Billy Graham Center

Witness... newsletter, May 1998

Below, very slightly edited because of the different context, are the text and photographs from the most recent issue of Witness....

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Guides that describe in detail the collections mentioned in this newsletter can accessed through the Archives web site at the Collections page

"Everlastingly At It!": Viewing the Turn of the (Last) Century from the BGC Archives

Poster for meeting held in St. Louis. B. Fay Mills in the center of the portraits, William Biederwolf is in the 2 o'clock position. From Collection 195

As the year 2000 approaches, individuals are planning their celebrations, companies look for merchandizing tie-ins, and programmers try to work out ways to deflect the worst effects of the Millennium Bug. It is interesting, while we consider how crossing this invisible, artificial dividing line will effect us, to consider the last time the human race crossed a major chronological border, the entry into the twentieth century, the decade from 1895 to 1905. In this issue of Witness... we will look at samples of the Archives' holdings from that era.

The documents in the Archives' collections are almost wholly twentieth century (except for microfilm) and except for a few atypical items, the 1890s would represent just about the farthest point our collections will allow our patrons to reach back in time. The 1890s was at the beginning of a great surge of Protestant nondenominational effort that continues in many ways to this day. Under the impetus of the examples of men like evangelist Dwight L. Moody and China Inland Mission founder J. Hudson Taylor, parachurch organizations were starting to spring up to organize efforts to win converts and build Christian communities of faith all over the world, especially in the United States.

The collections also, inevitably, document other facets of Christian life, such as styles of worship and the way individuals applied their faith in (or reconciled it to) their daily lives.
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Evangelism in the United States

Individuals and organizations of the time were engaged in a wide variety of ways to spread the gospel and some of that variety is reflected in the Archives collections. In 1895, Dwight L. Moody was considered the leading evangelist in the country. The Archives does not have very much material from Moody, but there are some odds and ends, such as (in Collection 318) the 1897 letter to his daughter-in-law on the occasion of the birth of his first grandson. (Click here to go to the portion of the Archives web site where several of Moody's letters, along with transcripts, are available.) At the same time Moody was writing his letter, the leading American evangelist of the next generation, Billy Sunday, was beginning to lead his own campaigns in small towns in Iowa. Collection 61 contains endorsements, letters and other reports about his early efforts.

Documentation of the vigor of other preachers of the period, and the ways "union" evangelistic meetings were organized to make an impact on communities, can be found in the sermons, scrapbooks and other records of such men as John Wilbur Chapman (Collection 177), William Bell Riley (Collection 95) and William Biederwolf (Collection 195). Biederwolf's collection is particularly valuable, since it contains scrapbooks with reports on the work of other evangelists. Mass evangelism campaigns were two-edged swords in many cities and these and other collections also document the controversies they raised.

"Sec. I (B.) To Attract into our Sunday School and lead into the Kingdom of Christ young men who have no Church or Sabbath School connection."

Statement of purpose from the constitution of the the Moody Volunteers of the Chicago Avenue Church, ca. 1895. From Collection 330

It was also a time of specialized ministries. Mel Trotter was an alcoholic whose life turned around when he gave his life to Christ. Collection 47 documents his founding in 1900 of a rescue mission in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that became the first of dozens he started or influenced around the country. The motto of the mission could have served as that for many other ministries of the time, "Everlastingly at it!" Reports on converts, sermons, and statistics are among the materials that describe the beginnings of the mission outreach to the poor, homeless, sick and destitute. To quote from the mission's 1905 report, "A glimpse into the [mission's] store-room on distribution day would make glad the heart of the generous donators and a look into some of the homes which were thus made happy would bring tears to the eyes and a great sorrow to know that such misery and destitution could exist in a Christian land and a civilized, progressive city like Grand Rapids."

William Eugene Blackstone (Collection 540), a self-educated building and property investor, founded the Chicago Hebrew Mission in 1891. He was dedicated to presenting the gospel to the Jewish community, so that as many as would would accept Jesus as the Messiah. His efforts are reflected in his files, which includes correspondence with Jewish leaders, petitions to the President of the United States seeking a homeland in Palestine for displaced Jews, and reports on evangelistic outreach in the United States, (as well as in Poland, Russia, Korea, China, Palestine, India, and Egypt).
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Foreign Missions

By 1900, nondenominational missions had long been an important part of the American religious scene, taking full advantage of the opportunities offered by a tide of European colonial expansion that had not yet begun to turn. Something of an overview of missions in this era are offered by the letters of Judson Smith (Collection 173), written during his tour of mission stations in Japan and China in 1898 or the 1902 speech (in Collection 44) on the world-wide state of missions written by Sarah Doremus, one of the founders of the Woman's Union Missionary Society.

"With all the boast of an advanced twentieth century, human kind is sadly defective and undeveloped. Do you ask what hinders the rapid spead of the Christ-message...? Everything is swept aside before the one indictment -- the inconsistancies of Christians, here - there - everywhere. Alas that we forget we are a `spectacle to men and angels.' "

Speech by Sarah Doremus, ca. 1902. From Collection 44.

The WUMS (Collection 379) was established to provide a means for single women to serve as missionaries. Formed in 1860, its women workers had by the end of the century established hospitals, schools, orphanages, Bible classes and evangelism programs in India, China and Japan. The materials documenting this period consist largely of correspondence, minutes, and reports, such as the 1899 report on Calcutta that states, "Looking over the year [1899] that is just closing, we find that our greatest cause of thankfulness is for uninterrupted work."

The primary age class at the WUMS School in Yokahama, Japan, ca. 1895. From Collection 379.

Africa Inland Mission (Collection 81) was only five years old by the end of the nineteenth century. China Inland Mission (Collection 215; the mission is now called Overseas Missionary Fellowship) was in its thirty-fifth year and its principles had been widely heralded and served as a model for many other missions, including AIM. By 1902, various groups, including the Inland-South America Missionary Union, were developing self supporting churches the more remote Indian peoples of the northwest area of the continent. These groups would combine by 1919 and eventually become known as South America Mission. The Archives has the files of the American branches of all three missions. J. Hudson Taylor, CIM's founder and director, seemed to see into the new century when he wrote, in an 1899 article for workers in China, "The whole world is in unrest and more or less of upheaval and dissatisfaction. ...Can we be in the current and be uninfluenced by it?"

New Year's eve we watched as the old year went out, and the New came in. We had a testimony meeting, prayer and song. The time went very fast.

January 8, 1900 entry in the diary of Malla Moe, missionary to South Africa.

The first manifestation of this restlessness in the new century was the Chinese protest movement and civil war known in the West as the Boxer Uprising. Collections 188 (Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth) and 542 (Sarah Alice Troyer Young) include the papers of people who lived in the midst of the storm. The Goforths fled the uprising, while the Youngs were killed. Among the Goforths' papers is his manuscript, Escape of the Canadian Presbyterian missionaries from North Hunan during the Boxer uprising of 1900. Sarah Young's December 2, 1899, letter (only months from her death) is caught up in thankfulness: "In two months more I shall have been in China 4 years. Can it be! Well I am glad to be here today."Almost all of her letters and her diary are available over the World Wide Web. You can visit her site by clicking here.
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Burial of J. Hudson Taylor in China, June 1905. From Collection 215

Mind and Faith

There are many records that allow a glimpse at the way Christians looked at their faith as the century turned. Billy and Helen Sunday's exchange of letters as a young married couple show the ways their faith affected their understanding of their daily lives, as do the family letters of missionary to Persia, Belle Sherwood Hawkes (Collection 39), and the dairies of missionary to South Africa Malla Moe (Collection 280), among others. Collection 330 contains many documents from the congregation known as the Chicago Avenue Church in 1895 and Moody Church in 1905. (It was renamed after D. L. Moody's death in 1899). These show the church's outreach to a wide variety of different Chicago groups - street kids, young businessmen, unwed mothers, Italian immigrants. They also contain information on the kind of sermons that were preached and Sunday school lessons taught. Other sermons from the era are in the papers of Judson Conant (Collection 76) and Ira E. Hartman (Collection 137). Hartman's sermon files, for example, include talks on revival, Decoration Day, funerals, following Christ, Christmas, foreign missions, the Fourth of July, the home, God's love, making a living, repentance, Thanksgiving, and Christian unity, to name just a few topics. One sermon, entitled "Christ and the Common Affairs of Life," contains the thought, "A child of God may be poor, minus his next meal. In these days of sharp competition and rivalry, good men are sore pressed for the necessities of life. It is well to remember that Jesus is still on the shore. A man's life consists not in the abundance of things he possessth. God's estimate of us is based not on what we have but what we are."

Two participants in Moody Church's "Fresh Air Program," which gave city kids outings in the country. ca. 1903. From Collection 330.

Hymns are another avenue for looking at the faith of the time and the archives has, in Collection 35, hundreds of lyrics from this period written by the blind poetess Fanny Crosby, one of the best known lyricists of the time.

First page, from 1900, of the "Life Record" of minister Harry Ironside, recording the baptisms and marriages he performed. From Collection 330.

The turn of the last century was a world alien and identical to our own, like a "distant mirror," as historian Barbara Tuchman entitled one of her books. We can see the roots of many current organizations in the efforts of the era. In the faith, failures and hopes documented on these shards of paper we can see ourselves.
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Last Revised: 1/17/98
Expiration: indefinite

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