Billy Graham Evangelistic Association: The Beginning of a Generational Ministry

September 15, 2020

During Billy Graham’s Crusade in Portland, Oregon, he was once again approached by two men, Fred Dienert and Walter Bennett, to start a weekly radio program. Billy jokingly replied that if he could raise $25,000 (an astronomical sum) that evening for the program, he’d agree to do it. Later that evening, Billy recounted the story to the crowd gathered at the Crusade. The audience laughed in response, but the funds came pouring in throughout the evening from people who felt led to contribute to the cause. At the end of the evening, the team counted a total of $24,000, still $1000 shy of the goal. In wonderment, the team returned to their hotel, where they were given two letters, mailed days before, each with checks for $500 to begin a radio program. Billy knew this had to be God clearly telling him to start a radio program.

However, these funds presented a fresh problem. No bank would take the money since it wasn’t for the Crusade or another non-profit organization, and it would be taxable if any of the team deposited into an account in his name. Billy called his business manager, George Wilson, back in Minneapolis. George advised Billy to go ahead with a formal incorporation of a new non-profit.

On September 15, 1950, George Wilson began drawing up the articles of incorporation to establish the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), and they were officially sealed two days later in St. Paul, Minnesota. Billy recounts this whirlwind in his autobiography, Just As I Am:

“George was the one who chose the name, although I protested strongly. George protested just as strongly that the new organization needed to be identified with my name, since I was the major evangelist. Forty-seven years later, I still wish my name were not so visible. It is God’s organization, not mine, and if we ever lose sight of that fact, God will withdraw His blessing from our work.”

The incorporation papers required a statement of purpose. George put it in simple and direct language: ‘To spread and propagate the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ by any and all…means.’ That was our purpose up to that time, and since that time it has continued to be our purpose.

“The first directors were Cliff Barrows, Grady Wilson, George Wilson and myself; a few years later, Bev Shea was also added. Across the street from Northwestern Schools, George rented 620 square feet of office space, more than enough for any imaginable needs the new corporation might have. He hired accountant Mary Cook as our first employee; she and her husband had come from Portland to work at Northwestern.”

The Billy Graham Library is currently commemorating the 70th anniversary of the BGEA with a special exhibit, running through September 30. Guests can see the incorporation document and many other items that tell the story of the ministry over its 70 years.

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