Billy Graham Center Archives

Collection 74 - Donald McDowell . T59 Transcript

Click here to listen to an audio file of of the unrestricted portion this interview (56 minutes)

This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Donald McDowell (CN 74, T59) 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 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. Foreign terms or phrases which may be unfamiliar appear in italics.
... 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 transcription was made by Bob Shuster, Katherine Graber and Paul Bartow was completed in November 2013.


Collection 74, T59.. Interview of Donald McDowell by Robert Shuster on May 14, 2010.

SHUSTER: This is Bob Shuster interviewing Dr. Donald McDowell for the Billy Graham Center Archives on Friday May 14th, 2010 at 9:00 AM Central Standard Time. And...why don’t we start with when and where you were born, Dr. McDowell?

MCDOWELL: I was born October 23rd, 1924 in the village of Zion, Maryland. Across the street from the Zion Presbyterian church. Born at home.

SHUSTER: What did you say?

MCDOWELL: Born at home.

SHUSTER: Oh really?

MCDOWELL: And as it was done in those days.

SHUSTER: Through a doctor or a midwife?

MCDOWELL: With a doctor, yes.

SHUSTER: And what years were you at Wheaton?

MCDOWELL: I was at Wheaton from [clears throat] 1941 to 1943. And went to summer school and inter session and took eighteen hours a semester. And so I was a senior when I was called up to active duty in 1943 during World War II.

SHUSTER: And then you returned to Wheaton?

MCDOWELL: After three years of medical school, the war was over and after discharge from the Army, I had a summer off. And I wanted to be a Wheaton College graduate, and so I returned to Wheaton. Worked as a janitor and as a lab assistant to pay my way and graduated in August of 1946.

SHUSTER: And why did you choose to attend Wheaton?

MCDOWELL: We had church formed in our little village called the Grace Bible Chapel. And my parents and I became members of that new church, formed largely by members who left the Zion Presbyterian church because of what we called modernist views of the old Presbyterian denomination. And our first pastor was...Mr. Arthur Conrad who had been a missionary in Albania. But when Mussolini sent his troops into Albania to conquer it[in Aprilm1939] , he and his wife had to flee. They came to the United States. We...heard of them and invited him to be our pastor. He had graduated from Wheaton College. And I was interested in a good And he encouraged me to go to Wheaton College. In fact, in September of 1941, he drove out to Wheaton College. We took turns driving his 1928 Buick designed with wooden spokes for the wheels. And the spark and the choke on the steering column. And in two days made it out to Wheaton [laughs].

SHUSTER: From Maryland. What were the roads like between Maryland and Illinois?

MCDOWELL: Well we didn’t have interstate highways. And these were narrow, winding roads.

SHUSTER: [Laughs] that was pretty good time then for that year I guess. Two days.

MCDOWELL: Yeah [laughs].

SHUSTER: When did...when and how did you first meet Billy Graham?

MCDOWELL: Well, I did not actually meet and talk with him at Wheaton College.

SHUSTER: Uh-huh.

MCDOWELL: He was a[n] anthropology major and I did not take any anthropology courses. But I lived at the home of the Dean of Students, Dr. Paul Culley who had been a missionary physician in the Philippine Islands. And I had a...second floor room there and had a desk in front of the side window of my room.

SHUSTER: And that was...excuse me. That was on Howard Street?

MCDOWELL: Yes. On Howard Street. At times, I would look up from the book I was studying and see Billy Graham bidding good night to Ruth Bell who lived next door. Both standing under the stoop on the side of the house.

SHUSTER: [Laughs].

MCDOWELL: Then my other contact at Wheaton came about because I went on Sunday afternoons with a group of about twenty Wheaton students on the Aurora and Elgin electric train. Which we called the “Roaring Elgin” to go to the Cook County Hospital in Chicago which at that time was the largest hospital in the United States. And there we would witness to the patients, read Scripture with them and pray with them. On return, we ate our supper together in Williston Hall and then went downtown to the Masonic Lodge where the Union Gospel Tabernacle held its Sunday services. We called it the Tab. And Billy Graham was always the preacher. And he gave great gospel messages which the students loved. And so we...we packed the place. Then I was called up to active duty and left...Wheaton in...December of 1943. Went on to medical school because when the Army found out that I had been accepted at three different medical schools, they needed physicians and so the Army sent me to medical school at Temple University in Philadelphia. Then [clears throat] the war was over at the end of my junior year of medical school. I had a summer off. I always wanted to be a graduate of Wheaton. And so I returned in that summer of 1946 and graduated in August. My other contact....

SHUSTER: Well before we go to Paraguay let me first ask you a few questions about Wheaton.


SHUSTER: Just one quick question: first of all, you mentioned that you were going down every Sunday to Cook County Hospital.


SHUSTER: Did you ever come across the hospital chaplain there, Consuella York?

MCDOWELL: No. I did not.

SHUSTER: Okay. When you were.... And you mentioned too of course you’d come back on Sunday evenings and eat at Williston...


SHUSTER: ...and then go down to the Tab...


SHUSTER: What did the...what did the Tabernacle look like?

MCDOWELL: Well it was a typical lodge. It had the...the dark, red, velvet drapings I guess that most Masonic Lodges had on the inside. And we had folding chairs there that...where the audience sat and a small, very small platform where Billy stood to give his sermons.

SHUSTER: And was...?

MCDOWELL: I don’t know how many people could be seated there, but it was not a large...large room.

SHUSTER: Do you recall if it was the second or third floor?

MCDOWELL: It seems to me it was on the first floor.

SHUSTER: On the first floor.


SHUSTER: And you say not many people. Fifty? A hundred? Two hundred? Do you have any estimate as...?

MCDOWELL: I would...I would say 150 to 200. Yeah.

SHUSTER: And you mentioned the platform. Was there any kind of organ or piano or musical instruments?

MCDOWELL: Yes, I remember singing there. I think there was a small piano. I don’t remember any other instruments there.

SHUSTER: And the audience you said was perhaps 150 to 200. Who made up the audience? Who came to the Tabernacle?

MCDOWELL: Yes, practically all Wheaton College students. There were some professors there. In fact, Dr. Russel Mixter who was a very influential biology professor that I had was one of those who founded that meeting and invited a student, Billy Graham to be our speaker.

SHUSTER: Did town people come to it?

MCDOWELL: Perhaps. But I...I don’t know much about that. Certainly there were few of the townsmen that were there.

SHUSTER: So what was a typical program at the Tabernacle like?

MCDOWELL: Well there was brief singing and then a sermon that often was for thirty to forty-five minutes by Billy Graham. And always very interesting. A typical Gospel message style that he continued after he left and graduated from Wheaton College.

SHUSTER: Was there a...did he give an evangelistic invitation?

MCDOWELL: Yes. He usually did.

SHUSTER: Was there anything...other part of the service such as testimonies or...?

MCDOWELL: I do not recall testimonies. No.

SHUSTER: So just singing and the sermon?


SHUSTER: And the invitation. what was Graham’s physical appearance at this time? What did he look like?

MCDOWELL: Well, like a typical college student [both laugh]. He was one of us.

SHUSTER: What did a typical college student look like?

MCDOWELL: [Laughs] Well, that...we were not really dressed up for his services. Although, usually if we went to a morning service in one of the churches such as College Church or the Bible Church, we would appear with coat and tie. But not in his service.

SHUSTER: So the evening service was just more informal?


SHUSTER: No dress coats or ties? Of course he had come from North Carolina. Anything particularly southern about him in his appearance?

MCDOWELL: Well his speech of course was southern. I believe he had already one year at Florida Bible Institute before he came to Wheaton. So he had some biblical training. But he was not a Bible or theology major at Wheaton College.

SHUSTER: That’s right. He was a major in anthropology.


SHUSTER: What...what was his preaching style like?

MCDOWELL: Well it was one in which he moved about the platform and would sometimes strike the pulpit for emphasis. I guess it is what we would call southern style evangelistic preaching. [Both laugh].

SHUSTER: You mean more. voluble or...? How do you mean southern style?

MCDOWELL: Well, what southern audiences were used to I would say.

SHUSTER: And what would that be?

MCDOWELL: Well it was a voice that changed volume and tone in order to give emphasis to certain items in the sermon. Yes.

SHUSTER: What was the content of the sermons?

MCDOWELL: Well he covered a wide range of subjects. Most all of them from the New Testament. And....

SHUSTER: Can you recall what some of those subjects were?

MCDOWELL: No [laughs] I really don’t. Too many years have passed.

SHUSTER: But was it mainly a Bible study or a devotional or inductive...?

MCDOWELL: It was topical.

SHUSTER: Topical?

MCDOWELL: Yes. He would have a passage from which he would begin to preach and then often bring in other passages that supported or amplified what he was preaching. Yes.

SHUSTER: And you mentioned that the audience was mainly students and there was always a good group of students that went down. I mean why...why were students going to this Tabernacle as opposed to someplace else?

MCDOWELL: I think it was because they felt at one with the preacher and with the other students there. Students attracted students [laughs]. I think that was it.

SHUSTER: Now I know they also had a midweek prayer meeting at the Tabernacle. Did you go to those as well?

MCDOWELL: No, I did not go to those. I...I was taking eighteen hours.

SHUSTER: Sure, sure.

MCDOWELL: My schedule was always quite full.

SHUSTER: Some people have also told us that Billy Graham sometimes was asked by Dr. Edman to preach in chapel. Do you remember any of those occasions?

MCDOWELL: I really don’t recall him preaching in chapel. No, I don’t. We had various professors speak in chapel. President Edman often spoke of course. And he invited some outside speakers from various parts of the country to also speak in chapel.

SHUSTER: In his senior year, Billy...(senior year would have been 1942 to ‘43) Billy Graham was elected president of the Christian Council.


SHUSTER: Do you recall what kind of president he was or anything about his service there?

MCDOWELL: I knew that he was president of that council. And I knew that our work at the Cook County Hospital was one of many different Christian efforts that were under that council . I also taught for some time (I don’t remember how long) at Mooseheart Orphanage. And...that was another one of the Christian services that came under that council. Yeah.

SHUSTER: But as far as what he did as president...did you have any memories of that or what kind of president . . .?

MCDOWELL: No, I really don’t.

SHUSTER: Why don’t we talk about Mooseheart a little bit. What...why was it called Mooseheart?

MCDOWELL: This was an orphanage formed and supported by the Loyal Order of the Moose. Which was a...

SHUSTER: Fraternal society.

MCDOWELL: Fraternal organization of men. Across the United States. And they said it was the largest private orphanage in the country.

SHUSTER: Where was it located?

MCDOWELL: Well, they had a place they called Mooseheart. I don’t recall it as being really within any town.

SHUSTER: Somebody told us it was in St. Charles[, Illinois. About ten miles from Wheaton]. Was that...?

MCDOWELL: It was near St. Charles. That I know. Yes.

SHUSTER: And what had a Sunday school?

MCDOWELL: Yes. I taught a Sunday school class there. A group of us would go in a car and we would be assigned to various classes. I had a class of boys about...nine to eleven years of age.

SHUSTER: you went and taught Sunday school in the morning and then went to the Cook County Hospital in the evening?

MCDOWELL: In the afternoon.

SHUSTER: In the afternoon. Yeah.


SHUSTER: What was it like teaching at Mooseheart? I mean what were the kids like there? How was...the program like?

MCDOWELL: [Laughs] well sometimes they would be somewhat noisy and irreverent and uninterested. took a lot of energy to counter their energy I would say. Yes.

SHUSTER: What kind of things reached them? What was the best way to teach them?

MCDOWELL: Well I think they responded more to illustrations and to stories from the Bible rather than theological...tenets presented in a studious way. They responded more to something that...applied to their lives at their age.

SHUSTER: Did the Sunday school seem to have some impact?

MCDOWELL: We hope so [both laugh]. Whether it did or not, I really don’t know.

SHUSTER: Now some folks have said that Billy Graham and Ruth Bell also taught at Mooseheart. Did they go out with you sometimes?

MCDOWELL: They did not go with us in our car. No. So I don’t know about that.

SHUSTER: He mentions in his memoirs, Graham does, that Wheaton was the first time that he had classmates...he had African Americans as classmates. Do you recall much about black students on campus?

MCDOWELL: I don’t remember any black students on campus. This was ‘41 to ‘43. I really don’t remember any. No. And of course, I came from Maryland where the schools were segregated . So I did not have black students in my high...grade school or high school.

SHUSTER: I would imagine coming from a segregated school that if there had been black students at Wheaton you would have noticed.

MCDOWELL: Yeah. Yeah. I would have.

SHUSTER : How was Graham regarded on campus? What did other people think of him?

MCDOWELL: Well I think he was appreciated. And everyone knew about him being the preacher at the Tab. Other than that, I don’t know of any special recognition or honors given to him. No.

SHUSTER: I mean...I don’t mean honors so much. But I mean...was he a big man on campus? What did people think of him?

MCDOWELL: No. I wouldn’t say that, no.

SHUSTER: Anything else that you wanted to add as far as memories of Billy Graham during those Wheaton years?

MCDOWELL: No. I really can’t add to that because I didn’t know him really personally at that time. My other contact that I...wrote when I was answering your letter. I don’t know whether you want to speak about that now...

SHUSTER: I do want to talk about that but let me just ask a couple other questions about Wheaton.


SHUSTER: Now of course, I believe you were a student there when the Pearl Harbor attack happened. Is that correct?


SHUSTER: How did news of that reach campus? Do you recall?

MCDOWELL: Yes. We knew nothing about it on Sunday. But in chapel on Monday morning, Dr. Edman announced to the student body that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor and that war was being declared by Congress. And he looked out over the audience and he said “As you know, I served in World War I. And I believe that a large number of the young men that I’m looking at now will not be here within the next three or four months and will be called up to active military duty.” So that was a very sobering thing for all of the males in the student body.

SHUSTER: What...what was the impact mentioned of course that it was sobering. But how else would you describe the impact of the news of the Pearl Harbor attack on the students on campus at that time?

MCDOWELL: Well it was quite sobering. And we realized that what had been restricted to Europe and Japan’s invasion of China was not something that did not relate to the United States. We were involved. Yes. And interesting that...I believe that Dr. Edman’s PhD thesis was on the foreign relations of the United States. So he was an expert in that area [laughs].

SHUSTER: Were people...was there much emotional response on campus? Were people...crying or angry or...?

MCDOWELL: I can’t say that. I just don’t know about that. I didn’t see that.

SHUSTER: And over the next couple of years when you were still a student, what was the impact of the war on life on campus? How did it affect the Wheaton community?

MCDOWELL: Well it had a sobering effect. I think that everybody became more studious and more concentrated on not only studies but also on spiritual things. I think it had a...effect upon our devotional and spiritual life.

SHUSTER: How do you mean?

MCDOWELL: Well we were more interested in for example prayer groups. And more interested in early morning Scripture reading and prayer. I think the...we were more attentive. And dedicated in chapel meetings. Yeah.

SHUSTER: You had mentioned that in 1943, December ‘43, you were called up.

MCDOWELL: That’s right.

SHUSTER: Did that happen to many of the male students? I mean was there noticeably more women on campus than men?

MCDOWELL: Oh yes. In fact...before I was called up...and I escaped for...those early years because of my age. But when I became age eligible for enlistment, then I was called up. And...was inducted at Fort Mead, Maryland. And there, it was found out that I had acceptances to three medical schools so I was...assigned to...medical school at Temple University to begin studies there. Well I think I actually went there in the last week of December and began studies the first week of January of 1944.

SHUSTER: Well you had mentioned that there were more...there was noticeably more women on campus than men at Wheaton. Did that affect life on campus?

MCDOWELL: Well...[laughs]. I suppose it did. I really didn’t...didn’t pay attention to that I suppose. Didn’t notice it.

SHUSTER: Some folks have told us too that there with many universities and colleges across the country there was...Wheaton was also providing training for some soldiers?

MCDOWELL: That’s right. We had an active ROTC unit there. Dr. Edman and the college board of directors encouraged that. And...

SHUSTER: Do you...did that impact you? Were you in ROTC?

MCDOWELL: No I was not in that.

SHUSTER: Anything else you want to add about your time at Wheaton?

MCDOWELL: Well, it had a strong influence on my life. I was the first of my family to...go to Wheaton. And I found out just about two weeks ago my brother who graduated from Wheaton with a degree in Physics (he’s retired now from the Physics Laboratory at Edgewood Arsenal) and he was writing a history of Grace Bible Chapel. And he...

SHUSTER: The church you grew up in?

MCDOWELL: Yeah. And in writing this, he found out that twenty one persons who were relatives of ours, McDowell family and other connected families by marriage, a total of twenty one graduates of Wheaton College. I was the first and others followed.

SHUSTER: You were the trail blazer.

MCDOWELL: [Laughing] Yes.

SHUSTER: You’ve referred a couple of times to the 1962 meetings in Paraguay...


SHUSTER: ...that Billy Graham held.


SHUSTER: How were you involved in those?

MCDOWELL: Yes. Well I...was called up again to active duty upon completing my surgical residency in New York City. And I was assigned as military duty to work with the Institute of InterAmerican Affairs under Nelson Rockefeller. Who was trying to win the governments of Latin America away from the...

SHUSTER: Communists?


SHUSTER: Oh, Axis.

MCDOWELL: Hitler and the...those who followed him. And Mussolini. Because during the war, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, parts of Brazil were all pro-Axis and were on the side of the Axis. And...that...

SHUSTER: Now when this...

MCDOWELL: ...because of large Italian and German colonies in all of these countries.

SHUSTER: Now when was it that you were called up again? What year?

MCDOWELL: I was called up to active duty again in 1951.

SHUSTER: ‘51. But of course by that time, Hitler was long dead.

MCDOWELL: Yes. That’s right.

SHUSTER: But there was still concern about Axis influence in South America?

MCDOWELL: Yes. And things that had been started by the Institute of Inter-American Affairs were continued during that period. Each country had a team that concentrated on medicine and public health, another team in agriculture, another team in education. And so that was true in Paraguay and so I was on the medical team. And a large part of my duties was trying to bring medical education in Paraguay up to modern standards. So I worked with the medical school and the dean there. I worked with the minister of public health of the country. And served as the interim director of that team.

SHUSTER: Of the army medical team.

MCDOWELL: Yes. It wasn’t actually an army team, but I was called up to duty. And instead of being sent to Korea (the Korean war was on then) I was sent to Paraguay, which turned out to influence the rest of my life [laughs].

SHUSTER: How so?

MCDOWELL: Well I...took the examinations for licensure in Paraguay while I was there...

SHUSTER: I’m sorry, the examinations for...?

MCDOWELL: To become licensed . . .

SHUSTER: Oh licensed, yes.

MCDOWELL: In another country. See they did not recognize, nor any of the Latin American countries recognize a degree from the United States. So you have to graduate taking all of their examinations. So I took thirty-five oral examinations. One for each subject in the six year medical course in Paraguay. Became the first foreign physician licensed in the past twenty years in Paraguay. But I did not know exactly how that would be used in the future, but the Lord led me back to that country...

SHUSTER: Sent you back as a missionary?

MCDOWELL: I came back as a Southern Baptist missionary surgeon.

SHUSTER: And when was that?

MCDOWELL: Yes. I served at the Baptist Mission Hospital from 1954 to 1974. Twenty years there. And in 1962 Billy Graham held an evangelistic crusade in a soccer stadium in the city of Asuncion. I took the counseling training course offered by the Graham team. And then I served as a councilor during that week long crusade. And while he was in Asuncion, Billy Graham visited the Baptist hospital.

SHUSTER: What do you recall about that visit?

MCDOWELL: [Laughs] Well, not very much. The other...Southern Baptist missionaries conducted him around. As I recall, I was operating that morning in the operating room. And that’s why I did not accompany him. But he came to our hospital, and I was thankful for that.

SHUSTER: What were the attitudes in Asuncion to Graham’s visit? How did the general population feel?

MCDOWELL: Yes, well this was the first time that anything like that had ever occurred in that city.

SHUSTER: When you say anything like that, you mean an evangelistic campaign?

MCDOWELL: Yes, yes. Something that had occurred there during that period. There was a counter gathering...

SHUSTER: A protest?

MCDOWELL: ...stimulated by the Catholic church to honor the Virgin Mary. And they had set up a large platform and large pictures of Mary in the center city park. And they were having a meeting to...conflict with the Billy Graham meeting. And they had...plans for two small planes to go over the city distributing invitations to their meeting honoring the Virgin Mary. And a tremendous storm came up. Greater than any storm I had seen in Paraguay with the tremendous winds and thunder and lightning. Pelting rain. And so this wind knocked down all of of the Virgin Mary and...damaged the platform that they had in the city park. And the two small planes that were set to go over the city with invitations were overturned and the invitations were never distributed. And we thought that the Billy Graham meeting would not go on. But...

SHUSTER: Because of the weather?

MCDOWELL: Because of the weather.


MCDOWELL: But about an hour...or less than an hour before the time for the Billy Graham meeting, the rain stopped, the wind disappeared, the sun came out, and crowds of people came to the stadium. And the efforts to contravene the campaign came to nothing.

SHUSTER: In general in the city, how were people reacting to the idea of the Crusade? Were they interested or hostile or indifferent?

MCDOWELL: Yes, there was a lot of interest. And the stadium was always packed. I don’t know how many thousands were there, but...there was a very large crowd that occupied as far as I could see every seat. And when invitations were given, large numbers of people came forward and of course I as a counselor would move forward and speak with the people.

SHUSTER: What kind of people were you talking with as a counselor? Who was it that was coming forward?

MCDOWELL: These were general workmen and wives. Sometimes children that occupied all levels of society. I would say much more of the lower income, lower social class of the city . But there was strong interest and the Spirit of God was working there. And out of that, quite a large number of people came to Protestant churches.

SHUSTER: Were most of the people coming forward from Roman Catholic background?

MCDOWELL: Yes. Well the entire country had Roman Catholic background. At that time, the archbishop for Paraguay sat on the...on the government council, equal to...the...Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Education, Secretary of Health and so on. Yeah. And the Catholic church received a fixed amount of tax money from the government.

SHUSTER: The people who came forward who you counseled, what kinds of things were they interested in? What were they asking about? What had struck them from the sermons?

MCDOWELL: Well, I think they were confessing sins. And they were asking for forgiveness. And for new life in Christ. Of course we were giving out to them New Testaments in Spanish. And...guidebook as to the Christian life.

SHUSTER: Would you say most of the people that you counseled made a decision for Christ or were they simply wanting more information?

MCDOWELL: Yes. I think that all of the people that I counseled made a decision for Christ. But I cannot look back and say “Were these true conversions? Were their lives really changed?” Because I did not have contact with these people after the campaign.

SHUSTER: Sure. And you were saying that people were directed to Protestant churches...or were you saying...

MCDOWELL: No, not directed to. But all of them knew of Protestant churches in their section of the city. And the pastors reported later the people that had made a profession of faith showing up at their churches. Yes.

SHUSTER: During...Billy Graham’s sermon and also I believe Joe Blinco was preaching before Graham arrived, is that...?

MCDOWELL: That’s right. Yeah.

SHUSTER: During their sermons (Reverend Blinco and Reverend Graham) did they...adapt their message to the situation in Paraguay? Was it...were the sermons particularly relevant to that audience?

MCDOWELL: Yes. Of course Graham’s messages were in English and he had a translator. Blinco gave messages in Spanish. But the people of Paraguay are bilingual. Everybody speaks two languages. The Guarani Indian language and Spanish. And their home language...their language of family, of love, of war as they say is Guarani. It’s not Spanish. And none of the messages were given in Guarani.

SHUSTER: Was the actual content of the messages particularly adapted to a Paraguay audience?

MCDOWELL: Yes. I think it was.

SHUSTER: In what way?

MCDOWELL: Well it dealt with problems of every day life. Problems of sin in the life. Problems of family problems and break up of families. Dealt with the dishonesty, dishonesty at work, at school. Wherever people are gathered. Yeah. It dealt with problems that all of these people faced.

SHUSTER: Of course you were in a unique position, you could compare Billy Graham’s preaching in 1941 with 1962. How similar or how different was he from the college student preaching at the Tabernacle?

MCDOWELL: [Coughs] I would say it was in many ways similar. that time of course, he had had world recognition and sermons were given around the world that was aimed at a broader audience perhaps. Around the world the sin problem is the same. And the salvation solution is the same. Yes.

SHUSTER: But his preaching style was much the same?

MCDOWELL: I think so, yes.

SHUSTER: One incident I know about during the meetings. There had been a press conference planned and only one reporter had shown up.

MCDOWELL: Is that right?

SHUSTER: Yeah, the president...

MCDOWELL: I didn’t know about that.

SHUSTER: President Stroessner is that right?


SHUSTER: Had reprimanded the press. Do you recall anything about that?

MCDOWELL: About Stroessner ?

SHUSTER: No about the incident with holding the press conference.

MCDOWELL : No, I don’t know anything about that.

SHUSTER: What kind of impact...long range impact did you notice these meetings having. Or did they have a long range impact on In Asuncion in Paraguay?

MCDOWELL: Yeah, I think it was more recognition of Protestant churches. And I think government officials were more inclined to look favorably upon the Protestant work in Paraguay. But that was also largely due to President Stroessner. He was a dictator, yes. But he was elected overwhelmingly by the people of Paraguay during his thirty five-years there. But it’s interesting in his history, he was the commander of the artillery unit in the town of Paraguarí. And in that town was a normal school where teachers were being trained. And there was a...director of that teacher training school who was a member of the Plymouth Brethren Church and an active evangelical Christian.

SHUSTER: What was his name?

MCDOWELL: [Pause, laughs].

SHUSTER: Well, that’s okay.

MCDOWELL: Just at the moment his name...maybe it will come to me as we talk. But anyway, on afternoons...the commander of the artillery unit and the director of the school would often get together and they would sip their mate which is the drink everyone drinks in Paraguay and chat. And he heard the gospel from this director of the school. Then later on, he was...when there was...revolution in the country and different groups fighting, he was invited to be the president. And so he assumed the presidency and the director of the normal school was invited to the national university as professor of philosophy at that school. And so whenever he could, President Stroessner did things favorable to the Protestants of the country.

SHUSTER: And you said that you thought the [Billy Graham] Crusade also affected...made the government officials...


SHUSTER: ...more open to Protestant church?

MCDOWELL: Yes I did. For example, a shipment of Bibles would be confiscated in the aduana, the entry port of the country. And a simple call from the Bible society to the professor of philosophy who would call the president who would make a call to the customs and the Bibles would miraculously be released. And President Stroessner opened the radio waves to Protestant messages which formerly were strictly forbidden. He permitted distribution of tracts in the streets, which before was forbidden. Before, in order to get any meeting in a home of over six people for home Bible study or for prayer meeting or anything like that, you had to get police permission. Written permission for that. And for the dates it would be...that this meeting would be held.

SHUSTER: [Tape cuts out momentarily] And you were saying about permission to hold Bible studies of more than six people.

MCDOWELL: Yeah, and Stroessner rescinded that law and permitted people to gather together in homes for Bible study or prayer or worship.

SHUSTER: Was this after the Crusade or had this been something that happened...?

MCDOWELL: I don’t know . I can’t remember whether it ...was in relation to the crusade or not.

SHUSTER: Apart from the friendly attitude from the government, did it have an impact on the actual life of the church itself?

MCDOWELL: Yes. Yes it did. It...the attendance increased, the number of members increased. The outreach of the churches increased. When I arrived in Paraguay, there were two Baptist churches in the city. No churches outside of the city of Asuncion, the capitol. And outreach by the members of the churches and by the missionaries were very active. And by the time I left Paraguay, we had at that time about forty-five churches throughout the country in that twenty year period.

SHUSTER: And that was about 1974?

MCDOWELL: Yes. And since then, the number has increased much more than that. So....

SHUSTER: Did the crusade have any impact on the attitude of the Catholic hierarchy to Protestants or relation between Catholics and Protestants?

MCDOWELL: Well, something that happened (I don’t know if it was directly related to that) was home Bible studies by the Catholic church. Often lead by lay people. And often they obtained their...Bibles or [New] Testaments from the Bible society. Yes.

SHUSTER: So you think possibly the Protestant example had an influence there?

MCDOWELL: Yes, I think it had. And, for example, there was an American priest with the Redemptorist Fathers who had a work in the town of Cornello Diego [?]. He would come almost weekly with his van, bringing sick people to the clinic, to the Baptist hospital. At times, we would have lunch together. And...

SHUSTER: And that was unusual for a priest to do that?

MCDOWELL: Certainly for a...Paraguayan priest it would be. This was an American priest of course, a missionary priest.

SHUSTER: Do you recall his name?

MCDOWELL: No, I don’t. Not now.

SHUSTER: Anything else you’d like to add about the Paraguay meetings?

MCDOWELL: No, I don’t recall any other things.

SHUSTER: Or anything else in general you wanted to bring up or mention?

MCDOWELL: Since then, I think it’s been about four years ago now, Franklin Graham had a very similar campaign in Paraguay which was very well attended. And when I returned on a visit to Paraguay, there were these large banners across the streets announcing the Franklin Graham crusade and the dates and where it was being held.

SHUSTER: And were you actually there in the city when the meetings were being held?

MCDOWELL: No, I was not. The dates didn’t coincide with my time there, but the announcements were already up.

SHUSTER: Anything else you wanted to add at all about anything we’ve talked about?

MCDOWELL: Well, [pauses] I can’t think of anything.

SHUSTER: Let me just ask, you returned to the U.S. in 1974 and what did you do then?

MCDOWELL : Well, I was director of the physician assistant program at a Baptist college here in West Virginia.

SHUSTER: Oh, which college?

MCDOWELL: Alderson-Broaddus College. A-L-D-E-R-S-O-N dash Broaddus, B-R-O-A-D-D-U-S. It’s a small Baptist college and had the first granting physician assistant program in the United States. And I was there for two years as director of that program. But had to get back into surgery, I felt. And accepted an invitation to be chief of surgery at the veteran’s hospital in Clarksburg, West Virginia. And a position as a professor of surgery at the university. And I was in charge of the surgical residents and the medical students that rotated for their training at the Clarksburg Veteran’s Hospital.

SHUSTER: And that was the University of West Virginia?

MCDOWELL: Yeah. West Virginia University. And then in 1980, I was invited to come to the university as chief of the vascular surgery section in the department of surgery. And I moved from the veteran’s hospital in Clarksburg to the university hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia. 1980. I retired in 2001 from that position. So I’ve been retired since 2001. I’m eighty-five years old right now.

SHUSTER: You had mentioned to me earlier that you’re still consulted on surgical rounds at the hospital? Is that true?

MCDOWELL: Well that’s a conference actually that’s called grand rounds. Not going from bed to bed on what we call rounds but is a conference format with a lecture with questions and answer at the ends of the lecture.

SHUSTER: Well I wanted to thank you, Dr. McDowell, for being willing to be interviewed today. It’s been very interesting and helpful I think, and I’m glad to be able to record these memories and have them for the archives. Thank you.

MCDOWELL: Yes. It’s been good to talk. And we hope that this will be useful to other people.

SHUSTER: Indeed.



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Last Revised: 09/17/13

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© 2016 Wheaton College. All rights reserved. This transcript may be reused with the following publication credit: Used by permission of the Billy Graham Center Archives, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.2013