Billy Graham: A New Kind of Evangelist

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Bettmann / CORBIS

Evangelist Billy Graham leaves the White House

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Once inside the Inquiry Tent, the assembled converts hear a brief inspirational talk by Grady Wilson, Graham's boyhood friend and now billed as his "Associate Evangelist." Billy himself often drops in for a few words, and then each counselor really work. There are "B Rations" (Bible leaflets) at every seat, and most of the counselors have learned by heart the rations' Bible verses. But his final job is to fill out a card about his "baby Christian," stating his name, address, occupation, age, church membership or preference. On each card there are also four categories of decision, one of which is to be checked: 1) Acceptance of Christ as Saviour and Lord; 2) Reaffirmation of Faith; 3) Assurance of Salvation; 4) Dedication of Life.

A convert's name on one of the cards sets off a chain reaction designed to lead the convert into permanent commitment in a local church (one reason why Graham, unlike many another evangelist, is popular with local churchmen). Next morning, a personal-looking letter from Billy Graham is mailed to the new convert. Later he is invited to another meeting and can order additional literature, known as an I.R. (for Instruction in Righteousness) Pack. Meanwhile, three duplicates of the "decision card'' are typed up, one for the current working file, one for the future follow-up file, and one to be sent to the convert's local pastor with instructions to get to work (if the "baby Christian" has no pastor, one is chosen by a committee). If the pastor does not report back on the convert in a few weeks, he gets a jogging letter from headquarters and, eventually, a visitation.

The nerve center of this operation is a Minneapolis office building, where a staff of 100 handles the mail (12,000-15,000 pieces a week incoming, 8,000-10,000 a day outgoing) and keeps tabs on far-flung activities of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Here, amid whirring office machines, the spirit of I.B.M. meets the Spirit. Each morning, before she starts tabulating the incoming contributions, one girl clerk puts her fingers on the adding machine and says: "This is your money, God. Make it come out right."

How to Stay Humble. As high-keyed as a racehorse. Graham spends himself prodigally in God's service, but he takes good care of himself, too. eating four or five meals a day to keep up his strength, keeping a trailer at the stadium in New Orleans so he can change his sweat-drenched clothes each night immediately after speaking. He plays as much golf as he has time for (seldom more than nine holes, at an average 45 ). Almost obsessively clean (he takes three baths or showers on a busy day, has manicures to curb his nail-biting) and almost unnaturally natural, he moves through his world of hotel public rooms, charity drives, luncheons, interviews and popular adulation with anxious affability and a kind of 4-H Club charm.

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