I am commonly asked to define the mission of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. Given its multidimensional shape, it can sometimes be difficult to summarize. In what follows, our director, Lon Allison, offers a retrospective view before applying the Center’s vision to the present.
I can’t get a video image out of my mind, and I don’t want to. I see Billy Graham being interviewed at the second great International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists (Amsterdam ’86). He was off stage at the convention center and several thousand leaders were sitting behind him. The camera captured the energy of the crowd anticipating the next session. A journalist and cameraman found Dr. Graham milling about greeting the leaders and asked him, “Mr. Graham, when you are gone, who will take your place?” Without missing a beat, Dr. Graham looked into the camera and with a sweep of his arm referring to the crowd he said, “They will.”
Dr. Graham envisioned the Billy Graham Center because of “them.” The story goes like this: Once upon a time, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, two parents had a child. The first parent was one of the world’s finest Christian academic communities. The other was one of the world’s leading evangelistic organizations. Wheaton College and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association birthed the Billy Graham Center. The size of the structure was matched only by the vast scope of its vision: to create a people and a place that would continue to accelerate global evangelism by identifying and equipping the next generations of evangelism leaders—“them.”
Fast forward thirty years. The need has not changed. Every second of every day five people are born and two die. Will the five find Christ and with him, life now and forever? Will the two live in eternal bliss, or sorrow? This is the most serious issue of human existence. C.S. Lewis rightly said that the “glory of God, and, as our only means to glorifying him, the salvation of the human soul, is the real business of life.”
Challenge and opportunity are everywhere. In the U.S., tremendous shifts are occurring. Generations have come who carry but a light touch of Christian memory. Many claim some allegiance to forms of Christianity, but not to Christ. We call these 100,000,000 Americans the partially evangelized. Who will reach them and how?
An even more challenging shift is the changing face of America. We are the most ethnically diverse country (again, over 100,000,000 what/who??) in the history of the world. Everyone is coming from everywhere. Some bring Jesus. Most do not. Who will reach them, and how?
Now look at our world. We’ve crossed the seven billion-person marker. We are connected as never before, yet the growth of the Church is one of the world’s greatest unknown stories. The Kingdom of God is forcefully advancing, but the underside of our global family of believers cries out for resource help.
The biggest need is for godly, committed, and equipped leaders. The Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College is a part of the answer to these cries. We are committed to accelerating global evangelism, helping global leaders and Christian agencies realize their evangelism destinies.
Our commitment to accelerating global evangelism can be summarized in three pictures.
- Equipping Center. Our directors are proven leaders in the field of evangelism. They speak, teach, train, mentor, and write. They travel both nationally and internationally. Further, the core resources of the museum, library, archives, and the faculty of the Wheaton Graduate School make our location a leading center of learning. Many thousands are served each year in the field and at home. This is how we work on the micro level with individuals.
- Nerve Center. The BGC is a strategic crossroads where global coalitions for evangelism and missions are launched and advanced. We understand the power and impact of the Church in unity. We know that often we can do more together than any one organization can do alone. This is how we work on the macro level with agencies and organizations.
- Inspiration Center. The building has the ability to inspire and give credibility to the evangelical Christian movement in the world. Christian statesmen and women often come to the BGC to hold strategic meetings. The museum has welcomed more than one million visitors. Its story of evangelism in America, the life of Billy Graham, and the powerful artistic journey to the cross and empty tomb of Christ give hope to God’s people. We are looked at as a “nexus” point where inspiration and hope flourish.
Stay tuned for our next era of evangelism mission.