Born June 10, 1920
Seventeen-year-old Ruth Bell had to flee her birth country of China. When the Japanese invaded in 1937, it was no longer safe for her to remain. Her missionary parents secured her passage to the United States. The adventure she’d lived so far wouldn’t compare to the unexpected life that awaited her as the future wife of evangelist Billy Graham. Here are five phases in the unique life of one of Christianity’s most effective ambassadors, although she often worked behind the scenes.
ROOTS IN THE ORIENT
Nelson Bell served as superintendent of Tsingkiang General Hospital in the Kiangsu province. He treated the Chinese for various conditions from tuberculosis to malaria, always addressing their spiritual needs as well. On June 10, 1920, he responded to a call to his own home where he delivered his second child, Ruth. She brought great joy to her father, her mother Virginia, and her older sister, Rosa. The Bell girls attended school in North Korea. One day Ruth realized that she couldn’t simply rely on her parent’s faith for salvation. She asked Rosa what to do. Taking her sister’s advice, Ruth read a favorite Bible verse with her name inserted into it.
She read Isaiah 53:5 as, “He was wounded for Ruth’s transgressions, He was bruised for Ruth’s iniquities: the chastisement of Ruth’s peace was upon Him; and with His stripes Ruth is healed.” Her personal faith grew ever stronger from that moment on.
WHEATON AND BILLY GRAHAM
Ruth’s journey to the United States led her to Wheaton College in Illinois. At Wheaton, she would fall deeper in love with God and fall into love with a lanky young man from North Carolina.
Before Ruth met Billy, he’d attended college in Florida, gained experience holding evangelistic services, and had been serious enough about a young lady to propose to her. She had turned him down. The reason: she preferred to marry a man who would someday amount to something.
From the beginning, Ruth Bell believed Billy Graham would amount to something. Meeting him caused her to drop her life’s goal to become a missionary spinster in Tibet. After their first date, she prayed, “God, if you let me serve you with that man I’d consider it the greatest privilege in my life.”
They were married August 13, 1943, in North Carolina, at the Montreat Presbyterian Church.
RAISING FIVE LITTLE GRAHAMS
Billy pastored a church in Illinois for a while. When God opened doors for him to evangelize fulltime, Ruth traveled with him at first. As their family grew, she found that traveling didn’t fit who she was.
The more Billy’s ministry expanded, especially internationally, Ruth came to accept his long absences by fulfilling her service to God while he fulfilled his. She summed up her feelings with the words, “Mine has been the task of staying home and raising the family. No higher calling could have ever been given me.”
Their children eventually numbered five: Virginia (GiGi), Anne, Ruth (Bunny), Franklin, and Ned. Raising her brood brought plenty of challenges. The Graham children were normal, not always understanding the Bible’s teachings.
For example, one day Ruth heard a loud cry from the kitchen. She ran in to find Anne and her younger sister. Anne admitted to her mother, “I’m teaching Bunny about the Bible. I’m slapping her on one cheek and teaching her to turn the other one so I can slap it too.”
As Billy’s popularity grew, tourists began dropping by, hoping to get their pictures taken with the Graham family. To gain more privacy, Billy and Ruth purchased land further up the mountain. Ruth personally oversaw the construction of a log cabin. She named the place Little Piney Cove. The home provided protection her young family needed from well-meaning yet intrusive tourists.
Ruth was also a resourceful Christian. She touched hundreds of lives one-on-one. She addressed various needs with Christian faith, from helping a poverty-stricken family on the mountain to visiting a convicted criminal in prison, to talking anonymously to people about their need for God while at her husband’s crusades.
To further share her faith, Ruth wrote 14 books. Her writings include memories of hard to forget experiences, journal entries, and poems she penned. Ruth infused many lessons from her life with scriptural insights.
One of her quotable observations is, “It takes more faith to be an atheist than to believe in God.” Another is, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”
With time, the Graham children grew into adults, married, and started their own families. The Graham boys, Franklin and Ned, survived rebellious teen years to surrender their lives to God. Both eventually became leaders of large ministry organizations.
Ruth’s world changed further when her parents died. Her father passed away in 1973, a year before her mother. For years, they’d lived in Montreat, not far from Ruth and her family.
The same year her mother died, Ruth had a serious accident while playing with her grandchildren. She fell fifteen feet out of a tree, hitting her head on the ground. She lay in the hospital for a week, unconscious. When she came to, Ruth couldn’t recall any of the Bible verses she’d committed to memory over the years. She prayed, “Lord, you can have anything I’ve got, but please give me back my Bible verses.” Instantly, scriptures started popping into her mind.
Two of the happiest weeks of Ruth’s life unfolded in 1980. She and her siblings returned to China, the land of their roots. Much had changed, but the most important thing hadn’t. A nurse who used to work with her father told her, “We are still Christians.” Ruth was disappointed that so much of the neighborhood of her younger years was either torn down or run down. But she concluded, “God’s work is not in buildings, but in transformed lives.”In the last few decades of her life, Ruth returned to traveling with Billy. During a nine-month period in the late 1980s, she and Billy traveled around the world twice. In 1996, both were honored in Washington D. C. with a Congressional Gold Medal.
Ruth died on June 14, 2007. She’d suffered for years from spinal meningitis, which was aggregated by her fall from the tree thirty-three years earlier.
LET ME KNOW: How has Ruth’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.
- Cornwell, Patricia Daniels. A Time for Remembering: The Story of Ruth Bell Graham. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1983.
- Graham, Billy. Just As I Am. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1997.
- Graham, Ruth Bell. It’s My Turn. Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell, 1982.
- Graham, Ruth Bell. Legacy of a Pack Rat. Nashville, Tennessee, 1989.
- Find Ruth’s books and those about her here at Christian Book Distributors- http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/easy_find/1428179683?Ntt=Ruth+bell+graham&N=0&Ntk=keywords&action=Search&Ne=0&event=ESRCG&nav_search=1&cms=1&search=.
- Books by Ruth at Amazon.com begin on this page http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_10/189-7297208-6138841?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=ruth+bell+graham&sprefix=ruth+bell+%2Cstripbooks%2C413.
Websites- Check these websites for more about Ruth Bell Graham:
- Note the final source in the bibliography for information about Ruth at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. It features a number of pages worth exploring.
- The Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College features magazine articles by Ruth and audio clips of her speaking-http://www2.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/memorial/GRAHAMruth/intro.htm.
- Here are articles by and about Ruth at Christianity Today– http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/topics/g/ruth-bell-graham/?paging=off.
- Here’s the Ruth Bell Graham YouTube page-http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=ruth+bell+graham.