BILLY GRAHAM loved Wheaton College, and he loved to tell people about it.
When I visited him at his home in Montreat a few years ago, it didn’t take him long to start reminiscing about his happy days as an undergraduate.
Wheaton College conjured up many memories for him—not only spiritual, but also romantic.
Billy told me about seeing Ruth Bell ’43 for the first time, sitting on the porch of Williston Hall. He also told me about their first date. They went to see a performance of Handel’s “Messiah.” Billy was so smitten that he tried to hold Ruth’s hand that night. Twice. But she pushed him away both times!
More than 70 years later, I could tell how thrilling it was for him to chase the woman he loved. I also understood how ideal their partnership was. From the very first night, Ruth proved that she would be equal to every challenge of their extraordinary life together in ministry.
It was at Wheaton that Dr. Graham met Dr. V. Raymond Edman hon—“Prexy”—who became one of his most trusted mentors. He also began to attract a passionate following as a preacher; students, faculty, and staff flocked to downtown Wheaton to hear his sermons at the Masonic Temple.
When Billy Graham came back to campus for Commencement in 1962, he recounted his “Debt to Wheaton.”
In addition to providing him with a wife, he said, Wheaton broadened his knowledge of the church and gave him a new understanding of the social implications of the gospel. Wheaton also gave him an appreciation for the im-portance of scholarship and a world-wide network of friends in ministry.
But the primary debt that Dr. Graham wanted to acknowledge was that Wheaton gave him a reason for his hope in Jesus Christ.
That hope never left him. As I mentioned, when I visited Dr. Graham he wanted to talk about his time at Wheaton. But he mainly wanted to talk about Jesus, and the hope of seeing his Savior in heaven. As we read Scripture, prayed, and spoke about the glory to come, Billy’s countenance visibly brightened. His joy was rising.
What a homecoming it must be for him now—as it will be for us soon, when Jesus calls us to come, just as we are.