Ike's Putting Green



— 2 SAMUEL 5:10

Our plane approached National Airport, and we saw the panorama of Washington, D.C., beneath us in all its white splendor. While we soared over the monuments, domes, and spires, once again I felt those old red, white, and blue chills running up and down my spine.

    I've always been a lover of America. As a first grader, I would stand up and say with my classmates, "I pledge allegiance to my flag..." When Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, I couldn't wait to get into uniform. Even today, as an octogenarian in the 1990's when I hear John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," I want to start marching around the living room.

    Greatness is to be found in Washington, D.C., if one knows where to look — in the past. It can be studied at the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, the National Archives, the Smithsonian Institution. I felt it while climbing the 555 steps inside the Washington Monument. Surely God had a role in choosing the superb leadership that brought our nation into existence and gave us our Constitution. Probably the finest thing Ronald Reagan did during his presidency was to bring back some of that eighteenth-century feeling of pride in America and America's greatness.

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    When my family and I moved to Washington, D.C., in 1960, the scene sizzled with political heat. President Eisenhower, now finishing his second term, faced a sudden crisis as Marxist-Leninist communism spread within ninety miles of the United States. Fidel Castro had announced Cuba's alliance with the Soviet Union. Meanwhile Khrushchev shot down our U-2 spy plane over Moscow and was rattling his H-Bomb with one hand while banging his shoe on the table in the United Nations Assembly with the other. China and Lebanon were threatening the peace, and the Simbas were murdering American missionaries in the Congo. From the Senate and House galleries we watched the jockeying as future candidates John Kennedy and Richard Nixon and their partisans struggled for preference and power.

    I came to the city on temporary assignment to serve as an editorial assistant to Dr. Carl F.H. Henry, renowned editor of Christianity Today. This magazine inspired by Billy Graham four years earlier had now become the most influential periodical of evangelical Christianity in America, thanks to the brilliant leadership of Editor Henry and Executive Editor L. Nelson Bell. I wrote editorials, reviewed books, covered religious events, and sat in staff conferences with the two editors, who became my beloved friends. My time on the "C.T." staff gave me valuable experience in magazine production. I no longer felt like an ignoramus about such things as graphics and offset printing.

    From the window of my office on the tenth floor of the Washington building. I looked down directly on the White House half a block away. I noticed outside the presidential mansion a tiny patch of green grass with a flag on a stick. That, I was advised, was President Eisenhower's private putting green. Aha! I thought. Ike, I've got you covered. When I wasn't writing sharply critical editorials about the liberals and radicals in the mainline church leadership, I kept my eye on that green patch.

    Ike, however, had his hands full with Comrade Castro. His unused putting green became a symbol of my own dissatisfaction. For over a year I had been filling in here and there while waiting to go to work for Billy. The world in 1960 was such a mess, and the only

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solution I could see was Jesus Christ. My heart was in the Midwest where a new magazine was about to appear, designed to bring millions of readers to faith in God and salvation in His Son, Jesus Christ. The appeal to this journalist-in-writing was irresistible.

    Carl Henry and Nelson Bell urged me to stay in Washington and become one of Christianity Today's editors. But what could I do about the world situation? Or the church situation, for that matter? I agreed with Lord Acton that "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."1 I just wanted to go to Minneapolis and start writing for Jesus and winning souls for His kingdom. At the moment what I seemed to be doing was like practicing on Ike's putting green, tapping little white balls into a cup.

    In June 1960, much to our family's delight, the Billy Graham team arrived in Washington for a one-week crusade. Sensitive to the predicament the world was in, Billy had acceded to the urging of Christian leaders in government and had agreed to come to the national capital and point the nation to Christ. Billy felt, and still feels, about America the way I do.

    While the crusade was in progress, I was invited to a team meeting in a hotel where I renewed my friendship with this wonderful band of men. It felt so good to be back with them. As we spent a little time together, I made an interesting observation. As long as Billy was out of the room, the team was relaxed. They were a grand bunch of fellows, full of light banter and even hilarity. Grady Wilson was at his best with his unique and devastating brand of humor. Then Billy entered, and things changed. It wasn't that he cast a pall; it was just that we all suddenly sensed a call to responsibility. A different ambience pervaded the room. Now we were thoughtful, serious, even devout, ready and eager to apply ourselves to a world of need and God's business at hand — until Billy himself began to smile.

    As we sat around the long table, Billy called on me for an account of my stewardship in Washington. I spoke briefly about my work at C.T. and mentioned a visit to the Holy Land with Dr. Henry. Then I confessed, "I've been here nearly six months and have been invited to preach just twice. Finally I went to a Salvation Army rally and stood up without being asked and gave my testimony just to hear

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how it sounded." That evoked a laugh, and Grady Wilson said, "Thank God for the Army!"

    The closing service of the Greater Washington Crusade was held outdoors on Sunday afternoon in Griffith Stadium, once home to the Washington Senators baseball club. My wife, our thirteen-year-old son Alexander, and I had passes that allowed us to sit in the reserved section of the bleachers. Shortly after the meeting began with Cliff Barrows leading the audience in singing "How Great Thou Art," two large gentlemen seated themselves in the row just behind us.

    I recognized one of them as "LBJ," Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson of Texas. This future president of the United States would later become a particular friend to Billy and Ruth Graham. Turning around after the song, I introduced myself and my family and shook hands with the senator, telling him we felt honored to be in his presence. He in turn introduced us to his companion, Senator George Smathers of Florida.

    Our son Alex was sitting directly in front of the senators and overheard their conversation. He told us later that the two men spent the entire afternoon engaged in political discussion, except for one brief interlude. It was during Billy's closing invitation asking people to come forward in commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior and Master and Lord. At that point Johnson turned to his companion and asked, "What are all those people doing going out there on the field?"

    Senator Smathers's reply, as reported by our son, was, "Oh, they're just making a promise to go to church!"

    In mid-July Billy Graham wrote me from Montreux, Switzerland, "If at all possible, it is my desire that you attend our conference here in Montreux beginning August 16 for three days. We have about thirty-five personal friends and colaborers coming to meet us. This will enable you to meet men from other parts of the world who are of like mind."

    On the first day of the Montreux gathering in August 1960, an attempt was made to substitute another agenda for the one Billy and his colleagues had planned. I was much impressed by the quiet way in which Billy, with eloquent assistance form Stephen Olford, got the

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program back on track without any unusual distraction. He showed the same diplomatic skill he had exercised in the London pub with Cassandra.

    Searching discussions followed for three days on such topics as "The Attestations of the Holy Spirit Today," "Church-State Relationship Throughout the World," "Communicating the Gospel to Underprivileged Peoples," and "Repentance, Rejoicing, and Revival."

    That gathering on the shore of Lake Geneva became the prototype of the epochal evangelistic congresses that Billy Graham initiated and conducted in Berlin (1966), Lausanne, Switzerland (1974), and Amsterdam (1983 and 1986). Tens of thousands of Christian evangelists from all over the world gained recognition and inspiration at those unparalleled events. If they did nothing else, the congresses established Billy Graham as the premier Christian evangelist of the twentieth century.

    It was at this conference I came to understand why Billy Graham's crusade's, while not free from quiet emotion such as tears, are divinely protected from ostentatious behavior everywhere he goes. Many have recognized that Billy's ministry of evangelism avoids incurring the manifestations of extreme behavior that have hurt the ministries of revivalists of the past and laid them open to severe criticism. In that connection an outstanding American church historian, Professor Sydney A. Ahlstrom of Yale University, published an article in 1960 that mentioned Billy. He wrote, "A brief consideration of Billy Graham is in order, for upon his manly shoulders has rested the burden of reviving mass evangelism and preventing it from becoming only a cheap and emotional accommodation of vague American yearning or a sentimental reversion to a not-so-old 'old-time religion.' Not significantly realized, however, is his solitariness in the field."2

    To me it is wonderfully heartwarming to have a godly educator such as Professor Ahlstrom (called by Time magazine "America's premier church historian") recognize that God was using a man of average academic attainments to achieve His divine purpose for the conductor of worship. And Billy was doing it with distinction.

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    After three days the meeting devoted to evangelism adjourned, and two days later a special meeting of the Graham team was convened. During it Billy pointed his finger at me. "Woody," he announced, "we are ready to start the magazine. Go back to Minneapolis as fast as you can and get out the first issue."

    Cheers! Goodbye, putting green. After a year and a half, the hour had struck. As soon as the meeting ended, I packed my suitcase and walked to the depot to catch the Swiss electric train bound for Geneva. Nor did I stop traveling until my plane landed at Twin Cities International Airport, where my family was happily waiting for me.


1. Letter in Louise Creighton, Life of Mandell Creighton (London: Longmans Green, 1906).

2. Sidney A. Ahlstrom, "Theology and the Present-Day Revival," The Annals of the American Academy of the Political and Social Sciences, November 1960.

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