The Chain of Events Leading to Billy Graham’s Conversion

As of 2008, Billy Graham’s estimated lifetime audience, including radio and television broadcasts, topped 2.2 billion.  That means that approximately 2.2 billion people have heard the gospel from Billy Graham’s mouth.  That’s hard to wrap your mind around.

Billy Graham has shared the gospel with more people than anyone else in history, but do you know who shared the gospel with him?

It actually is a series of events that has been traced over the years and starts out with one volunteer Sunday school teacher.  Someone shared this story with me years ago, and it impacted me greatly.

“You can count the apples on the tree, but who can count the apples in a seed?” goes the old aphorism.

So it is with the influence of a single person.

Take Edward Kimball, for an example. Never heard of him?  Rest assured – most people have never heard of him.

Kimball was a Sunday school teacher who not only prayed for the hyper boys in his class but also sought to win each one to the Lord personally.  He decided he would be intentional with every single last one of them.  Surely he thought about throwing in the towel.  If you have ever taught the Bible to young boys, you know that the experience can often be like herding cats.

One young man, in particular, didn’t seem to understand what the gospel was about so Kimball went to the shoe store where he was stocking shelves and confronted him in the stock room with the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  That young man was Dwight L. Moody.  In the stockroom on that Saturday, he believed the gospel and received Jesus Christ as his Savior. In his lifetime, Moody touched two continents for God, with thousands professing Christ through his ministry.

But the story doesn’t end there. Actually that’s where it begins. Under Moody, another man’s heart was touched for God, Wilbur Chapman.  Chapman became the evangelist who preached to thousands. One day, a professional ball player had a day off and attended one of Chapman’s meetings, and thus, Billy Sunday was converted.


Sunday quit baseball and became part of Chapman’s team. Then, Chapman accepted the pastorate of a large church and Billy Sunday began his own evangelistic crusades.

Another young man was converted whose name was Mordecai Ham.  He was a scholarly, dignified gentleman who wasn’t above renting a hearse and parading it through the streets advertising his meetings.

When Ham came to Charlotte, North Carolina, a sandy-haired, lanky young man, then in high school, vowed that he wouldn’t go hear him preach, but Billy Frank, as he was called by his family, did eventually go. Ham announced that he knew for a fact that a house of ill repute was located across the street from the local high school and that male students were skipping lunch to visit the house across the street. When students decided to go to interrupt the meetings of Mordecai Ham, Billy Frank decided to go see what would happen.

That night Billy Frank went and was intrigued by what he heard. Returning another night, he responded to the invitation and was converted. Billy Frank eventually became known as Billy Graham, the evangelist who preached to more people than any other person who ever lived, including the Apostle Paul.

You could continue following this trail and see where Graham and all of us started with the ministry of Jesus.  Think about how far-reaching Christ’s message has gone.

This fascinating chain of events was triggered by a Sunday school teacher’s concern for his boys.

If you are like most people, you have served in some capacity and wondered at times if you were making a real difference or not.  Maybe you’ve thought about quitting because you didn’t think you were making any difference.

Next time you are tempted to give up, please remember Edward Kimball, whose persistence and faithfulness was tremendously honored by the Lord.  The story would have looked very differently if Edward Kimball did not take his Saturday to seek out young Dwight Moody.

You can count the apples on a tree, but only God knows how many apples are in a single seed.

Do your part today in the Kingdom and trust God for the results.

Travis Agnew is a Christian, husband, father, pastor, author, blogger, and religion instructor.

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5 Comments

  1. Dear Pastor Agnew:

    I’ve been writing a book about the many, many ministries available in today’s church. It’s also a book about those who have been called to spread the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

    Included are stories about dozens of people called to spread His word. Your story fits in so well and was so well written that I would like permission to include the story you wrote at http://www.travisagnew.org/2013/07/22/the-chain-of-events-for-billy-grahams-conversion/ as is and in its entirety. The story will take up about 2-3 pages in what I expect to be about a 200-250 page book.

    This book will be similar to the first book I wrote. If you’d like to see about that book, please go to http://www.GodsOtherWays.com. There is also a link to a short 3 minute youtube video that was made by a local pastor.

    It is my belief that we are getting pretty close to the time when Jesus will return. All the signs that He told us to watch for are converging.

    I feel a sense of urgency to write this book and to tell the world about the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and some of the different ways we can all be evangelists and serve our fellowman. This is my small effort.

    Thanks in advance for your consideration of this request and if you have questions please contact me.

    In Christ’s service,
    Ken Kersey 214-697-5500 Email: kdkersey@me.com

  2. Ruth Chia

    Hi Travis,

    This is Ruth, working at a non-profit organization CEF. On one of our training powerpoint slides, we talk about Kimball’s legacy that led to Billy Graham’s conversion. May I ask for permission to use that photo of Edward Kimball that you have on this web page for the powerpoint slide?

    Thanks,
    Ruth

  3. Hi Travis I recently used this story which I heard about years ago. I asked permission for a young lady to attend meetings where she would be encouraged in her faith prior to returning to her home country. As I wrote the request it came to me about Billy Graham and how his conversion came from someone seemingly insignificant. I felt it would be a good foundation for her now young son. I pray that one day he will grow into a man that many people listen to as he shares the Gospel.

  4. i may have missed it, but who led Mordecai Ham to Christ?

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