Billy Graham Center

Papers of James Edwin Orr - Collection 355

[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.]

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Table of Contents

Brief Description of This Collection

Title Page and Restrictions

Biography of James Edwin Orr

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

List of the Contents of Boxes of Paper Records in This Collection (Container List)

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Brief Description.

Letters between Orr and correspondents in Latin America about evangelistic activities, mainly on that continent, although there is a description of meetings Orr held in New Zealand, Australia, India, and South Africa. Most of the letters deal with meetings held by Orr in Brazil in 1951 and 1952.

Collection 355
[May 25, 2000]
Orr, James Edwin; 1912-1987
Papers; 1936-1979, n.d.

1 box (1 DC; .36 cubic feet)


There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.


James Edwin Orr was born January 15, 1912, in Belfast, Ireland, to William Stewart and Rose (Wright) Orr. William Orr, who was a jeweler, had United States and British citizenship, so his children did as well. There were eventually to be five children in the family, although one died as a baby and one as a very young man. January 15 was to be an important day in Orr's life. On that day he was born, converted, married, and ordained.

At the age of nine, he became a Christian through his mother's influence. But his faith was not very active as yet. In 1922, his father and baby sister, Margaret Louise, died and the family began to suffer from difficult economic circumstances. Orr enrolled in the College of Technology, Belfast, and eventually passed University of London Matriculation exams in five subjects. But the illness and then death of older brother Alan made him the family breadwinner. He worked as a clerk in a bakery for the next few years.

Orr and a friend began to feel a strong call to evangelize in 1930 or 1931. They began to hold open air meetings in the streets of Belfast. In 1932, he was involved with a city-wide evangelistic effort organized by Christian Endeavor. This increased his desire to preach and lead people to Christ. By late 1933, he felt God wanted him to be an itinerant evangelist. Despite skepticism and discouragement from family and friends, he set out from Belfast in September to follow this call. He went to London and gradually began making contacts with Christian leaders as he spoke in various churches. With London as his base, he preached throughout the British isles for the next two years. Then he began to travel farther to preach. In the first part of 1935 he traveled to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the Soviet Union, Estonia, Poland, Lithuania, Germany, Switzerland, France, Holland, and Belgium. Then a few weeks later, after a return to London, he traveled through Hungary, Turkey, Greece, Palestine, Italy, Spain, France, and Portugal.

In September of the same year he sailed for Canada. He began preaching when he arrived in Newfoundland and continued in Ontario at the Peoples Church in Toronto and then in Winnipeg.
He went on to Saskatoon and British Columbia. Then he began an evangelistic tour of the United States that involved visiting all forty eight states in the next three months, including preaching at Moody Church at the invitation of H. A. Ironside. In February of 1936, he held meetings at Wheaton College in Illinois.
He continued his whirlwind progress in 1936 by going to New Zealand and Australia and then on to South Africa and Rhodesia. In October, he returned to London and planned take a rest. He traveled with Stanley Donnan and Evan John to Norway. After speaking in Oslo, he left his friends and went north to Narvik, seeking quiet. But Christian leaders in that city asked Orr to lead meetings there as well. Eventually he did manage to get some time to himself and decided to ask Ivy Muriel Carol Carlson, a young woman he had met very briefly in South Africa, to marry him. He telegraphed her and set out for South Africa. After a quick courtship, they were married on January 15, 1937. At his wedding reception, Orr gave an evangelistic invitation and counseled inquirers. The couple then returned to London, where Orr spoke at meetings commemorating the centennial of evangelist Dwight L. Moody's meetings in that city. The couple eventually had four children: Muriel, who lived four months and died in 1938; Carolyn Astrid born in Toronto in 1939 (later Mrs. Larry D. Booth); Alan Bertran born in Chicago in 1942; and David Arundel born in Oxford in 1946.
Besides his travels, Orr had been busy turning out autobiographical volumes relating his experiences around the world and describing the Christian life. Among some of these early titles were Can God-? (1934), This Promise Is to You (1935), Times of Refreshing (1936), Prove Me Now (1936), This is the Victory (1936), All Your Need (1936), If Ye Abide (1936), Such Things Happen (1937), and The Church Must First Repent (1937). He also edited some books by Andrew Gih in the late 1930's.
In 1938 Orr formed the Revival Fellowship Team of young preachers such as Stanley Donnan,
Brinley Evans, and Andrew Gih and led them in a series of mass evangelistic campaigns in Ulster and Australia. Then he and Gih made an evangelistic tour of the portions of China not occupied by the Japanese. They also made a film of the tour. Most of 1939 was spent raising funds for war relief for Chinese orphans. He continued to write, publishing Telling Australia and Through Blood and Fire in China, both in 1939.
In late 1939 Orr and his wife traveled to Canada, where he served briefly as associate pastor of the Peoples Church. He decided that he needed further education and began studying at Northwestern University in Chicago. On January 15, 1940, he was ordained in the Emmanuel
Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey. He continued to preach and write, making a tour of the West Indies and Central America in 1940 and publishing Always Abounding. He got his M.A. from Northwestern in 1942, the same year his mother died in Ulster. Toward the end of the year, he enlisted in United States armed forces and went to attend chaplain's school on the campus of Harvard University. The following year, he got his Th.D. from Northern Baptist Seminary in Chicago and began his service as an air force chaplain.
He saw extensive service during the war, serving with the 13th Air Force in Bismark
Archipelago, New Guinea, and being involved in campaigns in Borneo, the south Philippines, Luzon, and China. He earned seven battle stars and finished with the rank of major. He wrote about his military experience in I Saw No Tears (1948).
When he was discharged in 1946, he hitchhiked across Korea, China, and India to Cairo and then to Durban, South Africa, where he rested two months with his family. He then sent his family to England by troopship and traveled through the Congo to West Africa. From Dakar he crossed the Sahara and traveled on to England. He picked up his education again and was at Oxford from 1946 to 1948, doing resident study for his doctorate, which he received in the latter year. His dissertation was published in 1949 under the title The Second Evangelical Awakening in Britain. The year 1952 saw the publication of The Second Great Awakening in America. Later he received a D.D. in African History from the University of South Africa (1969), a Th.D. from Serampore University (1970), and a Ed.D. from Th.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles (1971).
In 1949 he established a permanent residence in southern California and began a series of speaking tours and evangelistic meetings on college and university campuses. First he preached across the United States and then, from 1949-1951, in Australia, Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa. He made a brief visit to Brazil in 1951. The response caused him to be invited back 1952 for a full scale campaign in cities throughout the country that had a deep impact. There followed meetings in South Africa (1953) and India (1954). He and Mrs. Orr led a team evangelistic effort in Australia and New Zealand from 1956 to 1957. Other members of the team included Mr. and Mrs. Robert B. Doing, Mr. and Mrs. Max H. Bushby, Rev. and Mrs. William Dunlap, and Corrie ten Boom. The following year, Orr again held meetings in India. Other countries where major meetings were held in the next few years included Great Britain in 1961, where he spoke with young theological students about spiritual renewal; Norway, Sweden and Denmark in 1962; university meetings in the United States in 1962 and 1963.

In 1966, after he had held meeting on campus on the deeper spiritual life, Orr became a professor at Fuller Seminary's School of World Mission, a position he held until 1981. Besides his teaching and writing, he greatly stimulated the study and understanding of revivals and evangelism through his founding in 1974 and continuing leadership of the Oxford Reading and Research Conference on Evangelical Awakenings. (Incorproated in California in December 1977 as The Oxford Association for Research in Revival or Evangelical Awakenings.) This conference of scholars, pastors, evangelists, leaders of Evangelical organizations, and students met every summer to hear and present papers on revivals. It became inactive after 1983 and was sisolved in 1998.

Orr’s own writing continued unabated. Among his books were Full Surrender (1951), Good News in Bad Times (1953), The Inside Story of the Hollywood Christian Group (1955), Faith That Makes Sense (1960), The Light of the Nations: Evangelical Renewal and Advance in the Nineteenth Century (1965), One Hundred Questions About God (1966), Evangelical Awakenings Worldwide (1968), The Ready Tongue (1968) Campus Aflame (1971), The Flaming Tongue (1973), The Fervent Prayer (1974), The Eager Feet (1975), Evangelical Awakenings in Africa (1975), Evangelical Awakenings in Southern Asia (1975), Evangelical Awakenings in Eastern Asia (1975), Evangelical Awakenings in the South Seas (1976), The Faith That Persuades (1977), Evangelical Awakenings in Latin America (1978), and Candid Questions About Morality (1979), A Call for the Re-Study of Revival and Revivalism (1981), The 1857-1858 Awakening in North America (1983).

Besides his writing, teaching, and preaching, Dr. Orr had great impact on evangelicals around the world through his friendship with other leading Christians. He was an advisor of Billy Graham's from the start of that evangelist's career, a friend of Abraham Vereide and helped shape the prayer breakfast movement that grew out of Vereide's International Christian Leadership, and he was a important leader in Andrew Gih's Evangelize China Fellowship. He wrote the hymn “Cleanse Me” in 1936, creating new English lyrics to a Maori tune.

Orr died while preaching in 1987.

[NOTE: In the Scope and Content description, the notation "Folder 1-1" means Box 1, Folder 1.]

Scope and Content

The material in this collect consists of correspondence between Orr and various Christian leaders. Although the material covers the dates from 1936 to 1979 and is from all over Latin America, most of the letters are to and from Brazil and deal in some way with Orr's meeting throughout that country in 1951 and 1952 and the after effects. The materials are in the same order in which they were received, first alphabetical by the name of the correspondent and then chronological.

There are a few items that concern Orr's work before 1951. Folder 1-3 contains letters from Alex Clark, missionary to Bolivia, commenting on Orr's travels and describing the conditions for evangelism in Bolivia in the late 1930's. The same folder has a report on Haiti in 1949. Folder 1-17 contains correspondence with Kenneth Strachan of Latin America Mission about a trip Orr was taking to Mexico and Central America in 1940. (Later letters to Strachan describe a little bit of Orr's experiences in the armed forces during World War II, give advice on pursuing a degree at Oxford, discuss the possibility of Orr speaking in Brazil and other places in cooperation with LAM, contain reports from Strachan on Evangelism-in-Depth in Bolivia and Nicaragua, arrangements for the Brazil meetings, and assistance with interpreters for Orr).

The 1951 and 1952 Brazil meetings are the topic of many documents. Orr wrote and received letters from a long list of Brazilian missionaries and church leaders asking advice and receiving reports on the situation of the church in different parts of Brazil. Many of these people knew Orr before the 1950's and their letters to him cover many years, describing changes in their work, developments in the country, and personal concerns. Among these Brazilian correspondents were Rudolfo Anders (Confederacao Evangelica do Brasil), Stan Best (Baptist Mid-Missions), Charles Clay (Methodist), Lucile Damon (Methodist), Antonio Elias (Presbyterian), Clemen Fraga (Reavivamento), David Glass (Livraria Evangelica), Floyd Grady (Presbyterian), Carl Hahn (Inter-American Missionary Society, affiliated with Oriental Missionary Society), Don Phillips (Youth for Christ, World Gospel Crusades), Sam Torres, James Winfield Wilson (Wycliffe).

Specific aspects of the meeting are covered in other letters. Folder 1-1 contains a press release from the Confederacao Evangelica do Brasil summarizing Orr's work in Brazil in 1951 and a letter from Orr to Anders outlining his credentials and his plan of campaign. A similar letter from the leaders of International Christian Leadership to the member of the Brazilian government in folder 1-19 served as a recommendation for Orr. A letter from Charles Clay in folder 1-3 replies to a request from Orr by giving circulation figures on the major Protestant publications in Brazil. Lucile Damon in folder 1-4 discusses the needs of the Japanese churches in Brazil. A letter by Orr in folder 1-5 outlines his policy of seeking support from a broad group, not just one denomination. A similar letter in folder 1-18 denies that he is in favor of uniting the Baptist church with other denominations and another one in folder 1-19 attacks belligerent fundamentalism while affirming his support for "the truly Evangelical position in faith and practice." A letter in 1-7 by Orr comments on Dawson Trotman's great abilities in following up on responses at evangelistic meetings. The next folder contains some reports on the attitudes of Baptists in Brazil to evangelism and opposition of some groups to Orr. Folder 1-1 also has a letter describing opposition from some Baptist and McIntire fundamentalist. Folder 1-15 contains a description of Brazilian Youth for Christ cooperation with Orr's meetings. Folder 1-18 contains some reports about Orr's associate in the 1951-52 meetings, William Dunlop. The folder also has letters on the cooperative efforts of the Presbyterians.

Some folders contain information on other aspects of Brazilian religious life. Stan Best describes what he saw as the growth of liberalism and moral laxness (folder 1-2), Clemen Fraga discusses revivals in Sao Paulo and the effect of a healing movement in Brazil led by the Four Square church. Other folders also have letters commenting on this movement. David Glass, in folder 1-7, describes the effect of visiting evangelists on the country. Folder 1-8, as do other folders, contains letters with some brief comments on Orr's trip to South America after 1962 to help follow-up on the results Billy Graham's tour of the continent. In folder 1-21 Orr writes about the prospects of sending Brazilian missionaries to Angola and Mozambique.

Orr also preached in other Latin American countries and received regular reports from church leaders. Here are a few of the other people and places covered in these files:

Argentina Charles Kennedy, Edgardo Silvoso (includes a description of the effects of a 1978 Luis Palau crusade in Uruguay).
Chile Harry Peters (Presbyterian).
French Guiana Marianne Schmid.
Guatemala Letter from some Indians who were students at a mission school (1-2).
Nicaragua W. F. Aberle.
Paraguay Sidney Goldfinch (Paraguay Baptist Mission).
Peru Juan Escobar (interesting comments on characteristics of Peruvians that affect preaching of the Gospel), Robert Harris, Herb Money (Concilio Nacional Evangelico del Peru). Folder 1-16 contains a letter with comments from Peruvian students who attended one of Orr's meetings.
Uruguay A. Derghezarian (Inglesia Evangelica Armenia).
Venezuela Harry Peters (Presbyterian).

In his letters to Latin American correspondents, Orr frequently describes his campaigns in other countries. All throughout these folders there are descriptions of his meetings in New Zealand and Australia in 1956 and in South Africa in 1953. He also reports on Corrie ten Boom as a member of his evangelistic team. See, for example, folders 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 1-7, and 1-21. Folder 1-8 has a report on his 1958 trip to India.

There are several letters from Wycliffe's Kenneth Pike in folder 1-15. One of them talks about the effects of the work of the mission Airmail From God.


The material in this collection was received from Dr. Orr in November 1986.

Accession #86-124
January 23, 1987
Robert Shuster
M. Wohlschlegel
J. Nasgowitz

Revised, March 21, 1993
Paul A. Ericksen
M.L. Wohschlegel


Box Folder Item
1 1 Correspondence: Latin America - A; 1940-1973, n.d.
1 2 B; 1936-1978; n.d.
1 3 C; 1936-1967
1 4 D; 1937-1964; n.d.
1 5 E; 1951-1964
1 6 F; 1952-1979
1 7 G; 1951-1966; n.d.
1 8 H; 1951-1975
1 9 I,J; 1951-1962
1 10 K; 1947-1964
1 11 L; 1951-1978
1 12 M; 1951-1975
1 13 N; 1952
1 14 O; 1962
1 15 P,Q; 1940-1964; n.d.
1 16 R; 1951-1977; n.d.
1 17 S; 1936-1978, n.d.
1 18 T; 1940-1979, n.d.
1 19 U,V; 1952-1955
1 20 W; 1952-1966; n.d.
1 21 X,Y,Z; 1953-1955

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Last Revised: 9/09/02
Expiration: indefinite