In the many books written about the life and ministry of Billy Graham, few have examined the importance of the relationship between the world-famous evangelist and his wife. Swiss author Hanspeter Nüesch talks about his new book, ‘Ruth & Billy Graham: The legacy of a couple‘, which does just that.
Buy ‘Ruth & Billy Graham’ for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99)
What was your aim writing the book?
I found out that there are literally dozens of books and publications on the ministry and life of Billy Graham but not one on the couple. I wanted the enormous contribution of Ruth Graham in the life and ministry of Billy to become known to a wider public and serve as a lesson for couples especially couples who want to serve the Lord together. Researching about Ruth’s key role was also a discovery for me and proves to be a discovery for everyone who reads the book.
Billy again and again mentioned the key role of Ruth, even in his word of endorsement for the book, but this fact was never reflected properly by a publication in some extensive way.
A second goal was to help current and emerging leaders learn important lessons about Spirit-empowered evangelism and leadership that is marked by integrity empowering others. I wanted to find an answer to the question why Billy Graham and his platform team could stay and minister together for 60 years in the power of the Holy Spirit?
Buy ‘Ruth & Billy Graham’ for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99).
You seem to have had incredible access to photos and stories – how did that come about?
By God’s gracious leading my wife and I became close friends with Gigi Graham, the oldest daughter of Billy and Ruth Graham. For several years we visited each other regularly in our homes in the U.S.A. and Switzerland when she shared personal stories about her parents not known so far. She also provided me with not less than 40 excellent photos from her private collection that allow a look behind the scenes of her parents into their private lives. Many if not most of the stories and photos have not yet been published or are not known to a wider public. Gigi also made it possible that, after the death of her mother, my wife and I could visit her father three times in his private home in Montreat, North Carolina, asking questions, sharing and praying with him and thus getting to know him in a very personal way.
I have to add that there were many years of research involved looking through basically every publication we could get hold of and listening to many hours of taped interviews. Finally we had to chose from more than 5000 stories and quotes from publications not known to a wider public.
I also did myself many interviews with people who knew the Grahams personally or had some special relationship with the Grahams at some time or were just blessed by the ministry of them.
How would you describe the relationship between Billy and Ruth?
The relationship between Billy and Ruth was characterised by mutual appreciation of each other’s gifts. Billy knew that he needed Ruth’s help in several areas. He would take her advice very seriously. And Ruth realised that Billy needed a stable home and a wife who would support him but sometimes also serve as a necessary correction. It takes a book to describe the complex relationship between Billy and Ruth, which was not always easy but truly powerful, because they lived and served as a team complementing each other with their different gifts.
Do you think the way marriage and ministry is handled in the modern world offers different challenges to 40 or 50 years ago? Which parallels can be drawn? To what extent do you think the story of Bill and Ruth is a uniquely American experience, and what is universal?
Of course living marriage as a lived-out partnership in practical ways shows itself different now than at the time of the Grahams. Now the wives and mothers often have to work outside the home just because of economic necessities. Even the Grahams were aware of this and would not be against it. But at the same time they also warned that the strive after more money and luxury could take important time away from the family.
The challenges of an egoistic life-style remain the same, whether we live in America or Europe, whether we live now or 40 or 50 years ago when Billy and Ruth started their team effort. Nowadays we need to learn more than ever that self-realisation often leads to losing our God-given call as a team member, be it as part of the marriage team or the ministry team. Ruth and Billy Graham show us a way where the partners live a fulfilled life because they gladly empower one another and are obedient to God’s call on their life. This could sometimes mean a personal sacrifice. Billy often missed his home tremendously and Ruth missed her Bill. But they did it for a higher call.
Ruth could also have a tremendous ministry of evangelism and teaching herself. She was very intelligent, full of wit and wisdom. Well-read as she was, she used her wide knowledge and gift of understanding complex realities to support Billy’s worldwide ministry. She saw herself involved in world evangelism as much as Billy, but she did fulfil her part by staying with her family at home. She read books for him, provided him with illustrations for his messages, and discussed his ministry with him so that the content of his messages and articles would stick to the Bible, lift up Christ and honour the Lord.
Especially in early years of their marriage she was a scholar of the Bible more than Billy was. When Billy was on a ministry trip they usually would phone each other at 5pm. Billy also regularly wrote letters and cards to his five children trying to maintain a heart contact with them as well as possible. If you have the privilege to read some of his letters as I had you realise how much he loved his children and in later years also their spouses.
What lessons do you hope readers take away from the book?
There are many lessons to learn from the Grahams.
The foundation of their life and ministry was their deep love of the Lord Jesus with whom thy tried to stay in contact during the whole day in some way.
When I asked Billy at my first visit in his home what Jesus meant to him, he answered “Everything”. During my last visit several years afterwards I asked him the same question again hoping that he would expand the answer a little for the readers of the book. He thought about it and then answered: “I am really sorry. I cannot say more than that Jesus just means everything to me.”
When I asked daughter Ruth, in the family called Bunny, which attribute would characterise her mother best, she answered: “She is just in love with Jesus.” Both Ruth and Billy just wanted to please their Lord and friend. And they wanted doing this by sticking closely to His Word, the Bible, being an ambassador for the Lord and not for themselves.
The Lausanne Movement is definitely an important legacy of the Grahams, as it defended the key role of evangelism and the core of the Christian faith against all kind of liberal tendencies who pleaded for a moratorium of missions. I say the Grahams, because without Ruth’s encouragement the Congress on World Evangelisation Lausanne ’74 would have been cancelled because of lack of money.
Their deep authentic relationship with the Lord helped Billy and Ruth Graham to stay humble always giving him the glory. Humility might be the most outstanding character trait of Billy whereas Ruth would be more characterised by her faith in God, His promises in the Bible, and His utter trustworthiness. Often she encouraged Bill, as she called him, to go forward with a project and to trust in God’s faithfulness. Has He ever let them down when they put their trust in Him?
Billy on the other hand never concealed his weaknesses as you will easily see reading the book. And both were very authentic and often also funny, especially Ruth. When collecting the different stories for the book I often cried, because the simplicity of this couple who trusted the Lord in every situation touched my heart. But there were more times when I just broke out in laughter. I have not come so far across a person who is funnier than Ruth Graham and who combines sensitivity and love with feisty humour and a spirit of wit. Beware: You too might be in for some tears but also from time to time for a good laughter while reading the book! Be richly blessed!
Buy ‘Ruth & Billy Graham’ for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99)