a billy graham center archives exhibit
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Interview with Jim Vaus by Dr. Lois Ferm on May 26, 1976. From Collection 141, audio tape T14; transcript in box 5, folder 40. Duration: 13:45 minutes.
Image from Photo File: Vaus, James.

VAUS: The night after I came to know Christ at the Graham Crusade.... You know, a lot of people often talk about Christianity and the decision for Christ as, “Oh, boy,” suddenly everything is beautiful...


VAUS: ...and everything is going great, and you've suddenly hit the magic number and...and all’s well. But in my life it was total upheaval for...for a long time. I got it from every side [after his conversion]. And it didn’t wait to start. It started the first day. And I remember saying to Alice on...as the afternoon wore on that day, I said, “Do you want to go the Graham meeting again tonight?” And she said that she did. And her time was very near for the delivery of our...our second child and we...we went to the Graham meeting that night. And in the middle of the meeting she nudged me, she said, “Honey, we better go.” [laughs] And I barely got her to the hospital on time. But Dennis was born the night after I was born again.

[End of first excerpt]

FERM: What brought you to the meeting at Washington and Hill Street that night, way back in ‘49?

VAUS: Well, though my life was one that was deep in crime at the time that I attended the meeting.... Well, really my life had been fouled up again and again and again. And I’d been in prison before, armed robbery, I was convicted. And then, though in spite of the conviction, I had been in the military and out and court-martialed in the military as a captain for misuse of government priorities, misappropriation of government property, sentenced to ten years at hard labor. And then a year after entering the federal prison was pardoned by President Truman, and ordered back into military service, was honorably discharged. And in spite of all this and people hear that part of the story where I was involved with organized crime, with Mickey Cohen, and so forth, I think they are sometimes a little shocked when they find that I was raised in a Christian home, and wonderful godly parents. Dad was dean of BIOLA [Bible Institute of Los Angeles]. And they say then, “How can a guy raised in a background like that get so involved in lawlessness and crime?” But your dad and your mom can’t make the decision for you. And it’s not exposure to Christianity that brings transformation. But I had been hearing a lot about Graham in those days in 1949 because seemingly there was a big explosion in the paper where he was taking headlines in the city.

FERM: This was after the crusade had really gathered momentum and...

VAUS: Right...

FERM: ...then Mr. Hearst had begun to “puff” it.

VAUS: ...along toward the latter part of it, really, and...and the thing had beco...the whole crusade had become really explosive and was truly capturing headlines in the city of Los Angeles. And I’m sure people would have said a month earlier or two months earlier that such a thing would be impossible. But I read and heard about the [pauses]...

FERM: Crusade?

VAUS: Hamblen, Stuart Hamblen...

FERM: Conversion.

VAUS: ...and I didn’t believe it. I knew Stu Hamblen too well. And I just knew it couldn’t be. I guess then, out of curiosity, having read and heard, I attended one night, not by plan. We were in that general area and...my wife and I, driving in the car. And we passed this huge tent where thousands of people were making their way into the tent and suddenly these other things came back to mind and I said, “Well, Honey, let’s go.” And we did. And many people have made many comments, I guess, about that night and that my...what happened to me. I remember sitting in the back and we had two seats right on the aisle. And I was critical of what was taking place. When Graham started to speak I lost my critical attitude, I think.

FERM: That's right. You had a background of this. You knew all the words, didn't you?

VAUS: Yeah, yeah. And it...Graham spoke and in not a very unusual way, but just very straight forward. And I think, if I recall correctly, if memory serves me right, he preached that night on Nicodemus [John 3]. And...anyway, at the end he gave an invitation and a little guy came down the aisle and tapped me on the shoulder. He said....

FERM: [I.A.] Daddy Moon?



VAUS: It was...let me think. I think he was named Billy Schofield.

FERM: Billy Schofield. I've heard about him too.

VAUS: Yeah. Tapped me on the shoulder, he said, “Brother, are you saved?” And oh, this kind of person just rubbed me the wrong way. I was angered. And he said, “Don’t you want to go forward?” And all I could think about was that if he says one more word, I had it figured out, the place in the sawdust where he was going down and the place where I was going out. [Ferm laughs] And he didn’t say anything else. I...it was during this lull, so to speak, Billy said, “There’s a man here tonight...” (and he had no knowledge of my presence, I don’t think he did)...

FERM: I don't think he did.

VAUS: ...he said, “there's a man...” cause he...I think he said this so many times. “There'a man here tonight that has heard this story many times before and he knows this is the decision he should make. And yet again tonight he hardens his heart and with pride he stiffens his neck. He’s determined to leave without making this decision. But for that man it may be his last opportunity.” And I was one that had put off again and again and again. If anyone had asked me in those days, “Do you believe in God,” I would have said, “Sure.” If they had said, “Well, do you believe the Bible”; I would have said, “Yes.” And...if by believing you mean that you accept the truth of the reality of a God and of Christ and the Bible and all that, sure.” I accepted it all. But none of...my...my...that kind of believing....

FERM: It's purely intellectual.

VAUS: Yeah, it’s just the acceptance of fact...

FERM: Yes.

VAUS: ...but it wasn't the kind of believing that had changed my life. And oh, it would take a lot of time and a lot of paper, a lot of tape, one and the other to get down all that I feel so keenly and so deeply on this subject. But I...I came to a place where I...where I accepted Christ and I was really desirous of His total control of my living. And I finally turned to the little guy and said, “Okay, I’ll go.”

FERM: He was probably surprised, wasn’t he?

VAUS: Oh, I talked to him...I talked to him a long time after that. In fact, since that time...he's now...no longer living)...but he...he wrote a book and his wife asked me if I would write the foreword to it. And I guess he wrote it before he died, then died and it was published. But I wrote it with great joy. He...some time later he and I met and in recalling the incidents that took place, I said, “Hey, why did you...why did you pick me out?” And he said, “You know, two elderly ladies saw you come in and know (knew from my picture with Mickey Cohen so often in the paper)...knew who you were, and pointed out where you were sitting to several of us that were counseling. And then they went back into the little place that was set aside for prayer and while...while Billy preached, why, they prayed.” And I’ve often thought of the many times that people have said, “Oh, you’re that gangster that Graham converted.” I know that Billy would be the last to say it.

FERM: That’s right.

VAUS: But the people that had an awful big part in it sure...I think the world of Bill and all the [BGEA] Team) but I often think of those ladies, that the only contribution they could make was prayer. And they prayed.

FERM: This is what it’s all about, isn’t it? That's right.

VAUS: And the Holy Spirit worked and then as he...as old Billy Schofield said...he said, “You know, we're...several of us talking at the back of the tent and wondering if someone shouldn’t maybe go and say a word to you. And then all of a sudden,“ he said, ”I was the one picked out.” And he said, “I was scared to death as I walked along down the aisle [Ferm unclear in the background] where you were.” He said, “I...I...I just prayed that the Lord would give me the right words to say and that if He didn’t want me to say anything that I’d just be quiet.” And he said, “I thought of a lot of things to say but it was like someone put a hand across my mouth. I couldn’t say anything, and so I just prayed.” But it was the “So I just prayed” group that [laughs]...it was the two ladies and Bill and the work, of course, of the Holy Spirit that’s.... Who can...who can recite....

FERM: What might have happened had they not done it.

VAUS: Yeah. But that was the night and then because, I guess, somebody figured out who I was, they got me to Billy Graham. And Bill and I talked. But I’ll never forget kneeling in the sawdust and dirt and just saying, “God, if you think I mean business with You, please straighten out my life, and I’ll give You all I’ve got.”

[end of second excerpt]

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