Billy Graham Center

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Charles Arthur Riggs, 1916-2008
Document - Oral History Transcript, 1976

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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 their leader?

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 in Navs.

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 Christian organization.

FERM: Absolutely, the more the better.

RIGGS: Right.

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 been wonderful.

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 of records.

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 Psalm.

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.

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