Billy Graham Center

Interview with John Alexander Gration - Collection 230

[Note: What follows is a description of the documents in this collection which are available for use at BGC Archives in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. The actual documents are not, in most cases, available online, only this description of them. Nor are they available for sale or rent. Some or all of this collection can be borrowed through interlibrary loan. ]

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Table of Contents

Brief Description of This Collection

Title Page and Restrictions

Biography of John Alexander Gration

An Essay on the Contents of the Collection (Scope and Content)

List of Audio Tapes in This Collection (Location Records)


Audio file and written transcript for T1

Audio file and written transcript for T2


Brief Description.
One oral history interview (two tapes) of Gration by Kevin Palau. Topics discussed include his work with Christian groups in high school and in the Navy, his spiritual growth and call to become a missionary, his marriage, and his first impressions of and experiences in what at the time was the Belgian Congo (now Zaire).

Collection 230 [March 24, 2000]
Gration, John Alexander; 1926-2012
Interview; 1982

2 Reels of Audio Tape


There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.


John Alexander Gration was born in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1926. His parents had come from England and his father was a superintendent of several large estates in the New Jersey area. During his high school years, he attended four different schools, where he became active in High School Evangelism Fellowship and Born Againers' Clubs. A. Brandt Reed, leader in the former, greatly influenced Gration, who appeared with him on the radio program "High School Commandos for Christ." Gration received his high school diploma in absentia and joined the Navy, which stationed him for about one and one-half years at Camp Shoemaker in California. There he became involved with the Navigators in Bible study and Scripture memory groups.

Ralph Davis, Home Director of Africa Inland Mission (AIM), also attended Gration's home church in New Jersey and became a spiritual father to him. Davis encouraged Gration to go into missions. With a deep sense of call, Gration enrolled at Moody Bible Institute after he was released from the Navy. While there, he met and married Dorothy Harpel. After their marriage, the Grations moved to Gordon College, where Gration took a double major in Bible and Philosophy. While there, they applied to AIM and were accepted. Gration, however, felt the need of additional study before going to Africa and in 1952 he received an M.A. in Theology from the Wheaton College Graduate School. Gration was ordained by his home church in Ridgewood, New Jersey, in 1952. He served as an interim minister in New Brunswick, New Jersey (where C. Peter Wagner was one of his parishioners), and then sailed for Africa on December 7, 1952, together with his wife and baby son Scott.

Gration was assigned to the mission station of Rethy, Zaire (then called the Belgian Congo) and for the first three years, as he studied the language, was involved in helping national teachers (who were usually also pastors of local churches) with curriculum, providing physical materials, preparing Bible study materials and pastor's conferences. Gration served as a missionary in Zaire until his third evacuation in 1964. He then continued his Bible school work in Kenya.

In 1967, AIM appointed Gration to be its Associate Home Director, which he did until 1975. In 1975, Gration joined the faculty of Wheaton College as Professor of Missions and Chair of the Missions/Intercultural and Evangelism Department at the Wheaton College Graduate School. Gration received a Ph.D. from New York University in 1974 and also studied at Princeton Theological Seminary.

After his retirement in 1995, the Grations moved to the Windsor Park Manor retirement center in nearby Carol Stream, Illinois. He died there on January 29, 2012.

Scope and Content

John Gration was interviewed by Kevin Palau on November 18, 1982. The dates of the events covered by the interview were approximately 1943 to 1955. Time elapsed in minutes and seconds is recorded to the left of the topics discussed in the interview. The index is keyed to a cassette copy and not to the reel-to-reel original.

Tape T1 (65 minutes). (Click to link to audio file and transcript).
Family background; High School Evangelism Fellowship under A. Brandt Reed; also radio program, High School Commandos for Christ; Born Againers Clubs; joining the U.S. Navy; use of Navigators' materials and Bible studies among sailors and their response; Gration's call into missions; attendance at Moody Bible Institute; meeting with future wife, Dorothy; marriage; attendance at Gordon College on the G.I. Bill; acceptance by Africa Inland Mission; influence of Ralph Davis; Wheaton Graduate School; choosing to work in the Belgian Congo (now Zaire); ordination; departure for Africa; first impressions (Mau Mau movement); description of aims and financial policies of AIM; sickness of son Scott; frustrations learning the language (Swahili); living quarters; out-school work (supervising rural schools); native teacher and pastor usually same person; influential values and Christian heritage of the national pastors; pace of life in Africa; African attitudes.

Tape T2 (54 minutes). (Click to link to audio file and transcript).
National and missionary attitudes towards authority; colonialism; benign paternalism; missionaries are people of their time; relationship among AIM missionaries; work done in Bible school once language barrier was overcome; use of Swahili as lingua franca; tribal differences, occupations, economy; profile of a convert; family patterns
15:00 Methods of evangelism; jubilee meetings; problems of local believers; the difference in world views between national and missionaries; Christianity and culture and the local believers; learning language resulted in contextualization; problems of polygamy; establishing rules; examples of African churches being more legalistic than missionaries; church discipline; conversion ratios; schooling; agenda for grade schools; nationality of teachers; Christianity in the schools; barriers to the Gospel; influence of animism on local people; African view of God; superstitions and disease; typical church service in Africa; pastor's role; offerings; music in the church; activities in addition to the Sunday service; lifestyle differences between missionaries and Africans.


The materials in this collection were received by the Billy Graham Center Archives in November 1982 from John Gration.

Accession 82-165
May 29, 1992
Janyce H. Nasgowitz
E. Diaz

Accession 82-165
Type of Material: Audio Tapes

The films listed below are located in the AUDIO TAPE FILE:

T1 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips, approximately 65 minutes. Interview with John A. Gration by Kevin Palau. Discussion of Christian activities in high school and the U. S. Navy; attendance at Moody Bible Institute, Gordon College, and Wheaton College; first impressions of the Belgian Congo (later renamed Zaire); early work in the Congo. One side. Recorded on November 18, 1982.

T2 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips, approximately 55 minutes. Continuation of interview with John A. Gration by Kevin Palau. Discussion Gration's work in the Belgian Congo, Christianity and culture, animism, superstition, AIM attitudes and policies. One side. Recorded on November 18, 1982.

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