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This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the second part of the oral history interview of John Von Casper "Jack" Wyrtzen (CN 446, T2) 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 which 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 after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" 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 on the part of the speaker.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
( ) Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
[ ] Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcript was made by Robert Shuster and Wendy Valentine and was completed in July, 2001
Collection 446, T2. Interview of John Von Casper "Jack"Wyrtzen by Robert Shuster, October 5, 1991.
WYRTZEN: [overlapping portion from tape T1]...who loved the Lord and followed him about and kept witnessing to him and got George to go hear Harry Rimmer, who was a great Christian, a great scientist. And he went to see him at Calvary Baptist Church one night and George got converted. And then George immediately told all thirty-five of us in the band how to get converted. And I remember the next summer going off to Army camp and I thought, "Oh, he'll forget about his religion in this man's army." But I can still remember taps and lights out, and George reached in and got a flashlight and sat there reading his New Testament. And we'd swear at him and curse at him and one guy threw a shoe at him. I don't know how he ever took it from us. He never answered back. He was sweet about it all.
SHUSTER: Now you had said earlier that even as a child, you didn't like bad language....
WYRTZEN: Well, by then I'd learn bad language and was using it. You know, along with the crowd. Terrible. Well then, George, the next fall, he kept giving the Gospel of John, I'd throw them. The first one he ever gave me I threw it in his face and got rid of it.
SHUSTER: What made you react so strongly against...?
WYRTZEN: I don't know. I don't know but I did. And then they...every week he'd hand me tracts and all. One night he invited me to go to the [unclear] YMCA. They were going to have an evangelistic meeting and Dr. [Len] Brougher, of the Baptist Temple, was going to be speaking. And he got me there by guile. He wanted to know if I'd come and play the trombone. He was in charge of music. I played "At Dawning" I think. I didn't know any hymns. And then I guess they had some testimonies and I heard that that was rather strange. Then they introduced this fellow Brougher and he preached on hell, lake of fire, judgement. I mean he was all over the book of Revelation and then they gave an invitation. And that was the first time I'd ever seen anything like this. And I said, "These are a bunch of nuts, this is what my father must has been talking about, Billy Sunday stuff." So while they were all praying, I packed my trombone and slipped out the back door. But I couldn't sleep when I got home...when I got home I got down on my knees and that's when I got saved. And I said, "God, all this that I've been fighting against is the truth." And the next morning at seven o'clock George called me up before I went to work and he said, "I want to apologize for that preacher last night." He said, "That was an awfully heavy dose, first time hearing all about the lake of fire and judgement," and I said, "George it's just what I needed." "What do you mean?" I said, "I got saved when I got home." He said, "You got what?!" He about dropped the phone out of his hand and we've been on telephone or television or radio or some ways ever since. And then George and I and two other guys that we met, we started to study the Bible. And we'd meet up in my bedroom about seven o'clock Monday and we'd studied until midnight just pouring over.... We didn't know any Bible teachers, didn't know anybody to teach us. We were in Nehemiah and we didn't know what that was all about . Then somebody got us into the Gospel of John and then from preaching around the streets.... And the first street meeting we ever had was in Brooklyn under a subway. Helen Cadwell was a Methodist preacher's daughter got saved that night. She was here this summer for three weeks and going on great, going on all these years. And a lot of our original gang came out of those street meetings and the jail meetings and we were dealing with murderers and cut-throats and dope addicts and alcoholics in the rescue mission. And that's the way we earned our background. And that group of twenty-one fellows...and I must say in all fairness, I think every major step, when it was taken, I was against. For instance, the first street meeting. I thought that was a lot of Salvation Army nonsense. I wasn't going to go out there and never drop a nickel on the drums [?]. But George, who's the head of the...he put to vote and he won twenty-to-one, I was the only one against him. So I went out there for the street meeting. We had ten decisions and my wife, Marge's father and mother wouldn't let her go. We had to sneak her out of the house the night we both got baptized even. And she came down...
SHUSTER: Even though her mother....
WYRTZEN: ...to see what was going on and we had a little folding over and we got her praying around the street corner.
SHUSTER: Even though her mother had taken her to Pinebrook.
WYRTZEN: Yeah. Well, that was later on, she took her to Pinebrook.
SHUSTER: So Marge was going with you to street meetings before she was converted?
WYRTZEN: No, I guess not. No, I guess this was afterward. Yeah, it was after Pinebrook 'cause she played the little folding organ.
SHUSTER: When did you first meet or make contact with Percy Crawford?
WYRTZEN: Well, through her mother listening in on the radio and then they went up in the summer and Marge got saved. Then we went back to...the reunion, maybe a hundred of us and I heard Percy Crawford preach and I said, "This guy sounds...looks much better then he sounds on the radio to me." And personally all this truth is beginning to really dawn on me by now. The next summer, we both went on vacation and Dr. Albert Hughes [?] of Toronto, Canada was the speaker, great Bible teacher and we both dedicated our lives to the Lord under his preaching that summer and we said, "Lord, we're ready to go any place," and I thought sure we were going to Africa, some place like that. And then....
SHUSTER: Why did you think that?
WYRTZEN: Well, the first missionary I ever heard was from Africa and I thought, "Boy, how can I stay in America with such a need there?" and that was Ralph Davis of the African Inland Mission. Little did I realize then that years later I would preach to a quarter of a million men in Africa. And men and women that the Africa Inland Mission lined up in meetings all over Tanzania and Kenya and Congo and Uganda. And then the next missionary I heard was Dr. Isaac Page of China Inland Mission. And he painted the need of China and I said to my girl Marge, I said, "Hey, I think it's more important that we ought to go to China." By the time I had my heart set on China, I heard Paul Fleming who was starting the New Tribes Mission and he told about the tremendous needs in the jungles of South America. And I said, "Well, maybe we'll go there." Every time I'd hear, I wanted to go, I just wanted to go, I didn't care where I was just wanted to go. And then Dr. Stam, Peter Stam (whose son John and Betty Stam was killed in China) he was a good friend. I used to preach at the Star of Hope Mission and he said, "You know we've just come back from Holland. If we don't get a couple over there, within a year we're going have to close the work up." I had my wife wearing wooden shoes for that episode. [Shuster laughs.] I think that's good as I look back and we just cast all this on the Lord. And Percy Crawford was a great help to us. And Percy announced on the radio where he's going to be all that week and I'd write it down so I'd pray for him every night and he was out seven nights a week with his quartet and if he was within fifty, sixty miles of New York we'd get calls from him and we'd take them. So most of my gang came out of Percy Crawford's ministry because he knew how to pull the net in, we didn't.
SHUSTER: How do you mean that? How did he "pull the net in?"
WYRTZEN: Well, this fellow Duke, who became one of our original Word of Lifers, we got him to come to...I guess it was a Baptist church. We had...we had the place jammed. And Percy spoke. And afterward I met Duke. And he was the ballplayer in school, and he looked at me and said, "What are you doing here?" I said, "I've been converted." He said, "You've been what?!" I said, "Well, what are you doing here?" "Oh," he said, "my sister-in-law dragged me here." And so, Duke came. And Percy Crawford had always been standing up front. And Percy said, "Duke, do you realize you're a sinner?" He said, "Yeah, a pretty bad one at that." He said, "Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?" "Yeah." He'd learned that in the Lutheran church. He said, "Do you believe that Christ rose from the grave?" "Yeah." Then Percy put out his mitt and said, "Wouldn't you like to accept the Lord?" And Duke grabbed his hand, and we all stood around crying. And Duke got saved. And then Ernie Lubkerman [?]...we had a banquet. It was seventy-five cents a piece to go. And you couldn't come without an unsaved person. And Ann Lubkerman [?]...
SHUSTER: That was your guest, right?
WYRTZEN: Yeah. She brought her brother Ernie. It was on a Monday night, and Percy spoke at our banquet. And Duke...Ernie got saved. And the next Friday night we saw him up playing his violin in public and speaking on a street corner.
SHUSTER: So Percy Crawford knew how to bring people to a point of commitment.
WYRTZEN: Yeah. And outside of Pinebrook...even at Pinebrook. Yeah, he had them come forward, but in his meetings he'd just: "If you want to you want accept the Lord, raise your hand." And then he'd get in the car and drive back to Philadelphia with the quartet. I don't think he ever even gave out Gospels of John, he didn't. Dawson Troutman of the Navigators is the one that I think got all of us, now that I think of it, on follow-up. But we didn't have any. But Percy, when he'd get up there the Spirit of God would come upon him and the quartet would sing "It Was For You the Savior Died," and boy, people'd respond all over the place. And even to this day I meet his converts.
SHUSTER: At one point I wrote that you described him as a man of astonishing drive.
SHUSTER: Uh-huh. How do you mean that?
WYRTZEN: Seven nights a week out with the quartet and working all the day long on radio mail and running a Christian bookstore in Philadelphia. And Percy did everything himself. I mean after we got Word of Life started he said...he came up there to speak for a few days and he said, "How did you get all this organized?" And I had Fred Shaman [?], who was on our business manager, go down and work with Percy for two weeks because I remember what I did at Pinebrook: a kid would arrive and say, "How much is it?" (I think then maybe it was twenty-five dollars.) He'd put twenty-five dollars in his pocket. A few minutes later the bread man would come. "How much do I owe you?" "Twenty dollars." But he never had books or anything. I mean, he was as honest as the day was long, but that's the way he ran it - just right out of his pocket. And I remember he had a little black pocket notebook [word unclear], I don't know what he was putting in there [chuckles]. And I sent Fred down, and Fred organized and bookkeeping and everything for him. Well, I heard that lasted two weeks. Then I sent Gil Dodds, who was the world champion miler who I had been privileged to lead to the Lord, and he was our camp athletic director. I sent him down to organize the athletic program, and that lasted about two weeks.
SHUSTER: Because he was just the kind of person who had to do it himself?
WYRTZEN: He had to do everything himself, and tireless worker. And he used to say to me, "How'd you learn to delegate?" I'm glad I did. Otherwise I would have been dead. He died at fifty-eight from a heart attack. But he was a driver. And I think he could have gotten up there and said "Mary Had a Little Lamb," and the quartet would have sung "It Was For You," and people would have accepted the Lord. Great, great, great man of God.
SHUSTER: What were some of the other characteristics of Percy?
WYRTZEN: Well, I remember watching him play tennis with his wife Ruth up at Pinebrook and I thought that was nice. And he'd bring in Ironside and Barnhouse and Rimmer and all these folks for teachers up at Pinebrook. And on Sundays they'd have five meeting a day, and twenty-one of us would drive up there. And then they cut down to four meetings a day, and we said, "Hey, we're not coming up if you don't have these five meeting a day, because we get all our material to preach on the streets and rescue missions and jails from these speakers, and we write down everything they've said." And any books that Percy Crawford would announce, we bought everything. Everything. I had a library I was reading morning, noon, and night. And he was a great inspiration to us. And we saw in Crawford, we saw something I don't think any of his kids ever saw, maybe not even his wife. He just had a gift of evangelism. When he went into the pulpit, he came alive. Yeah, I look back and I've heard a lot of great evangelists. I even heard Gypsy Smith a couple of times. I don't know of anybody that I felt the power of God came on more that Percy Crawford when he was going up speak.
SHUSTER: Did he seem like a different person in the pulpit?
WYRTZEN: Yeah, it wasn't much fun in the pulpit. It was...he had a [unclear] and you know, kept pointing. And then he went on radio and television and would listen to him. And Percy was for real. I think he made mistakes by willing Pinebrook to his kids and they sold it and now it's its in good hands again, but it was all through sales. And he owned his radio stations. And I think most of his kids became pretty wealthy, but nothing spiritual with his kids.
SHUSTER: Yeah, Crawford Publishing...Crawford Broadcasting...
WYRTZEN: They own a large part.
SHUSTER: ...isn't too far from where I live.
WYRTZEN: In fact, I keep in touch with Don, the oldest son. And he got the old quartet together and they did a lot of their songs, and it was really great to hear them done. And his mother died, too.
SHUSTER: We have some of those TV broadcasts from '49 and '50 in the Archives.
WYRTZEN: Great. Hold on to them. Have you got any of his radio tapes still?
SHUSTER: A few, not too many.
WYRTZEN: Have you got any of DeHaan's?
SHUSTER: No we don't have any of those. We....
WYRTZEN: Well at least....
SHUSTER: You were saying about how when you got into radio.
WYRTZEN: When we got into radio Percy Crawford was on, Dr. DeHaan, Charles Fuller, Walter Maier, and Word of Life. There weren't any others on. Maybe occasionally locally, like William Ward Ayer in New York City. But nationwide we were the only five. Now, at times...I mean there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds.
SHUSTER: You were pioneers.
WYRTZEN: Yeah, I sometimes even wonder if.... You know, Christian radio has been great, you know with the John MacArthurs and Chuck Swindolls and all building up the saints. But I was talking to Theodore Epp one day, he was on KGO San Francisco that reach from Canada clear on down to Mexico. And he had enough income from that station to help pay a lot of other stations, and they were getting souls all over the place. Then they started a Christian radio station in San Francisco, Family Radio, I think, and Theodore Epp said immediately my mail went like this.
SHUSTER: It went down.
WYRTZEN: Because the Christians were all listening to Christian radio station, and he didn't even have money to pay for KGO because they all became.... And WOR in New York City, we used to hear from Maine to Florida on that station. Fifty thousand watt. And then when Christian radio came in all of a sudden [makes falling sound].
SHUSTER: It went down.
WYRTZEN: Yeah, everybody was listening to Christian radio.
SHUSTER: What about WJBT from Chicago? Did you ever hear that? That was Paul Rader's station.
WYRTZEN: Is that right? No, I was on WLS in Chicago and some of the others, but I don't remember that one.
SHUSTER: Did you...let me just ask you parenthetically: did you ever hear Paul Rader preach or...?
WYRTZEN: No, no I never did.
SHUSTER: He had died really just a couple years after you were converted, so....
WYRTZEN: Yeah, but I sure saw the results. He led Harold Ferrin, who started Providence Bible Institute, to the Lord. He lead Ralph Davis, who was one of the big men on African mission. Forrest [?] Forbes, who was the first missionary we ever supported, he led him to the Lord.
SHUSTER: Charles Fuller.
WYRTZEN: Yeah, yeah he came out of him. Bob Williams became born again. Bob started 119 churches in Borneo. And one of my best friends was Fun Wagner [?], he was an All-American University of Illinois football star. He ran all the sorority and fraternity house on campus at University of Illinois. Wild guy. He went to hear Paul Rader in Peoria, Illinois, and he got converted. And he became a part of the head of the Pocket Testament League. He and I preached to 300,000 men across the front lines across the thirty-eighth parallel of Korea for the Pocket Testament. And he must really have been great. I would...yeah, I look at some of these men. They left a foundation of Evangelical Fundamental Christianity across the world. And then Percy Crawford did, too. I remember when Percy Crawford called me up one day and he said, "I have three letters here." And he said.... These guys were all with Youth for Christ. Youth For Christ was just starting up. One was Chuck Templeton, the other was Torrey Johnson, the other Billy Graham. They all wanted to come and speak. Well, I said, "I've met all three of them." "Well," he said, "I can only take one of them. Who...?" "Take Billy Graham,"I said. "I think he's, he's the one you want."And Billy did a great job. Of course, Billy spoke at all of our....he's been up here at camp, and he spoke at a lot of our rallies. I remember he used to wear red socks [Shuster laughs] with Youth For Christ.
SHUSTER: Now, Percy Crawford, of course after he converted out in California, he had started kind of a Christian fraternity on campus.
WYRTZEN: Phi Gamma Club. Oh, out there you mean?
SHUSTER: I was wondering if that was any way a model for the XBA [the Christian fellowship that Wyrtzen and others founded in the 1930s and which became the basis for Word of Life] ...
SHUSTER: ...that you got started...if you...
WYRTZEN: Phi Beta Capa.
SHUSTER: ...if you returned something...
SHUSTER: ...independent that or if you'd been aware of what he'd done.
WYRTZEN: He might have told about it. I don't recall. [pauses] He started Phi Gamma Clubs, they were Christian clubs. And we were in all that. Out of that came a lot of churches. It was amazing. They were clubs in homes, just like Young Life or Youth For Christ would be today, and I'm sure that out of these clubs eventually come churches. Word of Life Bible clubs are just the opposite. Although Word of Life, around the work we've started over a thousand churches in the last fifty years. But we're not a...we're not really out to organize churches, but they just happen. In Columbia alone 350 churches out there we've started. But we work entirely in the churches.
SHUSTER: Uh-huh. As opposed to outside of them or starting your own churches.
WYRTZEN: We work with the laymen. We train the laymen and they carry it on.
SHUSTER: Anything else you wanted to say about Percy Crawford before we moved on?
WYRTZEN: There would not be a Word of Life if it wasn't for Percy Crawford. He was our hero. We listened every week on the radio. If he was fifty, seventy miles from New York we were there, always bringing carloads of unconverted people with us to hear him. Pinebrook was the place to go. We'd go there on vacation. And food wasn't so good, but the spiritual food was excellent. He only painted the front of the hotel, never painted around the back.
SHUSTER: [laughs] Why was that?
WYRTZEN: I don't know. Couldn't afford it I guess. Had broken-down cabins. It [laughs].... But we were very good friends, and I used to go down there and speak for a week every summer and he used to come up here and preach for a week.
SHUSTER: Was he the kind of person you'd sit down with to talk over problems, or to...?
WYRTZEN: Yeah. Yeah, I can remember when Carl McIntire gave him a really rough time and....
SHUSTER: Why was that?
WYRTZEN: [pauses] Well, I don't think Carl McIntire liked Percy Crawford having Donald A. Barnhouse come up because Barnhouse was from the Presbyterian church (his church is out of that now, but it wasn't then), and McIntire felt Percy was compromising. Speaking of McIntire, I preached for him the last night he was in the Presbyterian church in Collingsworth, [New Jersey]. And I was in the layman...with the Pocket Testimony League. And the next morning (I stayed with him overnight)...and the next morning he and I went over to pick up the rest of the Gospels that were left over, and the church was padlocked. And I often laughed at him. He tells everybody else to get out of liberal churches; he never got out, he was thrown out. [Shuster laughs] And, you know, he was right in the whole thing. But I think then he went over the wrong side and everybody was wrong except him. And yet when we were first starting our rallies, back in the late '40s and early '50s, I can still remember he preached one night on Psalm 22. Masterpiece. A lot of people got saved. Next time he came back I can still remember him preaching on Ecclesiastes 12: "Remember thou thy Creator in the days of thy youth." I tell you the place was packed, a lot of people got saved. But he went one way and we went another way.
SHUSTER: You mentioned that he had been critical of Percy Crawford?
WYRTZEN: Yeah. He thought because Percy, I guess at that time, was still in the Presbyterian Church 'cause he used to broadcast from Broad and Wood Street downtown Philadelphia, I think it was, and he used the Presbyterian church. And then when Percy saw how the...so many of the Presbyterians were going to liberalism, then he started these.... I don't know whether he ever got out or not. Perhaps not. Then he started Pinebrook...I mean after Pinebrook came King's College. And I remember him going on the radio, and he was, because of the secular colleges they didn't...InterVarsity hadn't started yet, there wasn't a Campus Crusade, there wasn't anything going on in the Christian colleges...rather, the secular colleges. So he started Pinebrook...King's College.
SHUSTER: You were mentioning that he was the kind of person where you would sit down and talk over problems or talk over plans for the future, is that right?
WYRTZEN: Yeah. Yeah, and he had a magazine called Youth [pauses] For Today or something like that, I think. It was very, very good. The first sermon I ever preached was one of his sermons in that liberal Methodist Church. He was putting on an adult show and young people were meeting in the other room. And he had that sermon "Jesus Stood With Them" and I just about memorized it, but I took the magazine article and I thought, "Well, I'll put it on the pulpit and if I get lost I'll follow." But they didn't have a pulpit, they had a table. So here I am leaning over the table and preaching away. But we had quite a few of those Methodist kids got saved that night. And we used to....anything that Percy did was perfect for us. We'd just follow everything he did.
SHUSTER: How did you first become involved in or start going to Plymouth Mini...mester...
WYRTZEN: Plymouth Brethren?
SHUSTER: ...Plymouth Brethren meetings?
WYRTZEN: Okay. While we were preaching around the streets in New York City we met a fellow named Brandt Reed, who later started HI-BA. His father was a broker on Wall Street- quite well-to-do. They lived in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and they went to the Bible Truth Hall in Elizabeth. So he invited me and my girlfriend Marge over to spend a weekend with him, and that morning we went to the breaking of bread. I never saw communion served this way, one hour just worshiping the Lord. And then we went to the Sunday school. And I think he had a family of seven or eight, and I remember we had lunch. And J. Arthur Reed, who was one of the elders in the church, he got out the Bible, we all read around and we sang and we prayed. And on the way home, I said, "If we ever get married and have a family, that's the way we're going to do it." It was such a contrast to her family and mine. So then I said to Brandt....
SHUSTER: You mean that's the way you'd raise you'd raise your kids or that's the way you'd have your family?
WYRTZEN: Yeah, the way J. Arthur Reed did it. And he, he was a big man on Wall Street and all and a great, godly man. And then he...I asked him, I said, "Is there any place around Woodhaven [that has Plymouth Brethern meetings]?" And there wasn't, but he said down in Brooklyn at Bethany Chapel. And he had a fellow by the name of J. C. Wilson who had returned from France as a missionary and he had him write to me. And so we took three or four carloads down for Sunday. And I remember this fellow, he said, "I'll have a grey goatee, I'll have a grey hat and a grey tie and a grey suit and a grey overcoat and grey shoes, but there's plenty of sunshine inside." And that was the picture of him. I preached at his funeral. I reminded the people of that. And within a year they had made him superintendent of the Sunday school, J. Wilson was. And then the Brethren there got quite domineering, and they didn't like the fact that I was going out preaching in churches and any place the door opened. And then Sundays....
SHUSTER: Why didn't they like that?
WYRTZEN: Oh, they thought I ought to be at the Bethany Chapel all the time. And then one Sunday morning I skipped the communion service to go preach to a couple...maybe a couple thousand men at Rikers Island Penitentiary and I got called on the carpet. And they said, "Worship comes before service. You should have been at the worship." Well this really bothered me, but I didn't know the answers to it. And about that time General Dobbie of Malta came to New York and spoke at a banquet. It was Sir William Dobbie, a Britisher. And I was asked to lead the singing by another man who I'd met, Charles Bellinger of the Brethren. Marge and I were given our tracts on a ferry boat as we were going over to speak to the Gideons and he gave me his car, he said, "I'd like to have lunch with you someday," and he was president of the large insurance company. And we got to be good friends and he invited out to his chapel in Maplewood. And later on....so this particular night when he had General Dobbie, he...I was leading the singing, so, he had the general sitting on one side, Charles Bellinger on the other side and I'm up there at the head table. And I had just been...come back from a townsman was a good friend of mine and he asked me to....
END OF TAPE