Billy Graham (1918-2018)

For six decades, the tall sturdy frame of evangelist Billy Graham graced the TV screens of living rooms the world over. His unmistakable voice boomed over the radio in cars, tool sheds and stores, and left lasting auditory memories with most who listened. The message he had was almost always the same: the Gospel, in its simplest possible form, delivered with decipherable honesty and earnest. It was this plainness in speaking, as well as in his living, that endeared him to millions across the planet.

Early Years: From Dairy Farm to Bible School

Billy- or William Franklin Graham Jr, as his parents had christened him -was born in 1918, to a dairy farming family in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was the year in which the first world war ended- but that seemed a somewhat faint and far off reality from the quiet town which the Grahams called home. Billy’s later life was spent lacing the air waves with his charming Carolinas accent; perhaps God left nothing to chance when putting together the aspects of this exceptional evangelist’s personality. Apparently not even his speech.

Graham’s parents were practising Presbyterians (his mother moreso), who attended the local denominational church with their children on Sundays. They did have regular family devotions as well; but it’s not clear that young Billy was initially stirred by any of the early exposure he had to the Christian message.

It was at a revivalist meeting that Billy Graham got converted. The year was 1934. Mordecai Ham, a travelling baptist preacher, had come into Charlotte and was holding revivalist meetings. Billy was invited to attend by one of his father’s workers, and it was there that he made the formal decision to commit his life to God. Commentators point out that his wasn’t the storybook ‘bad boy turning to Christ’ event; master Graham was no mischievous fella. But he was gripped enough by Ham’s preaching about sin and salvation, to make a life altering decision that day.

Two years later, Billy completed high school. He hadn’t been an exceptional student by any stretch of the imagination; at one point, a teacher of his had warned that he might not make it out of school. Nevertheless, he scaled this hurdle, and went on to study Theology at the Bob Jones College in Tennessee. It’s safe to say that his issues at school probably came down to an apparent nonchalance about school work on his part. After all, he was in fact a bookish lad in his own right- it’s said that he sometimes got so immersed in his reading that he seemed to grow oblivious of his own self.

The Making of an Unshackled Travelling Evangelist

Graham’s time at Bob Jones wasn’t the happiest in his life. He found the rules too stringent, and the doctrine taught and practised there rather shackling (the institution’s authorities were so strict with their students, they screened whatever correspondences came in to them, and what they sent out. Feeling stifled of real spiritual freedom, he transferred to the more relaxed (but nonetheless conservative) Florida Bible School.

His trouble with the Bob Jones College hints at what was a severely polarized church at the time. The liberal Christians, wary of the supposed threat posed by the advances in science and the secularization of society, had retreated to an understanding of the Bible as not inerrant, while racing out of their pews to embrace the ‘progressive’ world beyond their church walls. Conservative Protestants were doing the exact opposite: they stared in defiance at the liberalizing society, railed against what they believed was America’s multiplying evils, and affirmed a straight jacket literalism in their exegesis of the Bible.

But Billy was learning (perhaps not very consciously) to thread a reasonable middle path. In later years, he would come under fire from both sides of the divide: liberals would label his preaching “too simple,” and conservatives would condemn him for being unnecessarily cozy with liberal ideals.

After completing his studies at the Florida Bible School in 1939, Graham enrolled at Wheaton College, hoping to get grounded in the ministerial work he was looking to begin. There, he met Ruth McCue Bell, the grand daughter of a missionary, who would later become his wife. And it was in this period that he preached his first sermon (in a small baptist church), at the behest of an academic dean at Wheaton.

In the decade that followed, Graham briefly pastored a church, worked with a Christian youth organization, and oversaw an alliance of Christian schools. It was at the end of this time that he turned towards itinerant evangelism.

The Start of a Remarkable Ministry

Chroniclers of Graham’s long life point to his visit to California in the early 1950s as the time in which he began to grow in prominence. He had been invited by a Christian organization, Christ for Greater Los Angeles, to preach in their city. When he did begin to deliver sermons there, his simple, earnest message drew people to his meetings. Secular historians say it was down to his charisma; many who were in the crowds insist that it was more the compelling nature of his sermons that brought the masses to the large meeting tents.

Some have said that his popularity was helped by local media’s favourable coverage of his crusades, which was in turn the result of his having admirers in the media circles, and his vocal opposition to communism. In a world increasingly torn between Communism (and its associations with militant atheism) and capitalism (cast as allowing for the freedom of religious observances), Graham’s condemnation of the former was sure to endear him to the US’s anti-communist elite and common people.

While it’s reasonable to view his preaching within the historical context in which it took place, we would be rewriting history if we gave it credit for Graham’s success at bringing people to Christ. The single most important factor in the success of his ministry was his dedication to the ‘total Gospel’, and its effectiveness, shown in the transformed lives of those who embraced the message. Besides this, it’s hard to explain how an increasingly skeptical Western society (one in which ‘theologians’ proclaimed that God was dead) would turn out millions of people to hear a preacher repeat the old fashioned gospel?

Going Global

In time, the crowds at the meetings grew so large, and the work of organizing such gatherings became so complex, that Graham and his friends decided to incorporate the ministry. They named it the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA).

With wider media coverage and a more sophisticated media structure, Graham was able to reach other parts of the United States. Millions more were ministered to, and the conversions numbered in the hundreds of thousands. By 1952, the BGEA made its first landing in the United Kingdom.

It was in England, where the state of religion was represented by a staunchly liberal church, that Billy Graham’s international evangelism truly began. Many thought he would not be nearly as well received there; the Brits were supposed to be more measured, prim and proper, not given to the outward expression of emotions and overly simplistic teachings that characterized the American evangelist’s crusades. But they were wrong. After initial opposition by officials within the Church of England, Graham did finally set foot in the UK. And the crowds were just as big (and emotive) as the ones in the United States.

By the time he delivered his final sermon in 2005, Billy Graham had preached to over 215 million people across the world. He was a known bearer of the gospel, recognized for the way in which he was able to persuade his audiences with it. Between his going global and retiring in the mid 2000s, he had touched every inhabited continent of the world with his message. Thanks to his efforts, many accepted Jesus as their saviour.

An Uncommon Man’s Legacy

Graham’s influence stretched over the entire spectrum of human endevour. He was friends with (and counselor to) heads of state, from Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush. It’s reported that he had a good relationship with the Queen of England, Elizabeth II. He was also known to have spoken out against dehumanizing the underprivileged, including Black South Africans who were oppressed under that country’s White minority rule for the greater part of the 20th century.

It’s hard to exaggerate Graham’s impact on the Church’s approach to evangelism. His organized, media savvy organization helped take the Gospel farther than most had managed up until his time. His preaching, which emphasized mere (basic) Christianity, became a template for others who came after him.

Billy Graham passed on in February 2018. The world- or much of it -eulogized him. Countless words were spoken of his voice and looks, but also of his humility, faith and love. It’s certain that the man himself would have wanted to be remembered simply as a servant of Jesus, who put the resources of the age to good use in making the truth of God known to all people.

Ikenna Nwachukwu ©2019

Learn this:
Constructive criticism points you in a direction of being better. The critic’s niceness is just icing on the cake, it can distract you or invite you, depending on who is eating.

– Ezeonyeka Godswill

PENSPEAK 2019

As a team of writers we have come quite a long way and God has made it clear, he is only going to take us higher and yet deeper. (call that writer’s humour).

Without further ado, expect more in 2019, expect God in 2019.
More word
More insight
More Videos and Audio projects
More and more and more

This year’s Penspeak Event has been themed MANIFEST and oh my it is the set time!
Anticipate More!

slowly with a process

The era of greatness
Began slowly with a process
A pause, a close of the eyes

It began in all truthfulness
Not with the light nor in her rays
But in despair and in darkness

Like a hawk process swooped
down into a deep troubling dream
So full of owls and bats

Bitter it was once, bitter is it still
Remembering as brave process
Fought and fought and fell
Without rescuing success

But then, HE came very well
In the wind, in the morning bell
Lifting her from the hollow hell

Into a new dawn of ideas
A splendid tomorrow
Devoid of frown and agony

Indeed, the era of greatness
Began slowly with a process
A pause, a close of the eyes

Ugwu David C.
© 2019

Rain

It will always come regularly
Anxiety & fear bringing all its disorderly
Sending minds sinking deep like anchors
And hearts into a place of rancour
Economies crashing like MMMs
Shorter mornings, Longer PMs
Success books now providing alternates
As we search for wealth secrets
Yet our Souls are still dry deserts
Aching with pain, looking for comforts
Even when prayers rise up like incense
And our expectations, filled with suspense
Yet the wait is just too long
Our faith might not be that strong
But then incense will becomes clouds
Roaring like lions making sounds so loud
Then It comes
Pouring down its blessings
Wiping off all our facings
The rain draining our Sorrows
Fill souls that have been hallow
Washing away all our pains
Making crazy minds, accurate and sane
Our prayers are never in vain
Because we are sure it will RAIN!

Uba Victor Isoje
© 2018

MUSIC REVIEW: JOY by FOR KING & COUNTRY

Album: Burn the Ships
 
Release Date: 18 May, 2018

Genre: Christian Contemporary Music/ Christian pop

Record Label: Curb/Word Entertainment
 
Reviewer: Ikenna Nwachukwu
 
I struggle to keep a straight face while casting myself as an unbiased commentator on For King & Country’s Joy. I’m a fan! How do I try my hands at stabbing and slicing up this piece of melodic goodness?
 
Unless you’re a die-hard hymns-only fella who doesn’t fancy contemporary Christian music (and that’s fine), you’ll almost certainly find yourself bopping your head to the beat of this song. The more careful listener will warm up to its simple, brilliant and powerful lyrics. It’s not your regular stereotypical cliché stuffed Gospel song (For King & Country aren’t in that business), so you’re unlikely to get bored by it after just a couple of replays.
 
Now that I’m done with gushing, let’s see about having a proper music review.
 
Joy
Australian-American band For King & Country released Joy as a single in May 2018, as a foretaste of the band’s then upcoming album, Burn the Ships (the third they’ve produced thus far). Like the rest of the album, Joy draws on the everyday experience of our lives, and speaks of a hope beyond the troubles we face- a hope we should embrace.
 
Band members Joel and Luke Smallbone are keen to point out that Joy is a call to the faithful to defy the turmoil and uncertainty around them by choosing joy. They say they’re presenting an alternative to fretting and pessimism (perhaps even animousity) as reactions to the turbulent state of the world’s environment, politics, societies and the personal problems that besiege our individual lives.
 
As you’d expect of a well thought out song (more on this shortly), the message is kept afloat by the melody. Its rhythm and beat make it very danceable- and joy inspiring. It’s essentially an encouragement to rejoice in the face of trials and tribulations, wrapped in an exotic, almost festive sound that makes its optimistic content even more attractive.
 
The lyrics of this piece of music also hint at the source of the circumstance-defying joy that it invites us to. The bridge does justice to this, albeit in a covert way characteristic of much of contemporary Christian music:
 

“When I walk through the valley of the shadow of night

Oh with you by my side, I’m stepping into the light

I choose joy!”

 
My take on Joy as a work of art is that it’s expertly created. And when you realize that it took six months and more than 80 rewrites to come up with the current 3:53 minute version on the album, you appreciate the effort put in by the Smallbones and their co-writers to craft a sweet summon to joy for a world that sorely needs it.
 
The Story Behind the Song



Luke Smallbone has explained that the idea for Joy cropped up two years ago, while the band was having a discussion about what their next album would be. The discussion soon tended in the direction of encouraging people to be joyful in spite of the troubles they were facing.
 
“There’s a lot going on these days,” he said, in a video about the song, “and I think it’s really important for us to be people that have joy in our lives, no matter the circumstance.”
 
They finally decided on Joy as a theme when a friend also spoke to them of his strong belief that the world needed to hear the message.
 
The Music Video
The music video for Joy was also released in May. The mostly black-and-white video portrays a 1960s newsroom, and features Joel and Luke Smallbone, and Candace Cameron Bure, a well known TV personality in the US.
 
In the video (which starts off with Joel and Bure relaying news of a mega storm sweeping across the USA), Joel and Luke spread the talk of joy as they walk through the station’s premises. Eventually, their black-and-white environment turns polychrome as they lead the staff (including an initially pessimistic Bure) to dancing. The viewers (an old couple) join in the dancing when they see the gloomy broadcast replaced by live images of media people rejoicing.


 
The video’s symbolisms are, in general, easy to grasp (especially for Christians). Joel and Luke weave through the passages at the TV station and invite other workers at the station to join them; that’s an allusion to spreading the (joyous) Good News. The old tape which the brothers dump in the bin is a recording of bad news (fill this space with whatever trials and terrors you’ve faced). The new tape, which plays to display colour images (instead of the dull black-and-white in most of the video) is a reference to Christ; when it’s pushed to the ground in anger by Bure (i.e. when it dies) it gives out its colour (life) to everyone and everything- including Bure -and gets them all dancing for joy.
 
Chart Performance
Joy peaked at number 2 on the Billboard Christian songs chart, and is in the top five of the top Christian songs of the year for 2018. It’s safe to say that it would have done even better on the charts if it hadn’t been for the exceptional runs enjoyed by Cory Asbury’s Reckless Love and Lauren Daigle’s You Say this year.
 
My Final Note
Joy is a feel good take on a crucial aspect of the Gospel- or one of its benefits. It’s the sort of song that ages very slowly, and sparks life in you when it floats into your ears.

Slavery

I spoke to Runs girl once,
She said her anger is her source
As she was forced to this life
By her Uncle who came like a thief in the Night and her virginity was the casualty
So the penalty is death for all those who now commit the crime of sleeping with her
She blames they, them
For the mayhem she cause their Marriages
‘I wouldn’t pay for damages when my case has been adjourn’
Everyone I told turn a blind eye to my hurt
Now my heart burns with hate
If you stare at me, your fate might be a night to that hell I have been put through
I and my crew will screw all of you till you forget your wives and call us Boo
She like many others are Nigerian avengers
Fighting the ghost of their abusers
And I too felt her pain
A slave to a past that had been stained,
But can be snow if she chooses to let his light glow
Even if life has given her a low blow as she wrestles with her past demons
She can tag him in
He will guarantee her the win
Then the will to talk of his saving grace with pride
Everywhere she goes, she sows seed of hope to girls like her who are still slaves to rippers of souls
Tell them the past matters but the future is what they want to see and behold

Victor Isoje
(c) 2018