Howard O Jones: Blazing a Trail in Liberia
A Black History Month Special Feature
February 10, 2011 - As the first black associate evangelist of the BGEA, Howard O. Jones traveled the world with Mr. Graham and handled much of the groundwork for the his 1960 African crusade, which included a stop in Liberia.
By His providence, God had answered my family's prayers about our future and given us more than we could have ever dreamed.
The Joneses’ door to ministering in Africa opened in the late 1950s courtesy of ELWA (Eternal Love Winning Africa), a Christian radio station in Monrovia, Liberia, which played Howard’s taped sermons with music by the Smoot Memorial Alliance Church choir in Cleveland, where Howard served as pastor.
In his autobiography, Gospel Trailblazer, Jones wrote of his experience: “Soon, our radio program mushroomed to the point where the SIM staff invited me to come to Africa and preach to the people in person. They asked if I would conduct a three-month series of evangelistic meetings in Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria.
“If I went,” said Jones, “I would be the first black evangelist to hold crusades of such magnitude in West Africa, their letter said. In fact, the whole idea was an experiment to survey the nationals' response to an American black clergyman.”
In January 1957, Jones arrived in Liberia “to great fanfare.” Being the first black American clergyman to hold major evangelistic rallies in West Africa turned out to be a cause for great celebration in the country, he recalled. “We quickly understood that a big reason for the people's excitement was the fact that we were black Americans. Wherever we went, people would squeeze our hands tightly, pull us toward themselves and say, ‘Where have you been? We've seen the white missionary, but we've never seen a black preacher from America.’"
Shortly after Jones and his wife, Wanda, returned home, Billy Graham asked Jones to help him reach out to black churches and break down racial barriers at his New York crusade. Read more here »
Joining the BGEA Team
Following that crusade and one in San Francisco, Graham asked Jones to consider joining the BGEA team on a full-time basis. “God had made it clear I was to leave my pastorate in Cleveland and become a full-fledged evangelist,” said Jones. “However, there was still the question of where I was being called to serve.”
ELWA continued to court him, and both Jones and his wife sensed that God was calling them back to Liberia. “We were conflicted: Should we go with Billy, or return to Africa? It turned out our worries were for naught,” Jones said. “When I told Billy about our dilemma, he suggested we do both: ‘Howard, we could set up your office and home in Liberia. Then you could fly out of there from time to time to join me for crusades.’”
Jones said he was thrilled with that arrangement. “By His providence, God had answered my family's prayers about our future and given us more than we could have ever dreamed.”
Billy Graham in Liberia
Part of the reason for the unique working arrangement was Graham's desire to do a series of crusades across Africa. After much discussion and prayer, he decided to visit 11 countries on the continent, including Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria, in January 1960. Jones and a few associates did the initial legwork to arrange meetings, network with local churches and missionaries, and train counselors.
The Africa crusade began several days before Graham’s arrival to the continent. “In most large cities or regions, the BGEA crusade strategy often began with several of Billy's associates leading smaller satellite meetings in surrounding towns,” said Jones. “This approach created buzz and inspired people to invite their friends to the larger crusade, which took place a few days later.”
In Liberia, Jones kicked off the campaign with a week of preaching where thousands turned out. The Jones Sisters Trio sang to an enthusiastic response. “Billy arrived for the last two days of the week,” Jones recalled, “and, by God's Spirit, was often able to ‘close the deal’ with those people who had toyed with the idea of going forward earlier in the week but didn't feel ready.”
Before leaving Africa, Graham honored the Jones family by officially dedicating their home to the work God had called them to in Liberia. Some 300 guests attended the ceremony, including President William V.S. Tubman and Vice President William Tolbert, both professing Christians.
Jones described the moment: “On our patio, which afforded a glorious view of the ocean, Billy shared a brief message and then prayed over each member of our family. It was partly a symbolic moment, but it was also a real transaction between the Lord and His servants that left us feeling empowered for ministry.”
Upcoming in Liberia
Carrying on the work of his father in Liberia, Franklin Graham will preach the Gospel in Monrovia March 25-27. We will bring you stories, photos and a broadcast from the event. Be sure to check back here for updates throughout March. You can also visit the All Liberia Festival website here.
And, carrying the legacy to the third generation, Cissie Graham Lynch, Franklin’s daughter and Billy’s granddaughter, also has a heart for Liberia. Watch for an interview with Cissie next week and be sure to visit her personal blog, cissiegrahamlynch.com.
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