MY PARENTS, KEN and Kay Kirk Gieser, were recently married, and my dad was soon to graduate from Northwestern Medical School when they began applying to mission boards to serve in Africa.
It was April 1934 and there were few opportunities for new missionaries to Africa. With no openings in Africa, my father learned of an opportunity with the Southern Presbyterian Mission in China. A man named Dr. Nelson Bell needed an intern to serve alongside him.
Mom and Dad arrived via freighter in Shanghai in September of 1934. Their home had not yet been built, so, for their first eight months in China, my parents lived in the home of Virginia and Nelson Bell. My dad worked at a hospital in Tsing Kiang Pu, and it was there that both of my brothers, Richard ’59 and Charles ’61, were born.
Dr. Bell knew very little about Wheaton College. As his two daughters, Rosa and Ruth, were approaching college age, Dr. Bell learned that my parents had attended Wheaton and his interest grew.
In a letter from Ruth Graham to me shortly before her death, she confirmed that her father was impressed with Ken and Kay Gieser, and—so the story goes—if they went to Wheaton College, that was where Rosa and Ruth would go. Dr. Bell said, “It is a good college and stands unswervingly, even aggressively, for the truth.” But finances were tight for the Bells. My mom and dad felt the nudge of the Spirit and gave $200 toward Ruth’s expenses at Wheaton.
When my parents returned and settled in Wheaton in 1940, Ruth and Rosa were well along in their studies at the College.
Ruth began mentioning to my folks her interest in a tall Southerner, a man who was preaching every Sunday evening in the Old Masonic Temple in downtown Wheaton. So, my Mom and Dad would accompany Ruth to hear Billy Graham preach.
My Dad recalled wondering, given Ruth’s soft-spoken, Presbyterian background, “how she could be so enamored with a loud, hard-hitting Baptist preacher who filled the Masonic Temple so that there was standing room only every time he spoke.”
Even so, in 1943, Mom and Dad attended their wedding in Montreat, North Carolina.
In 1947, my Father was on his way to provide surgical services for a month at the Kano Eye Hospital in Nigeria. On his way, he stopped in London where Billy was on a preaching tour. My Dad stayed with Billy at the Cumberland Hotel, and each night they’d travel to area churches.
One rainy evening on the way back to the hotel on the upper deck of a London bus, Billy pointed to the Royal Albert Hall and, as reported in my father’s diary, Billy said that he was “going to come back some day and fill it.”
“Having seen no more than 60-70 people in his meetings up to that time,” my father wrote in his diary, “I said something I wished I could retract: ‘Billy, preachers don’t do that sort of thing.’”
During the summer of 1966, my Dad, Mom, and sister, Patricia ’65, and I were sitting in Earl’s Court, London, amid a capacity crowd of 18,000 people. By the time that month-long Crusade was over, more than one million people had heard Billy’s message.
Preachers don’t do that sort of thing.