he led more than 400 such events, reaching an estimated 215 million people in 185 countries.
Edwin Chamorro contributed to this story
Photo captions: 1) Billy Graham speaking in Ecuador in 1962. 2) Billy Graham was welcomed by Abe Van Der Puy of Reach Beyond (formerly HCJB World Radio) upon Graham’s arrival at Mariscal Sucre Airport in Quito. (Reach Beyond Archive Photo). 3) Billy Graham conducted evangelistic campaigns in Ecuador in February 1962. (Reach Beyond Archive Photo). 4) Clayton Howard tends to a remote console and reel to reel recorder at a Billy Graham event in Ecuador in 1962. His son, Chuck, also assisted at HCJB during the Graham visit to Quito. (Reach Beyond Archive Photo). 5) Billy Graham on HCJB TV Channel 2 in Quito Ecuador in early 1962. (Reach Beyond Archive Photo). 6) Ralph Kurtenbach at the microphone.
About the writer: Ralph Kurtenbach, a missionary journalist, works with Reach Beyond, where he has been an English-language newscaster and program host on the international shortwave radio station, HCJB The Voice of the Andes. He now blogs at www.calloftheandes.wordpress.com and helps to mentor Latinos who want to join in taking the gospel to other parts of the world. He may be found on LinkedIn and his e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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