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Billy Graham's name sparks recognition for most of us, but what about his wife Ruth? Many have heard of Franklin Graham and his leadership in his father's ministry, but few know his brother and sisters. Click on each of the family members and learn more about each of the Grahams.
As a young boy, Billy Graham pursued baseball and Tarzan comic books. Spirituality and preaching were probably the furthest from his mind. In fact, when he was a senior in high school, one of his teachers took the opportunity of his absence in class to remark to the students that "Billy Frank would never amount to anything." He had deep, bright eyes and determined energy, but schoolwork did not interest him.
One night in 1934 changed that. At the age of 16, Billy and his friend Grady Wilson went to a revival in Charlotte held by the Kentucky fire-and-brimstone preacher, Mordecai Fowler Ham. After the crowd sang "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder," Ham began his next sermon by saying, "There's a great sinner in this place tonight." Terrified, Billy began to wonder if he might be speaking directly to him, so when the invitation came to go to the altar, Billy accepted.
Billy first enrolled at Bob Jones College, but he stayed for only one semester and transferred to Florida Bible Institute. During his time there, he fell deeply in love with one woman, who rejected him for another man. Shortly after he graduated from Florida Bible Institute and began to think about ministry, his friend Johnny Streater introduced him to Ruth Bell in November 1940. Billy said the attraction was instant, and three years later they married. Billy's crusade ministry began in 1947 and continued every year until 1995. In addition to authoring several books, he has had a long television and radio ministry, both with The Hour of Decision and several television broadcasts. Billy's gift was in inviting people to come to the altar; his audience flocked to the front upon his invitations.
As a family man, Billy relied on his wife's strength and encouragement far more than any of his public ever knew. She was instrumental in helping him write his first book, Peace With God, and the title of The Hour of Decision was her idea. Her ability to make decisions about the household and family enabled him to pursue his ministry and travel abroad to the extent that he did--sometimes to over 10 different countries in a year.
Although Billy is retired from his crusade and television ministries, he has not faded from the public eye. On September 14, 2001, he delivered a message at the National Prayer Service in Washington after the September 11 terrorist attack. At age 83, his voice and magnetic stare are still as powerful as they were in his youth.
RUTH BELL GRAHAM
Ruth McCue Bell began her life in Qingjiang, China, the daughter of medical missionaries. In China she and her sister, Rosa, witnessed war tragedies daily. Ruth developed an acuity for animals and babies and tried to save several young animals and birds from starvation. Once she found a sickly baby abandoned in a ditch, as "imperfect" babies often were in that region. Although her father tried to revive the baby, he did not succeed.
Ruth developed a strong belief in God from a very young age and vowed never to marry. In 1932, she attended school in Pyeng Yang and was terribly homesick. Her journal writing and poetry, which she had started as a young child, began to adopt a sad and lonely tone, mirroring her feelings. While she was lonely, however, she developed a sense of independence and self-assuredness that would prove invaluable as she matured.
Although Ruth felt that God was calling her to be a missionary overseas, as she progressed through college she softened her vow that she would never marry. She dated several men and rejected a few marriage proposals. Billy Graham, however, fascinated her and she was instantly drawn to his spirit and dedication to God. Three months after they had met, Billy asked her to marry him, just before leaving for a mission trip. On August 13, 1943, two years after his marriage proposal and about a year and a half after Ruth returned to Wheaton College, Billy and Ruth were married.
Besides raising their five children in Billy's frequent absence, Ruth designed their home in Montreat, NC. Often ignoring Billy's requests when he was at home, Ruth supervised the workmen and found many of the building materials herself while the house was being built.
Whether she was accompanying her husband on a crusade or talking to someone over lunch, Ruth ministered to people in her own way. In her younger days, she worried that she did not meet people's expectations of the wife of a famed evangelist. However, letters and verbal feedback reassured her that she was making a difference.
Ruth was by no means a conventional "preacher's wife." She rode on a motorcycle during one of Billy's crusades, and whipped a sign from a man's hand during an antiwar demonstration, nearly getting arrested. In 1974, six years before she would return to visit her hometown of Qingjiang, Ruth fell 15 feet from a wire that she had rigged from the roof for the children to swing from, severely damaging her spinal cord and suffering from a concussion. Although her resulting injuries may have slowed her physical movements, she continued to travel with her husband for years and resumed many of her activities. Unfortunately, Ruth was diagnosed with spinal meningitis in 1995. Over the next decade her health continued to decline and she passed away on June 14, 2007, at her home, Little Piney Cove, in Montreat, North Carolina, with her husband and five children at her bedside.
“Ruth was my life partner, and we were called by God as a team,” Mr. Graham said of his life-long marriage and ministry partner. “No one else could have borne the load that she carried. She was a vital and integral part of our ministry, and my work through the years would have been impossible without her encouragement and support."
“I am so grateful to the Lord that He gave me Ruth, and especially for these last few years we’ve had in the mountains together,” Mr. Graham continued. “We’ve rekindled the romance of our youth, and my love for her continued to grow deeper every day. I will miss her terribly, and look forward even more to the day I can join her in Heaven.”
Like her mother, Gigi was very close to her family and became homesick when she went to boarding school in Florida at the age of 12. However, the experience prepared her for a life overseas after she married clinic psychologist Dr. Stephan Tchividjian. After living in Switzerland, Israel and Wisconsin, she and her husband Stephan now live in southern Florida. They have seven children and 11 grandchildren.
As the author of seven books, Gigi speaks at women's conferences and conventions all over the United States. Her ministry focus has been women and families and the issues they face in today's society. Gigi has appeared on several TV and radio talk shows, such as Good Morning America, the 700 Club, and others. One of her recent books rewarded her with the Blue Ridge Writers' group special author's award and the national Gold Medallion Award.
The second of the Graham children, Anne also followed her parents' steps into ministry. Born May 1948, she grew up sheltered from the expectations of other people and the scrutiny of the press. Although her father was quite often gone, the family considered this normal, so Anne never resented his absence. Since the family home was in such a remote place, the siblings played with each other rather than other schoolchildren until later in their childhood.
During her teenage years Anne began to feel inferior and ill at ease with other people. She began to feel the expectations others had of "Billy Graham's daughter," and feeling that her siblings were more gifted than she was, she felt pressured to live up to a standard that others had set. When she decided that God was the only one she had to please, she began to feel more peaceful about her life.
She married Dan Lotz when she was 18 and now has three grown children. While she was a young mother, she began to desire consistent Bible study and became involved in Bible Study Fellowship. Her husband encouraged her to exercise her gift of teaching, and after she taught for a while, she initiated a Bible Study Fellowship in Raleigh, a class that immediately had 500 attendees with a waiting list. As the class grew and she received constant invitations to speak, Anne began to sense that God was calling her to a life of itinerant Bible teaching.
Following the call, she established AnGel Ministries in 1988, taking her initials, AGL, and adding letters to create the word "angel." During that time accepted several speaking engagements, among them Keswick, a Bible conference in England, for which she was the first female plenary speaker, and Amsterdam 2000, for which she was the only female plenary speaker. She has delivered messages in every continent except Antarctica, is an award-winning author of 3 books and serves on the Board of Directors of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
The youngest of the Graham sisters, Ruth shares a life testimony that is a little different from her siblings. Like her brothers and sisters, Ruth began her faith at a very early age. She never resented her father's absences, and she respected him and what he did, knowing that he was important to so many people. However, that knowledge made her self-conscious sometimes, and when she transferred from a private to public school when she was young, she felt that she didn't fit in. At a revival she attended with her father when she was 11, she made a public acknowledgement of her faith.
At age 18, she moved from her father's house to a marriage with a dominating husband. Some years later, her marriage fell apart and she found herself redefining her childhood concepts of her theology. No longer feeling that she was responsible for millions of people because of her lineage, she found she could be more honest with God, people and herself.
She decided to return to college when she was 40, and graduated from Mary Baldwin College with a BA in religion/communication. Her parents supported her wholeheartedly, and her father accompanied her to campus events. While she admits that she still struggles with people's expectations of her because she is a Graham, she reports that she now realizes she does not have to meet those expectations. Ruth has four children and one grandchild. In her speaking engagements and her writings, she has used the trials of her first marriage to inspire adults, and she speaks candidly of her early years to encourage Christian growth.
Born July 14, 1952, Franklin grew up with the combination of his father's passion for ministry and his mother's vivacious spirit. With strong features and jet-black hair, his typical wardrobe consisted of faded jeans, flannel shirt, sunglasses and a cap. His happiest moments included scaling Suicide Trail on Montreat's Lookout Mountain or hunting with a family friend. In fact, he proclaimed his faith as a Christian at age 10 during one of his hikes.
In his late teens, he began to rebel against his role as Billy Graham's son. He let his hair grow past his shoulders, came home after midnight, and took up a habit of smoking. However, after accompanying a friend to the Holy Land, he smoked his last cigarette and decided to change his life.
He enrolled in Appalachian State University and graduated in 1977 with a degree in business administration. In 1979 he founded and became president of World Medical Missions, Inc., and Samaritan's Purse. He was ordained as a minister in 1981 and inherited his father's ministry in 1996 upon his retirement. He and his wife Jane live in Boone, North Carolina, and have four children and one grandchild.
Ned was a sensitive, affectionate child inheriting his father's charm and his mother's adventurous blood. He was the image of young Billy, tall and thin, with a girl by his side. In school, his classmates teased him about being Billy Graham's son, so much that he rebelled as a teenager in a way that nearly mirrored his brother's struggles. During his college years, he turned to alcohol and drugs to escape a destiny he thought had been determined for him because of his bloodline. According to a 1998 article in Christian Reader, Ned said that he had been rebelling from God's call to ministry, rather than from God or his parents.
During those years, his parents encouraged him to communicate with them, even though they disapproved of his behavior. Eventually, the unconditional love they showed him drew him to a desire for Christian service. After receiving a degree in communications from Pacific Lutheran University in 1985, Ned began considering ministry as a possibility for his life. His subsequent enrollment Fuller Theological Seminary's extension program in Seattle marked a life change for him, as he ended his rebellious years after writing a term paper on Christ's death.
After finishing his education at Fuller, he pastored adult ministries at Grace Community Church in Auburn, Washington. In 1990, he visited the People's Republic of China through East Gates, a small organization whose mission was to help believers in China. In 1991, Ned became the president of East Gates Ministries International and moved to China with his wife Carol and his 2 sons. Probably the most significant contribution of East Gates is the distribution of Bibles to house church Christians in China, a mission still in process today.