AND THE LORD SAID TO HIM,
"SURELY I WILL BE WITH YOU."
The telephone rang late at night on December 18, 1958, at the Hillside Church manse in east Oakland. Sleepily I picked up the receiver, wondering if another drunk was honoring us by choosing our number from the local telephone directory.
"This is Billy Graham."
I threw off the blankets, tipped over the water glass, and sat bolt upright on the edge of the bed.
"I apologize for calling you so late."
"How are you? And how is Winnie?"
"Both doing great."
"Sherwood, I'm thinking of starting a new paper dealing with evangelism, and I want to know if you would consider becoming the editor."
The discussion that followed was impeded by my accelerated heartbeat. I managed to promise to pray about it and sleep on it and call back the next day.
Sleep? An unlikely prospect.
At first I looked back. For twenty-five years I had been trying to open publishers' doors that were stuck fast. In that time I had written four lengthy manuscripts, including a doctoral thesis; they all remain in my file drawer. But just in recent days I had been informed from New York that Harper & Brothers had purchased my first honest-to-goodness book, Crusade at the Golden Gate.
Then I wondered what this would mean to me, to my future, my family, and my church. And finally my thoughts reverted from the effect to the cause. What kind of person was this? Billy said he had read my writing. So had others, but they never bothered to tell me so. What had been in my writing that no one else had?
Then I began to pray and as I prayed, the question took a different form. What had God put into Billy Graham that enabled him to discern my ability to help him? He had good writers on his staff. In addition, a hundred editors of evangelical Christian publications were available to him if he wanted one of them. In some ways all were better qualified professionally than I, and they had experience galore. How did he know I had what he wanted.
While it was true that I loved the Lord and had years of journalistic training and classical background in English literature, I was not aware that he knew of that. In fact, I could make out no human explanation.
But, then, could I do the job? The only answer to my prayer that made sense were the words, "Go for it!" God being my helper, I felt in my heart I could carry the message to Garcia, even if no one other than Billy and I believed I could. Just turn me loose.
A pang entered my thoughts about our church. The Oakland congregation we now served was made of such warmhearted people, and I loved (and still love) every one of them. They had changed my views about ecclesiastical inertia. They had responded to my passion for evangelism, had supported the crusade in the Cow Palace, had taken counseling instruction, and had sung in the choir. The membership was increasing, and we were supporting missionaries. Christ's Gospel was bearing fruit. Moreover, we were having fun. Did I really want to leave these people and go back behind a typewriter?
Next day, after praying with my wife (who was pretty excited), I telephoned Billy and accepted. He told me he would keep me advised.
Three months later Billy was preaching the Gospel to the greatest crowds yet of his career in Melbourne, Australia. To us back home the news was breathtaking. It almost sounded as if revival had come at last and the Lord was about to return. On one Sunday afternoon in March, 70,000 people flocked to the Myer Music Bowl to hear the message of salvation. Since the bowl seated 3,000 the rest of the crowd decamped on the sloping grass of the "King's Domain" with their bikes and babies.
I had already submitted my resignation as pastor of Hillside Church when a cablegram came from team member Grady Wilson in Australia instructing me to "come immediately." It seemed Billy wished me to become acquainted with the rest of the team and to write about the astonishing things God was bringing to pass "down under." On March 11, 1959, a number of our church folk crosses the Bay to wish me bon voyage as I boarded a Pan-American prop plane at San Francisco airport, headed for Honolulu, Fiji, and eventually Australia. The next day, my birthday, was swallowed up by the International Dateline.
New friends guided me through the change of planes in Sydney, and four hours later we arrived in Melbourne. The next day was Saturday, and as the Melbourne crusade was coming to a close, I was invited to a huge crusade breakfast honoring the sponsoring committee. In between speeches Billy introduced me as a team member just arrived, who had left "a great church in California." Great church? Well, if not in numbers, it was great in every other way.
All the men on the Graham crusade team welcomed me warmly, yet I couldn't help feeling as if I were in a fiction role out of Monsieur Beaucaire or The Prisoner of Zenda. These people I was joining had been world famous for ten years. Billy Graham, Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, Tedd Smith, Grady Wilson, Leighton Ford, Joe Blinco they were household names in millions of Christian homes. They had ministered on every continent. Exposure through television, radio, motion pictures, and crusades had made them the most popular Christian band of men in the world.
Now this new person had joined them. Who's he? Where's he from? Dallas? What? Oakland? How come he's with them? What does he do? Sing?
On Saturday afternoon Jerry Beavan, Billy's tour manager and close assistant, called me to Billy's room. Billy was most cordial and told me he thought it would be good if I "took some meetings."
"What kind of meetings?" I asked in my ignorance.
"Why, go out and preach in churches. We've had any number of requests. Talk to Jerry; he'll arrange it all."
Then I raised a delicate question. The word had spread that the team was leaving Monday afternoon on a flight to the island state of Tasmania to hold rallies. With trepidation I mentioned it to Billy. "Yes, we're going," he said.
"Am I included?"
"I'm afraid not. You see, we're having to double up at the places where we're staying, they're so cramped for space."
"So what do I do?"
"Stay here in the Victoria Hotel. We'll just be away two nights."
Next day was Sunday, and the crowd that gathered for the closing meeting at the Melbourne Cricket Ground was unbelievable. It was the largest in the history of Australia, but in a few weeks it would be surpassed by the numbers in Sydney. Every seat was taken, including the standing room and the royal boxes. By the time I arrived, they had opened up the sacred turf of the playing field. Official attendance was given out as 143,000.1
The preparations for the closing meeting were fantastic. Queen Elizabeth II had sent her personal representative. The governor of Victoria read the Bible. President Eisenhower sent greetings. Someone in authority ordered noisy trains alongside the Cricket Ground slowed to a crawl. As in San Francisco the previous year, people around the world had been praying for Melbourne. Our team had been praying too, and God had heard and answered.
Billy Graham chose that afternoon to take on the most formidable political and military enemy of the twentieth century. "The Communists have boasted that they will conquer the whole world,"
he declared, his sharp words cutting through the air like knives. He pointed his finger for emphasis. "They will not!"
Looking back today, I recognize Billy's statement as a true word of prophecy from the Lord. History had vindicated it. But who at the time could have foreseen such a collapse as we have witnessed? In 1959 the Communists already held two-fifths of the planet in thrall. Moscow controlled Central and Eastern europe. Indochina, Guatemala, North Korea, and all of Africa from Cairo to Capetown were threatened. The Soviets had the H-bomb.
And there was Billy, the dairyman's son from Charlotte, standing straight and tall with arms gesturing and blond hair waving as he predicted with startling clarity the end of the red menace. He looked so strong and yet so frail, one man gripping the attention of the vast throng. But he had not come to talk about communism. He had come to proclaim the truth as it is in Jesus.
When the invitation was given, the entire grassy playing field was filled with inquirers after that truth. It was truly an awesome sight, the first of many in Australia.
By Monday morning I had decided nobody was going to keep me from Tasmania. I paid a visit to the Salvation Army's territorial commissioner in downtown Melbourne and showed him a letter on introduction from a retired Army commissioner friend in Oakland. I asked if there was a cot in the Hobart citadel where I might sleep that night and also the following night in Launceston. He picked up the telephone and called Tasmania. The Hobart commissioner promptly invited me to be a guest in his home, and the commissioner in Launceston followed suit.
Was I nervous about going against orders? What do you think? I was brand-new on the team. Yet when I put the matter in historical perspective, I sensed that even though my chief was telling me one thing, God was telling me another. Billy Graham did not yet have a magazine, but he had an editor. In years to come that editor should possess the benefit of having seen and known what happened to Billy in Tasmania. Suppose something untoward took place? I still have the reporter's instinct: Get the story!
I went to the airline booking office in Melbourne and boldly
signed on the team's open travel roster, after which friends rushed me out to the airport. The airplane's twin props were already whirring when we arrived. Billy was standing at the foot of the portable ramp saying goodbye to a committeeman.
As I hurried up, Billy turned to me with a surprised look on his face. I told him I had found a pad for myself in Tasmania and "couldn't stay away." Since it was "all aboard," there was no time to say more.
What do you suppose Billy did? He smiled, put his arm around me, gave me a squeeze, and said, "Bless your heart."
I believe he was listening to the same God who was talking to me.
A huge outpouring of Tasmania greeted the team in Hobart. Next day we made a caravan by auto across Tasmania to Launceston for the second rally. On the route Billy and I spent two hours together in a small car discussing the new magazine.
Two weeks later I accompanied team member Roy Gustafson, Wheaton College President Raymond Edman, and Billy on a plane from Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand, where the rest of the team had already been ministering. A giant reception that included Christian Maori dancers welcomed us in a soccer bowl at Mount Roskill.
First, however, we newcomers were ushered into a private room where members of the crusade committee, the local mayor, and other dignitaries welcomed us. When the formalities ended, it was announced that "the ladies wish to be presented." In trooped a smiling delegation of wives, all properly dressed and wearing hats. Each lady greeted Billy with a handshake and a bow until one buxom Kiwi sister stopped the line. "I am Maori," she said, "and we don't do it that way."
"How do you do it?" asked Billy.
"We touch noses."
"Well, why not?" Billy obligingly extended his proboscis for the greeting, and everybody laughed.
For the next week I was assigned to be Billy's secretary. His overseas mail was kept in Sydney, but all mail with a New Zealand postmark
went through my hands. What a treat! It was my privilege to read private letter after private letter written by New Zealand Christians, telling Billy of their love for Jesus. They had found their faith renewed at the crusade meetings and were full of appreciation for his coming to their island country. It was a joy to respond, to thank God for their letters and to leave them a verse of Scripture and a thought. What dear folks! After all these years my eyes get moist thinking about them and hoping that when we all get to heaven, we shall finally meet.
In eight days one-quarter of the population of New Zealand, half a million people, visited crusades in the three cities of Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.2 Grady Wilson, Leighton Ford, and Joe Blinco were the advance preachers. We then left on Sunday night and flew to Sydney for the mammoth four-week crusade about to open there. So on to Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth.
Such an outpouring of spiritual enthusiasm in the continent of Australia has never been equaled before or since. Altogether between January and May 1959. The Graham team held 114 meetings in Australia and New Zealand, which were attended by 3,362,240 persons. Out of this number 145,041 individuals responded to invitations to receive Christ or rededicate their lives to Him.
One final memory of New Zealand lingers with me. As our plane stood ready to depart Christchurch airport for Sydney with the whole team aboard, a telegram was delivered and handed from row to row and seat to seat for us to read. It was signed by the Christchurch crusade executive committee, and it read: "Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10 KJV).
The joy of the Lord! It carried us across the Tasman Sea and is still with us.
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1. The story of the 1959 Australian crusade is told by Stuart Barton Babbage and Ian Siggins in Light Beneath the Cross (Melbourne: World's Work, 1960).
2. The story of the 1959 New Zealand crusade is told by Warner Hutchinson and Cliff Wilson in Let the People Rejoice (Wellington, N.Z.: Crusade Bookroom Society, 1959).
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