All five of Billy Graham’s children grew up in a Christian home, but what was Billy’s upbringing like? In a new exhibit called The Power of Christ in the Home at the Billy Graham Library, visitors will find rare photos and other memorabilia from Frank and Morrow Graham, as well as quotes from their children about growing up in the Graham home.
by Tiffany Jothen
At the center of the exhibit is a three-inch thick Bible owned by Billy Graham’s grandparents. The binding is torn and its edges worn from years of consulting Scripture. Billy was five when his mother taught him John 3:16, and now Billy’s grandson, Will, preaches the same message around the globe.
Billy’s parents, Frank and Morrow Graham, carried on the faith their own parents instilled in them, but life in the Graham home wasn’t always picture perfect.
Jean Graham Ford, the youngest of the Graham clan and self-described “caboose,” said her parents believed in spanking. Sometimes, her mother would announce a spanking a day or two in advance so the mischievous child could think about what he or she did. Jean loved her God-fearing mother dearly, but laughs when she remembers Mother Graham’s short fuse.
“We were not a perfect family,” Jean said. “We had our foibles just like any other normal family. We had our arguments and our disagreements. … We did go to church just about every time the doors were open.” The family had devotions every night at 8.
A quote from Jean’s late brother, Melvin, featured in the exhibit, speaks to daily and weekly rituals: “There were a lot of drugs around during my upbringing. My parents drug me to Sunday school, church, evening youth Bible study and every day they drug me to family devotions. Families today would be a lot better with those kind of drugs.”
The Graham home included four children. Billy was the oldest, followed by Catherine, Melvin and Jean. Before Billy, Frank and Morrow had another daughter named Margaret, but she died a couple of hours after birth. Melvin died in 2004 and Catherine in 2006.
The children’s parents clung to their faith when faced with hardships outside of their control. They looked to God during the Depression when money was particularly tight. They relied on Him when Jean contracted polio and spent her 12th birthday in the hospital.
“God was very real to our family,” Jean said. “The Bible was pretty well the center of the home. It was always open.”
Years later, Jean’s son died at age 21 – a tragedy that required her to call on her own faith. Today, Jean has two children still living, five grandkids, one great-grandchild and another on the way. She and her husband, married for 58 years, made a vow before they even had kids to control their anger and try to make God the center of their home. The greatest thing Jean learned from her parents: “to trust God in the hard times as well as all the in-between times.”
Prayer also went a long way.
“I can remember the comfort I felt in my early years of ministry just knowing that my mother was home praying for me,” Billy said. “It strengthened me, and God used that information to help me stay focused and committed to the task He had given me.”
Billy remembers his dad as a “savvy businessman, … a man of prayer.” He was known for his integrity and sense of humor. Jean remembers him always wearing a white dress shirt, even when milking cows.
Mother, on the other hand, was “strong-willed” and loved to entertain, Jean said. “She always wore a nice, starched cotton dress.” One of Morrow’s dresses – made from pink fabric Billy brought her from Singapore – is featured in the exhibit, along with Frank’s cane and glasses.
Although the couple had different personalities, both were generous; a fellow Christian worker rarely left the house without something in hand. Jean remembers her mother giving the guest room’s king-sized bed to a pastor in need.
Glenn Kengas recently visited the Library from Michigan and took a stroll through the exhibit. Kengas, in Charlotte for business, was a counselor at a Billy Graham Crusade in Anchorage in the early ’80s. Now a father to three children, two stepchildren and five grandkids, Kengas said he liked what Billy Graham had to say about his dad – that he wasn’t highly educated, but he was sincere in prayer.
“It’s important to pray for your children,” to encourage them in their walk with God, Kengas said.
Another quote from Billy, also on display, reminds parents that children need guidance. “We need to be firm and sane and fair and consistent – and above all we need to discipline in a spirit of love.”
The Power of Christ in the Home is open at the Billy Graham Library until June 30. The Library is open Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.