Monday, 29 December 2014

The House that Ruth Built

The enduring legacy of  

Ruth Bell Graham 1920-2007 


"YOU’RE LOOKING VERY PRETTY, RUTH." As I left the room where the bedridden Ruth and her evangelist husband Billy Graham had given me tea, in their home at Montreat, I was not to know that these would be the last words I would ever speak face to face to one of the twentieth century’s most captivating people.

Tea at the Grahams – a mighty honour   PHOTO Maury Scobee

I had always been amazed at being known at all by Mr and Mrs Graham; there were plenty of church ministers and Christian leaders far more deserving than myself of the privilege. For me it must have begun at Cambridge University in 1955, when Dr Graham came to conduct a mission – in which I was part of the undergraduate organising committee. Since then I was to be drawn, one way or another, into a number of the activities surrounding this remarkable world ministry.

But now the seemingly ever-enduring Ruth is no longer with us. Born in China as the child of missionaries, and then from her college days in America deflected from intended missionary service by her marriage to history’s most effective-ever evangelist, Ruth Bell Graham died on June 14th 2007 - in the same house of logs devised and planned by herself in 1955, half way up a mountain in North Carolina. The house itself is a testimony to the simple life-style – hailed, following a visit by boxing champion Muhammed Ali, as ‘the kind of house a man of God would live in.’ Such is part of the legacy left by Ruth. It was here that a family was raised, and to which its members  would be returning again and again across half a century.

Pictured at their front door. ‘I love the wife of my youth more every day’
said Billy Graham
PHOTO Richard Bewes

The house – “Little Piney Cove” - was built of old wood, mostly acquired by Ruth from the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains or from nearby salvage yards. Chestnut, pine and oak were all put to use.  Only the framework was of new wood. Centrepiece of the main living room is a fireplace mantel, carved with words from Martin Luther’s hymn;  Eine Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott – “a Mighty Fortress is our God.” Over the years there have been a succession of dogs in the homestead, the latest was called Chyna – but generally it seemed to be the cat that ruled the household.

Although it was Billy Graham who would, in the course of his preaching, visit some 185 countries and take the full brunt of his world calling, it would be inaccurate to assume that Ruth was no more than the home-maker and family stay.  An avid Bible

Ruth’s study area at Little Piney Cove

student in her own right, she would have several Bibles on the go - and permanently open. She would have her own input into the many best-sellers written by her husband. A lover of books, she would press upon a visitor to the house some volume, whose treasures she wished to pass on. She had her own unique and imaginative way of communicating - through her Bible discoveries, poetic gifts and personal memoirs – an outlook that revealed someone who had unmistakably established a credible relationship with the universe. This world-view found expression in the books that she created and compiled over several decades. 

It will never be known in this life just whom Ruth Graham was touching and assisting towards a knowledge of God; pastors, neighbours, battered people, wounded people and seeking people from a very wide spectrum of life. She would have something for each person.

Travelling with close friend Jean Wilson one day, she remarked that she had heard nothing from me over in the UK for some while! This prompted her immediately to scribble a little poem in her very distinctive handwriting on a scrap of paper.

Has anyone had news of Bewes? Study, Pulpit? Choir or Pews?

If they don’t say then we must pray 
That somehow, some way, some place, some day
Someone will give us news of Bewes
Good news, we pray, some how, some way
Has anyone had news of Bewes?

‘Animation’ is the best single word to describe Ruth.  Creative, inquisitive and forever alert, she had a mischievous streak in her personality that was utterly irrepressible, despite the constant pain to which she was subject in her later years – and of which she never complained.

How we all loved Ruth Graham – “one of the great women in the world’ was how my late wife, Liz, described her. At Billy Graham’s Amsterdam Congress of 2000, we got Britain’s most

Richard Bewes & Sir Cliff display the millennium tea cloth  (Photo BGEA)

successful-ever entertainer, Sir Cliff Richard (a friend of the Grahams), to sign one of the teacloths selling on the streets of London shortly after the release of Cliff’s top-selling millennial song of the Lord’s Prayer – as a special love-memento from 12,000 evangelists.

To see Ruth at home with her famous husband was to be reminded of what was said about the famed evangelist D.L. Moody and his wife Emma, a century and more earlier. Their niece Mary had once observed: “Aunt Emma and Uncle Dwight were so perfectly one that no one could possibly tell which was the one”

The same has been manifestly true of Ruth and Billy Graham.

And the house that Ruth built was but the outward symbol of what her whole life was given to – the secure building of a life, a ministry and a testimony for the sole glory of Jesus Christ. Her works will follow her into all eternity.

It won’t be long – the sun is slowly slipping out of sight; lengthening shadows deepen into dusk;
still winds whisper; all is quiet; it won’t be long – till night.
It won’t be long – the tired eyes close, her strength is nearly gone;
Frail hands that ministered to many
Lie quiet, still;
Light from another world!
Look up, bereaved! It won’t be long – till Dawn!

Ruth Bell Graham, ‘Sitting by my laughing Fire’ 1977, page 141