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This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Vernon William Patterson (Collection 5, T5) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. Foreign terms are not commonly understood appear in italics. In very few cases words were too unclear to be distinguished. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. The transcribers have not attempted to phonetically replicate English dialects but have instead entered the standard English word the speaker was expressing. Readers should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.
. . . Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence of the speaker.
. . . . Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
( ) Word in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
[ ] Words in brackets are comments made by the transcriber.
This transcript was completed by Wayne D. Weber in March 2001.
Collection 5, T5. Interview of Vernon William Patterson by Paul Ericksen, March 5, 1985.
PATTERSON: Yes, and a lot...a number of our men in the Christian Men's Club were meeting in Walter Wilson's home. That...and Walter...and they were praying for revival. Well, Billy [Graham] was at that time traveling for Youth For Christ. And at that...and they...they...these men were praying and praying for...for another revival here in...in Charlotte. Well, they needed to get...if they were going to have a meeting, they needed to get the biggest auditorium in the city, which was the...the Memorial Hol...Hall. And they needed to make their decision as to that. Well, Billy was in...in London holding a meeting there. Well, they were meeting in Walter Wilson's home and they had decided they wan...wanted Billy to be...to come and hold that meeting. Well, they phoned him about ten o'clock at night in London and waked him up, I guess, about three o'clock and said, "Billy, we want to hold a meeting this next fall and we want you to come." Well, [pauses] Billy said he would come. Some have told me, I believe, he said that if I would be presi...if I would be chairman. I'm not sure about that. But anyway I was elected chairman.
ERICKSEN: By the committee?
PATTERSON: Yeah. By the group that was praying within...and they...they were all members of the Christian Business Men's Committee. Well, so that was how the plans were laid for that meeting. That was held in November . And Billy was the...then making his headquarters in Minneapolis. Well, when he came (this was his first meeting in...in his home town)...and he really seemed to be, he was doubly eager not to fail in his home town. So Billy brought in every prop he could think of. He brought a beautiful singer. I've forgotten her name right now. And he brought in Bev Shea, [George Beverly Shea] and got Bill...Gil Dodds to come down and put on a demonstration race. And he brought another one to play a remember...a marimba...a...a [pauses] musical...for them.
ERICKSEN: How did the city respond?
PATTERSON: Well, it was...they responded well...wonderfully. We set up...we set up a strong committee of ministers and laymen. We didn't get the...we didn't get the support of the...the ministerial association officially but we left it to the ministers who would cooperate to...to come in. We didn't make any issue of that. But the laymen were probably...were the main leaders of it. Well, so we...we started out to get a...we...we...we em...employed a...a fine [pauses] advertising committee to draw up publicity for us and they got out...out a folder which we distributed widely and took as our motto, "Charlotte Sparks the Nation." Well, and then we raised a good deal of the money in advance. And when Billy came he brought about every help he could get to...so he'd be sure not to fail down here. He brought a...you'll...you'll find...
ERICKSEN: Yeah, you just mentioned some of those thing.
PATTERSON: ...you'll find those folders that we put out.
PATTERSON: He said for years that it was the best advertised meeting he'd ever had. So...so the...the...the...the...we had...we had many difficulties. For we'd...we'd gotten the largest auditorium in the city, the Memorial Ha...Hall down there that would seat about five thousand. But there was a con...[pauses] the...the...the Memorial Auditorium was tied up by a wrestling match every Monday on...
ERICKSEN: Yeah, I....
PATTERSON: ...on...on a yearly basis.
ERICKSEN: I remember...you mentioned that on a different interview talking about the...the conflict.
PATTERSON: Well, the First Baptist Church, Dr. Warren opened his church and we had to dodge those Mondays...those Mondays. And then, no...then on Saturday there was a gr...a leader of a...the...the television had that sewed up with a...a hay...hay...hay...well, a barn dance so we...we had to dodge that. Well, we finally, when we got to...we...we planned on...on the closing Saturday to have Gil Dodds give a demonstration race. And we sent to the colleges of the state and asked them to send down a representative to race with him, the world champion. Well, [pauses] it was interesting what happened that night. They had a champion of the University of North Carolina to come, Jimmie Miller. I was sitting on the second row and they put him up against Gil...Gil Dodds. Well, they had someone to fire the...the starting pistol and the race started. And we'd made a track all the way around that hall. And Jimmie's, (this was Jimmie Miller the runner), and I was sitting right behind his wife and every time they would go by she would say, "Take him now, Jimmie, take him, Jimmie." [laughs] Well, it looked like Jimmie Miller might win toward the close. And then right at the last Gil just put out his long strides...strides racing and shot past Jimmie Miller [laughs] and in the end won the race. I was impressed what with Jimmie...what Gil did that night. He then walked up on the platform and with...with not showing any...any shortness of breath at all just made a talk. And he told about a number of his races. He told about...but not one of them was the race he won. It was races he lost. [laughs]
ERICKSEN: Now what...?
PATTERSON: And then...then he gave an invitation. He said, his...his...his mentor up there, his teacher, said...never told him to run to win. He said, "Just to do your very best." And he made the appeal on that ground: "Are you doing you're very best for the Lord Jesus Christ?"
ERICKSEN: Now it was the '47 meetings where Billy call the...the meeting a crusade on the suggestion on Willis Haymaker. Why was the name changed to a crusade from campaign which had been used previously?
PATTERSON: Well, it had been that way by...used by all the evangelists.
PATTERSON: But [rubs against microphone] Haymaker, I think, thought...he had been...Haymaker had worked with us for years before that.
PATTERSON: He had been our field secretary. And Haymaker just decided that "crusade" would be a better meeting because Billy added the follow-up, you know.
PATTERSON: And...and he included...crusade could...involved all the Christian forces.
ERICKSEN: Now, was the...you say Billy added the follow-up. Was that '47 meeting...did that include follow-up?
PATTERSON: Yes, yes. They...they had follow-up there.
ERICKSEN: Who arranged that?
PATTERSON: Charlie Riggs was the...was the...the leader and I think he...he taught the...the advisors and the counselors and then he...they laid a plan for follow-up. And that...that plan resulted in this JAARS [Jungle Aviation and Radio Services, a support service agency in Waxhaw, NC, for Wycliffe Bible Translators] ground down here. Henderson Belk who was...was saved in that meeting, I believe, the '58 meeting. No, that was the '58 meeting. That was later. But [pauses] by that time Billy had developed a very complete follow-up. He had his....
ERICKSEN: By the '58 meeting or...?
PATTERSON: By the '58 meeting. He had...he had this Brother Andrew. No. What was that Andrew, you know, program?
ERICKSEN: Operation Andrew.
PATTERSON: But Andrew brought...Operation Andrew. And he had...he had strong and well organized prayer groups organiz...organized before the campaign for several months praying for revival. And then he had...he left one of his leaders here for several months after that to follow-up the decisions that had been made.
ERICKSEN: Now at that '58 meeting you were on the board of...board of directors, or you were on the board of the crusade. Were there things done in the....
PATTERSON: I was in...I was chairman of the '47 Campaign...
PATTERSON: ...and on the board of directors after that.
ERICKSEN: Of the '58. Were there things in the '58 crusade that you did differently from the '47 crusade because of things you'd learned the first time?
PATTERSON: Yes. You see, we...Billy by that time had become so well known and so popular that while many in the ministerial association opposed, well, were not at least cold toward or cool, they couldn't well resist. So with...there wasn't that...wasn't that resistance they had at the Ham-Ramsey meeting. The people...Billy was so popular by that time that there wasn't much opposition. Where the people...the...the auditorium was filled from the beginning. Well, the...the...the...at the beginning well, they couldn't...they couldn't get Monday or...or Sunday at the Mor...Mor...at the Memorial Auditorium. So we held those meeting in the First Baptist Church. Some of the ministers there [unclear] the...oh, there were many of them against it, the...the liberals. But Dr. Warren, Dr. C.C. Warren of the First Baptist Church was strongly for it and his church was about the largest in the city, one of the largest. So he opened up his...his church. We had to go backwards and forwards over the weekends to his church. Now, I remember one instance too that...that is significant now. During the campaign, as they called it then. When we were struggling to...I...I'd held boar...board meetings. I was chairman. I'd have board meetings...
ERICKSEN: This was the '47 meeting?
ERICKSEN: The '47...?
PATTERSON: Yes, the '47 meeting. I'd have board meetings. The...our boar...board would come together for lunch everyday and discuss the needs and what was to be done. There were a number of conflicts came up. And right about in the middle of the campaign, when we were struggling to pay the bills and it looked like we didn't know just how we were going to get to do it at that time, Billy came to me and he said, "This is first time Bev Shea has come South and I want him...I want him to stay with me. Now I want him to be pleased." He said, "I've offered him seventy-five dollars a week." It was a fifteen day meeting...fifteen...yeah, fifteen days. He said, "I've offered him seventy-five dollars a week. I've told him we'd...we'd pay him that but I wonder if you would increase that?" So I...I said, "We'll make...well, we'll make it three hundred dollars for the meeting." Well, Billy...Billy said, "I want Bev to stay with me." Well, he's been with him ever since.
ERICKSEN: Yeah. Were there lessons that you learned in 1947 that changed the way you ran the...the board operated in the '58 meeting?
PATTERSON: I don't think of any significant changes. After that...no, I believe...let me see. [pauses] This was '58. Just before that I had called on R.G. Letourneau to call a meeting in Chicago to try to organize all the laymen for world [pauses] to...to make a...a...a nationwide evangelistic program and to try to arouse the laymen all over the country to put on that program. Well, we met in the...in the LaSalle Hotel, I believe, at that time. There were a number of Christian leaders from various parts of the country there and we discussed it and had a good meeting. And R.G. Letourneau decided to, he was one of the leaders that mainly financed it...and they...they did put on a special program there and employed Chauncey Nordlund from the Moody Bible Institute (he was associated with it), and put on a national crusade which lasted about a year or so. And Nordlund went about setting up meetings in various cities over the country and we...we did have a...a great success in that. We had meetings in Augusta. [Georgia] I remember I went down there to speak, and then he went about in different places, Chauncey Nordlund from the Moody Bible Institute.
ERICKSEN: Let's move almost to the present. The...this 1983 there was...was another crusade in here Charlotte. What was your impressions of those meetings?
PATTERSON: You mean with Billy? Well, Billy's meetings ever after that every one he had here was a success.
ERICKSEN: Now, I believe the...the '83 meeting, wasn't that with Leighton Ford?
PATTERSON: Oh, yes that was Leighton Ford. Well, Leighton drew a...the fair crowd but it didn't have the impact that Billy's meeting did. I don't want to say anything that would make it appear that it wasn't a good meeting, but he...he didn't have the impact here that Billy had.
ERICKSEN: Any...would you like to suggest a reason for that?
PATTERSON: Well, Billy was more popular and better known than...than Leighton. Leighton had lived here a good while but he did not...he did not have the national prominence that Billy had. And Billy had...of course, was here a good while before Leighton married Jean [Graham's sister]. But Leighton had a good meeting and many were saved in it. But it didn't, it...I don't like to make comparisons but the...it didn't awaken the...[pauses] the people as Billy's meeting had. I...he had a good meeting. That's about...that would be about as far as I could go. [jet flies overhead]
ERICKSEN: Okay. As...as we look back on...on your career, you've...you've been involved in...as a layman, in all these different activities. Were you ever...did you ever consider full-time Christian work? Did you ever think about being a missionary?
PATTERSON: No, I got...when I was in Louisville once I felt like, well, how...I...I know the Lord put me through some terrible tests but He...to prepare me I'm...I'm sure, but I got to the point there, "Well, I want...I wan...if the Lord wants me to go into Christian work, well, I'll do it." So I went down to...I decided, "Well, I'll go down to Dr...to the president of the...the...of the [pauses] Southern Baptist Seminary there. And I went down to...with the idea that I would offer myself for ministry if he felt that if I...if it was the Lord's will. Well, I got there just as he was enrolling students and he said didn't have time to talk to me. [laughs] So I took that as my answer. [laughs] But I had plenty of work in the laymen's work. Mine has been just lay witness all the time and I believe the Lord gave me some gift of organization. I've organized, oh, I guess, scores and scores of meetings all over the country. Not all over the country but mainly in the South. And the Lord has...has done wonders beyond anything that I could ask or think.
ERICKSEN: You mentioned...you were mentioning yesterday when we were off tape about how Gospel Fellowship was started in this room. Could you talk about that?
PATTERSON: Yes. I was interested in not only the laymen's evangelistic work but for ten years I was also chairman of the Child Evangelism [Fellowship] work, state chairman. And we had a conference up at...up at the Baptist church in...in Winston-Salem of the annual meeting of Child Evangelism work up there. And in that program there, in that meeting a missionary from China gave her experience. She had spent twelve years with the Baptist Board over there. She had felt that she was called to go to China when she was seven years old and when she was converted in a meeting up there at her home in Virginia. And she was baptized there in the James River. And the deacons...she heard the deacons speaking after the (this is some of her testimony)...after the meeting that it was a failure, that there was only one convert and that was little Sally James. But she didn't...but they didn't know that little Sally James had felt already the call to go as a missionary to China. [begins to cry] Well, she got a good education, she worked hard and got to college graduate, and then graduation in a...in a nursing school, had several degrees, and then she went to China and had spent twelve years with the Southern Baptist Convention. And on her way...when the Japs [Japanese] came into China they were run...the missionaries were run out. So had gotten as far as Manila and she was waiting for a ship to take her home when the Japs came in and captured Manila and they put her in the Saint Thomas prison there and she nearly died. She was on the...just the cold concrete slab and very poorly fed. She took almost...well, when she got h...she finally got home on the Gripsholm [ship] and the doctor told her she could never go back. She was...her...she was...had...had bu...bu...bub...what's that ter...terrible, disease. She nearly died. Bu...but she did go back and she stayed twelve years more. And it was after those twelve years that she had come home and we met her up at that convention. And Vida was so impressed with her that she invited her...he [sic] invited her to come down and visit us. She stayed with us about three weeks. She had been...the second period over there of twelve years had been with the Child Evangelism in the just...and just before she left Dr. [pauses]...Dr., well the head, the founder of Child Evangelism had died and a new management had come in and she was debating whether she wanted to go back. They'd...they had changed the rules and she wasn't too well pleased with it. So she stayed with us about three weeks and I...and we...she asked me a lot of questions about what I thought about how foreign missions should be run. And we both...she saw that I was in agreement with her that they ought seek to win...win the...the natives, the...the nationals, and then teach them to evangelize their own people. Well, when we got to the...about three weeks after she stayed here with us, she told me she had decided to go on back again. But this time she was not going under Child Evangelism or any denomination. She'd go on her own. So we...I drew up a charter for her and a doctrinal statement and we founded Gospel Fellowship and got it incorporated in Richmond. I was president for nineteen years. And she went back and stayed about another thirty years. Well, more...well, nineteen, I was president for nineteen so she stayed about nineteen years or fifteen years or so and [unclear].
ERICKSEN: How many members were there in the Fellowship?
PATTERSON: In the Gospel Fellowship?
PATTERSON: Well, the members were over...overseas mainly.
ERICKSEN: Oh, I see.
PATTERSON: The workers that she had set up already in Hong Kong.
ERICKSEN: How many of those were there?
PATTERSON: Well, there were two families there...well, not many. I don't know just how many there were but there were...[pauses] they...they had one family there that were...had been working with them a long time but there weren't too efficient and so Sally was really put up...put in a difficult place about her workers. But she had developed quite a work over there. She had translated the songs, gospel songs, into Mandarin and she had...she had really, really a strong work. She had written many gospel tracts and flash cards, she'd gotten up...had literature and had leaders, Chinese leaders, there working with her. They were.... And then she had a radio broadcast that reached...was aimed primarily at children. They would broadcast the gospel message and then close it by saying, "If you want more information call another [unclear]." And she had that going and the literature work going and work up in the...the...the islands...up in...between...up in Taiwan and...and in the islands close to the mainland. So she had a great work going over there. Well, I...I was president of that for nineteen years and then I...I turned it over to a friend of mine that I thought would [pauses]...was very capable of taking it and I thought it was time for me to resign. But it turned out that he...Miss Sally had bought some very...built up in that (she'd been over about thirty years)...she had some very valuable property down in...in Kauloon in...right in the heart of the city. And she had developed a really fine work. She had translated songs into Mandarin and also tracts and flash cards, beautiful flash cards, and she had a family there that were manage it...managing it but there were...I don't know how many Chinese converts were working with her. Well, but she was incapacitated and couldn't go back. And after nineteen years I turned over leadership to a friend of mine that I thought was a very earnest and devout Christian. Well, he at once said just as (I won't go into details here)...but he and his family, his wife, set out at once, not only to lead the work but to take it over for their own. At least that is what appeared to me. So I finally persuaded Sally. Sally was very much a...a...a...a one-man lea...a one person leader. She was the head and she couldn't work too well with others, especially men. Well, this person was...she'd built up a big work over there with valuable, very valuable property. And this is the president that succeeded me, I saw was working to get control of the whole thing.
ERICKSEN: Take it from her?
PATTERSON: Yeah. So we had quite a conflict there but I finally persuaded her. That worked to the...that worked to good in this way. Sally was very much a one-person leader and I had tried to persuade her to join the Christian Nationals Evangelism Commission some time but she wouldn't do it. You know the Christian Nationals Evangelism Commission was formed in Dr. [pauses]...one of the...one of the leaders of the Christian Business Men's Committee International, a doctor in Seattle. He formed the Christian Nationals Evangelism Commission and they were a group of laymen that were helping evangelists in about thirty or more different nations around the world. It was a laymen's movement and I'd known of it for years but Sally, she didn't want to [gap in tape] up any of the leadership. But finally it got to the point where this other one that I'd let take over my place was about to just take the mission away from her and I couldn't stand that. So we finally got her posi...we persuaded her to turn over all of her property and to merge with the Christian Nationals Evangelism Commission. One of the board of directors of CBMC [Christian Business Men's Committee] founded that out in Seattle.
ERICKSEN: Now what happened to Gospel Fellowship then...that this fellow then was president of?
PATTERSON: It mer...it's mer...it's merged with...it's merged with Christian Nationals Evangelism Commission and they are working in forty or more...around forty different nations around the world today. And they've...they're spreading Christian literature that Sally wrote. She's in a hospital still up there. Not the hospital...not the hospital. It's a Virginia home for...Virginia home...retirement home up there in Culpeper, Virginia.
ERICKSEN: What happened to the president?
PATTERSON: Well, he...he tried his best. I wouldn't go through it but he did some very, very, very wrong things. But we finally got rid of him and...and turned it over to Allen Finley. I don't know whether if you know Allen Finley, but Allen Finley is in San Jose, California. He is president of the Christian Nationals Evangelism Commission and they're working in some forty nations around the world. So her work is going on with that and has...has blossomed out far beyond anything she had...she had conceived of.
ERICKSEN: Well, this is a...a good time to break so let's...let's take a break.
PATTERSON: All right.