Ruth Bell Graham was born in China in 1920, where her parents, Dr. and Mrs. L. Nelson Bell, were medical missionaries at a hospital north of Shanghai. She spent most of her childhood in China and first sensed the great calling to abandon all for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ during her time there, even dreaming of becoming a missionary in Tibet.
This aspect of Ruth’s life is represented in one of the galleries at the Billy Graham Library where a pagoda frames a video screen where visitors learn about her heart for ministry.
This story is one Ruth shared about her childhood nurse in China:
Wang Nai Nai
She was our amah as we grew up: our Chinese nurse, Wang Nai Nai. And we children were not the only ones who loved her. Everyone did. And with good reason: she loved everyone.
I can still see her sitting on a low stool in the upstairs back bedroom, her paper hand-bound Chinese hymnal open in her hands, singing in her plain, flatly nasal voice the Chinese words to Cowper’s famous old hymn:
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoices to see
That fountain in his day,
And there I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.
And to my innocent child’s mind, she was the picture of a saintly old soul at worship.
Mother and Daddy told how when she first came to work for them, she longed to be able to read her Chinese Bible for herself. They found her flat on the floor one night, close to the fireplace with her Bible open, trying to learn the characters by the light of the dying fire. After that, they bought her a lamp of her own. (We had no electricity then.) And so she taught herself to read the Bible.
Of such material God makes some of His choicest saints.
“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
The Chinese character for righteousness is found on Ruth’s grave marker in the memorial prayer garden at the Billy Graham Library. The character is comprised of two others: one for lamb written above another for me or I.