Last Thursday, I was driving in my car, listening to the radio, when the news announcer interrupted the broadcast to inform us that Ruth Bell Graham passed away. Normally, I’m not one to get all choked up and teary eyed about things, but I couldn’t help myself. There I was, crying on my steering wheel, for somebody that I knew next to nothing about. All I knew was that she was Billy Graham’s wife.
I think that my initial reaction stemmed from my realization that she must have been the backbone to Billy Graham’s ministry. Now that I’m married, I recognize how important a woman’s role is in supporting her husband. Without a strong woman behind him, I’m certain that Billy Graham wouldn’t be the evangelist that we all know and love today. All these thoughts washed over me, the moment I heard about her death.
Since then, I’ve spent a couple days reading a little bit about this woman, whose death moved me to tears. Fortunately, when famous people die, there tends to be a flurry of media activity to chronicle their lives. I took advantage of these resources to learn about this remarkable woman. Let me share with you some of the gems that I gleaned from her testimony.
Ruth Bell Graham was born in China, to missionary parents. She attended Wheaton College, where she met Billy (those Christian Colleges are great places to snag stellar Christian guys; I can testify to that too!). After their first date, Ruth knew what she wanted from life. She prayed, “If You let me serve You with that man, I’d consider it the greatest privilege in my life” (qtd. in Newsweek). God answered that prayer, but it wasn’t an easy path that she’d chosen. Billy’s ministry left her frequently alone, raising 5 children, largely by herself.
Ruth’s faith sustained her while her husband was away, and while she faced the challenges of raising her family. Her daughter, Anne, recalls her mother’s devotion to God. She would find her mom each morning in her bedroom, all alone, at her large desk, with many translations of the bible open around her, studying the Word.
In a 2006 radio interview, Ruth Graham (named after her mom) explained her mother’s attitude about Billy’s ministry, which left her home alone with the children (to listen to the Midday Connection interview online, click here). Ruth Bell Graham clung to a verse in 1 Samuel: “For as his share is who goes down to the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage; they shall share alike” (30:24). She believed that her ministry was to take care of the home and the children, Billy’s “baggage.” While Billy was away preaching to thousands and leading many to the Lord, she was doing the Lord’s work back at home. Her reward would be just as great in the end.
Well done, good and faithful servant.