A Conversation with Ruth Bell Graham
May 1, 2002 - Ruth Bell Graham has played an integral part in the ministry of Billy Graham throughout the years. Well known as a poet and an author, she has insight into life and following Christ. "Decision" recently had the privilege of talking with Mrs. Graham about her life.
by Jim Dailey
Q/ You are known to be a joyful person. What things bring you joy?
A/ Most important is my personal walk and relationship with the Lord Jesus. I can’t imagine life without Him.
My family brings me joy—I get so excited when family members are coming home. Sometimes I wonder if God feels that way when one of His children is about to come home.
We look on death as a tragedy, and we grieve with the family and friends, but we don’t stop to think that God probably is not grieving. I wonder if He’s excited when one of his children is coming home—it’s not a stranger coming home, it’s a loved child.
I have a lot to be happy about, a lot to enjoy in life. I am enjoying growing old, but I do have to admit that certain parts of growing old are not enjoyable, such as physical ailments. As we’re growing up, going through teen-aged years, there are things that we don’t particularly enjoy. Each part of life has its ups and downs.
I have so many memories—and they don’t have to be happy memories—of things in which I’ve learned about God and have had the Scriptures open up in a new way.
Q/ Many of your books contain entries from your diaries. Was that a regular discipline?
A/ I have never kept a diary systematically; some days just aren’t worth writing about! But I am a strong believer in jotting down little incidents, and I try to date them, especially when people have said things that I want to remember.
I would encourage people to write down special things that happen. I have an entire notebook of incidents that happened and things that the children said while they were growing up. I wouldn’t take a million dollars for that little notebook!
Q/ As an avid reader, you must have some authors whom God has used significantly in your life.
A/ Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India, had a great influence on my life. And particularly meaningful to me is Alexander Smellie, of Scotland. He wrote a book on the history of the persecuted Scottish church.
John Trapp was an author from the 17th century that I love to read. I have greatly enjoyed books by George Macdonald, G.K. Chesterton and Alexander Whyte. I spent a lot of time reading to my children. That was important.
When I was in England with Bill for a Crusade, I wanted so much to get a copy of "Foxe’s Book of Martyrs." I had looked in some secondhand bookstores but with no success. One day I was heading out of the hotel when a reporter asked if I could spend a few minutes with her. I was in a hurry, but I did the interview.
During the discussion, we talked about books that I had read, including Foxe’s book. She mentioned that information in her article, and a woman who read the article called me and said that she had a very old copy available. God used my love for books to teach me a lesson—that sometimes God interrupts our plans to accomplish His plans. I didn’t think, when I was looking for those books in the secondhand bookstore, that God had something much better for me. He leads every step of the way.
Q/ You were born in China to missionary parents. what was that like?
A/ I loved it, largely because of the missionaries where I grew up. They were unusually talented, well-prepared, deeply motivated—in those days you had to be, in order to go to China. It took forever for people to get to China. It was hard going, and we lived in bandit country. We had some trouble with the Japanese as their military influence in the region grew. But I loved living in China.
The missionaries realized that an essential part of hard work is relaxation. Some would get together once a week or so. They laughed a lot. Their joy, and the joy of those Chinese who became Christians, was in stark contrast to the non-Christians who lived near us. It was a great way for me to start out because I saw how the Christian faith made for a very appealing and enjoyable life.
In his Letter to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul wrote about making our faith attractive: "Thanks be to God, who always leads us in his triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place."* The missionaries made their faith attractive, and it had a profound impression on me.
Q/ At age 13 You went to boarding school in northern Korea. how was it being so far from home?
A/ I nearly died of homesickness. But it was my "boot camp" in so many ways. God knew then that I would spend the rest of my life saying good-byes. My older sister, Rosa, was already at that school, and that made it somewhat easier, but even so it was hard for me.
Still, I am glad that Mother and Daddy sent me there—I became so much more dependent on the Lord and on the Bible. I remember that during my first semester I became ill and had to go to the infirmary. I started to read in the Psalms, and by the end of the day I had read the entire book of 150 Psalms. That evening I sensed God’s presence in a special way.
The Scriptures guide us and comfort us. The people in Scripture experienced the same sorts of problems and difficulties that we face today. They often were lonely, tired and discouraged, but God met their needs. What an encouragement for us as we face our challenges.
When I was 15 years old, I finished high school, but my father sent me back for one more year of schooling because I was too young to attend college in the States. In that final year, I was able to take all Bible courses. I hungered and thirsted to know the Word of God.
Q/ You met Billy Graham at Wheaton College. What was your very first impression of him?
A/ I first saw him running down the steps as I was going up. I thought to myself, "There is a young man in a hurry." As I got to know him, I was so impressed with his commitment to the Lord.
On campus we had a prayer time where the men were on one side of the hallway and the women were on the other side. One morning I heard Bill praying, and I knew that he was a man who knew how to pray. Those two qualities—his commitment to Christ and his sincerity and boldness in prayer—were what struck me about Bill.
When we dated, we had our ups and downs. I had always thought I should go to Tibet as a missionary, and one day Bill said to me, "Ruth, do you think God led us together?"
I had to admit that I was convinced He had. Then Bill said, "Well, then, I’ll do the leading, and you do the following." I’ve been doing the following ever since.
Q/ Mr. Graham’s travels meant that often he was separated from you and the children. How did you handle those times?
A/ As I said, God really prepared me as a young girl for a lifetime of saying good-byes. I certainly said a lot of good-byes to Bill as he left for Crusade meetings around the world.
Fortunately, we had moved to Montreat, North Carolina, where we lived across the street from my parents. They had returned to the States from the mission field. They were wonderful grandparents and read stories to the grandchildren and played games with them.
I spent many, many evenings in prayer, asking God to bless Bill’s Crusades and to help me with the children. I gave my burdens to the Lord, but I learned to worship Him and to thank Him for His goodness and provision. I have so much to be grateful for.
Q/ With five children to rear, you must have been busy.
A/ I certainly was. I was busy all the time, and that kept my mind occupied. I learned to trust God every day.
Each of the children had a unique personality. I wasn’t so sure how they all would turn out, but God blessed us with wonderful children. I can look back in my diary and read conversations I had with the children, and they are amusing at times. One time Franklin was sleeping on the front porch with his cowboy boots and toy gun. We were having problems with some polecats (skunks), and Franklin told me not to worry because he had a gun.
"Franklin, it’s just a toy gun," I said.
"That’s OK, Momma," he said, "The polecats don’t know that."
Q/ What advice do you have for young mothers who are rearing children today?
A/ I would tell them to set up camp in the Scriptures. That’s where they will find the guidance and the strength that they need. You can’t beat the Psalms. I’m so glad that David wasn’t always on top of everything, because we can identify with his trials, discouragement and weariness.
For those young mothers who are new Christians, I recommend that they spend time reading not only the Psalms but also Proverbs. Proverbs offers so much practical help for the home. My father read through the book of Proverbs every month, reading a chapter a day. I highly recommend that.
Q/ Are you able to spend more time with Mr. Graham now than in the past?
A/ Oh, yes. We enjoy life and each other far more than I thought was possible. We sit and talk a good bit and just enjoy each other’s company. In the evenings we watch the news together and chat a lot about the children and the grandchildren. God has been so good to us.