On January 7, 1976, Dr. lois Ferm of the BGEA sat down with Charlie Rigg
to record an oral history interview about his memories of his early years
with the Association. What follows is the transcript of that interview,
as prepared by the BGEA staff. The Archives does not have the audio tape
on which this transcript was based. The transcript itself can be found in
Collection 141, Box 29. Folder 7
DR. LOIS FERM: This is an interview with Charlie Riggs
who lives at 2512 Deerpath Drive, Nashville, Tennessee 37217. At this time
they are living in San Diego. This interview is for the Billy Graham Oral
History Program. It is being done by Lois Ferm at Lake Buena Vista, Florida
on January 7, 1976. Charlie, you, Bob and I have known each other for a
long time: you and Bob came from the oil fields of Pennsylvania. Who would
have thought that many years later, God would have put you both on the same
Team for His service. But since we have a subject to consider, we should
not get too far afield. What circumstances first brought you in contact
with Billy? Was it through the Navigators that you first got to know him?
MR. CHARLIE RIGGS: Yes, it was through the Navigators.
I heard Billy Graham in 1946 when I was the Director of the Northwest area
Navigator program. Mr. Graham was very active with Youth for Christ and
I remember he spoke at a Youth for Christ rally in Seattle, Washington.
It really was a challenge to hear this young man with a fiery message. Then
about 1949 Billy Graham met Dawson Trotman in Beatenburg, Switzerland, at
a Youth for Christ International Conference. Dawson apparently impressed
Billy Graham with his knowledge of the Bible and his vision for working
with individuals and invited him to join the Team to help with the follow-up.
In 1951 Dawson called all the Navigator Directors to a meeting in San Francisco
to discuss Mr. Graham's offer to take over the follow-up of the Crusades.
FERM: For the sake of history, tell us who were the Navigators? Briefly,
what was their mission? What were they doing?
RIGGS: The Navigator organization was founded by Dawson Trotman who had
a very unusual conversion. I can't go into detail except that scripture
memory had a lot to do with his conversion. He was a real roughneck of a
fellow. His girlfriend invited him to go to a youth meeting on a Sunday
night. They were having a scripture memory contest and through memorizing
scripture week after week the Scriptures began to work in his life until
they turned him to the Saviour. He thought, "Wow! Scripture memory
did this!" To begin with he developed a Scripture memorization program
and later the man-to-man program of discipline men for Christ. As a result
of his Scripture memory, Bible study, and his work with servicemen, his
work spread to thousands of camps and stations during the war. This was
the beginning of an organization that he later called the "Navigators".
Dawson was under investigation by the government because sailors and soldiers
were coming into his home in large numbers and the government wondered,
"Boy, what's going on here?" He was forced to come out in the
open and come up with the name "The Navigators". It was largely
based in the beginning on Scripture memory, Bible study, and a home-away-fro-m-home
for servicemen. Since then it has grown into a world- wide discipleship
organization that reaches out into every facet of Christian life.
FERM: I wanted that injected because in the 1954 Crusade in London, it
was really put to work for the Billy Graham organization. But I'm anticipating
something. Please go ahead.
RIGGS: When Mr. Trotman called the Directors together in
San Francisco e said, "I'm so busy now I don't know what to do, but Billy
Graham has offered me the opportunity of coming onto the Team and helping
with follow-up." We thought, "This is what God has called you to
do. Where could you have a better opportunity?" So he said, "I'll
do it." And so in Fort Worth, Texas, 1951, Dawson went to his first Crusade.
Then the next Crusade was at Shreveport, Louisiana. He observed how Mr. Graham
closed the service and thought, "If I'm going to help in follow-up, then
I'm going to have to help with the counseling because follow- up starts with
a clear, registered commitment to Jesus Christ." He started a counselor
training program and from 1952 on, it just evolved from one thing to another
until the present day. But it was started back at that meeting in Beatenburg
when Billy said, "Dawson, would you join our Team and help with the follow-up?"
Dawson came on and then Lorne Sanny came to help him. I came to help Lorne
Sanny because he was the one who discipled me in the service when I met him
in Seattle, Washington. It was into his home that I moved when I got out of
the service and became involved full time in the Nav work in 1946. 1 directed
the work '46 through '50. Billy Graham came to Seattle in 1951 in the summertime.
It was at that time that I met him. In fact, I was on the platform in the
Seattle, Washington, Crusade where they had special prayer and sent me on
my way to Fort Worth, Texas, to start the Nav work there for the Southwest
area. I enrolled in TCU (Texas Christian University] for my fourth year in
the fall of 1951. Billy Graham came to Houston, Texas, in May of 1952 and
I began working with the Team at that time.
FERM: That's a fascinating story. Our follow-up materials have been pretty
much patterned after those of the Navigators. We've changed and adapted
as time has gone along, but . . .
RIGGS: Right. Well, the idea was to keep the individual central with his
needs,,' as the mother does the child. We don't want the person to become
lost in programs and literature, but keep ever in mind that you've got an
individual who needs personal help.
FERM: Now during the time that Dawson, you and some of the others became
involved in the Billy Graham Crusades, what happened to the Navigators without
RIGGS: I think there is a scriptural principle involved here: you give
and God gives back. I've known so many people, that have helped in our Crusades.
A printer, for example. He's all of a sudden printing five days a week for
us and you think, "Well, what in the world does he do with the other
people he used to serve? When we go, is he going to be just all of a sudden
out of business?" Man after man has said following a Crusade, "I've
never been busier in my life." So God has a wonderful way of giving
back to those who give and this has been true with the Nav work. Their work
has grown tremendously. I think the fact that they were linked with Billy
Graham has given them visibility, stature, contacts, experience, and has
helped them become known world-wide. . .
FERM: I believe Billy, too, was instrumental in helping them get Glen Eyrie,
Colorado wasn't he?
RIGGS: Well, exactly. You see the property there was offered to the
Association and Billy thought, "I just can't get involved in real estate."
However, Daws Trotman saw the property and he thought, 'This is where we ought
to have our headquarters." And that is a story of faith in itself, how
the Navigators secured Glen Eyrie.
FERM: I interviewed Lorne Sanny so we got that story on tape. I wish I
had had a chance to interview Dawson Trotman. But Billy always had an interest
RIGGS: Yes, right. Of course, this is one of the characteristics
of Billy. He's a generous man. He's always lifting people. This, of course,
was easy for him because he saw the Navigators were a genuine evangelical
FERM: Absolutely, the more the better.
FERM: Now your association with the Crusades has changed through the years
from just teaching counseling classes and follow-up to being Crusade Director.
RIGGS: Well, yes, I'll tell you what probably led to that, Lois. In 1954
we started with our foreign tours. For several years, I went on every one
because they needed someone for the counseling and follow-up. When we went
to India in 1956, for example, I had the privilege of making all the arrangements
for the meetings in several cities. Through several foreign tours I became
experienced in the whole crusade set-up. In the States I had my first real
test in 1957 in the New York Crusade where I was actually made Director
of the Crusade. That was not my particular cup of tea, nor did I want to
make it my full ministry. My heart was in the teaching. So for a few years,
except for foreign tours, I devoted myself to counseling and follow-up.
Then in 1964 we began to have several shorter Crusades and I was asked to
direct the Crusade in Omaha, Nebraska.
FERM: As you began to move into this field of directing Crusades, did you
feel that your opportunity for teaching was being aborted? Did you feel
you were doing something that you weren't equipped for?
RIGGS: Lois, I found it to be a tremendous challenge. The sky was the
limit. As Crusade Director you call the strokes. You can do anything you want
to do (under God). So I thought, "Well, this gives tremendous opportunity
for investing in the lives of ministers and lay people by the thousands. It
was a great delight in having the overall responsibilities because it allowed
me full expression to the limits of my capabilities and vision. My only regret,
I think, would be that in wearing two hats, in a sense, the counseling and
follow-up has developed on the backstroke and thereby is somewhat hampered.
If you looked at materials back in 1952 and again today you would say, "Well,
there's been lots of changes and there's progress." Yet when you think
of what you could have done, you feel a bit of regret. I'm sure you'd agree
that any business could not progress today without having a development and
research department. We really haven't had that in any of our work.
FERM: That's right, that's right.
RIGGS: So to answer your question the long way around, I have found great
challenge in Crusade directing, but my only regret would be perhaps the
neglect of the area of counseling and follow-up.
FERM: Did you have any idea the Lord would give you many opportunities
to do many different things when you got started?
RIGGS: Oh, no, of course, I was so much of a novice. I was brought up in
a broken home. My dad left home when I was two years of age. I worked when
I was six, in a meat market, raking sawdust and delivering orders. I went
through school not because I was interested in it but because I had to.
I went through high school and working every night in a bowling alley. I
couldn't wait till I got out of school to go to work, to help support my
mother and an invalid sister. I wasted seven years of my life running with
the gang in the oil fields. But thank God for the four years of disciplined
training in the Army and again for the investment that the Navigators made
in my life. I am deeply grateful to God for His great grace which has allowed
me these many years of ministry with the Billy Graham Association.
FERM: Wherever I go there are people who know you who feel that God blessed
them in using you with their lives. He has given you a ministry and it has
RIGGS. Well, I appreciate that.
FERM: As you review Crusades since you've been in so many of them, which
ones stand out? Are there any that stand out more than any others?
RIGGS: Well, of course, you'd have to go back to New York. That stood out
because it was my first big opportunity that was thrust upon me. Here I
was, a novice out of the oil fields, working with an Executive Committee
made up of some of New York's leading businessmen.
FERM: Elmer Engstrom and Roger Hull.
RIGGS: Roger Hull, the Crusade Chairman, came to the office one day and
said, "Charlie, we've got a $2,000,000 budget and I don't know how
we are spending it. I've got to know." I said, "Well, we've got
plans. We've done it before." He said, "Yeah, but I've got to
answer for the $2,000,000." So I said, "Do you have an efficiency
expert?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Well, just send him
down." Next day two of them came and they sat across the desk. They
asked questions and for a couple of hours taking copious notes. About a
week later Roger Hull called me to his office for lunch and one of the men
came and handed me several pages and said, "Now this is what we talked
about the other day; correct it." So I went through and made a few
slight corrections. The first thing I knew they put together a tremendous
organizational structure. Then he had all the advance Team write job descriptions
so that everyone knew his responsibility and where he fitted into the Crusade
plans. It was a delight because it did help us and satisfied him. Then of
course, it was a long Crusade, sixteen-and-a-half weeks breaking all sorts
FERM: Oh, yes, I remember that Crusade.
RIGGS: Then London was very similar. We went over there for a four-week
Crusade which went on for twelve weeks.
FERM: I think people who have been in the organization a long time remember
the British Crusade as the greatest spiritual experience among all.
RIGGS: I can still remember the great hymns like "The Twenty-Third
FERM: And the singing in the subway and the . . .
RIGGS: Yes. There was something about the Crusade that was deep and abiding.
We counseled in the elephant pits there at Harringay. They were smelly old
horse and elephant pits that they cleaned up as well as they could. Night
after night people went in for counseling, even Lords and Ladies.' One night
Ruth Graham counseled Lady Monteagle and her husband, Lord Monteagle. God
only knows what happened in that Crusade. I believe it turned the corner
for evangelism in Britain.
FERM: Well, now I just interviewed Goodwin-Hudson and I believe his tape
will verify this. I really believe this is true. Charlie, are there criticisms
or constructive comments that you would like to make? Do you think we've
become too organized?
RIGGS: I don't think so, Lois. The Team has expanded and the work has grown
world wide, but I think we have all been very conscious of the fact that
God is sovereign and we as a Team can do nothing without Him. Through the
years the emphasis on prayer has not diminished, it has grown. Billy has
constantly made the purpose of the organization clear and he's always led
us, you know, so wonderfully by his own life and example. I just came away
from a meeting with him for three hours. It's the same spirit to give and
give again. He takes counsel from people and abides by the counsel. I think
the only reason for expansion is just to do a better job for the Lord.
FERM: Of course, I couldn't agree with you more but quite often people
criticize our oral history interviews in that they feel that we agree with
the people that we talk to so much that we never give them ample opportunity
to exhibit any feelings they've had against individuals or experiences on
the Team. After all, we can't edit history. We should tell it as it is and
we are protected by our agreement to use it in this other fashion. (tape
goes off) Charlie, thank you so much for allowing this time for the interview.
I know it is going to bless the hearts of people in the future as they read
it. Accept all of our appreciation for taking the time, Billy's and everybody
else. He knows these are being held and I asked him if I might do this and
he said, "By all means." So have I neglected anything?
RIGGS: Lois, I was very happy to be a part of this and I
trust the Lord led you to ask me what He wanted shared because I prayed and
I'm sure you did.
FERM: Well, thank you very, very much.