: Urbana 1948

How one man’s life touched millions

Remembering Billy Graham

Yale University, 1957: Ned walked into the auditorium. What a sight. He’d expected a crowd, but nothing on this scale. 3,500 other students had beaten him to it, and now the only remaining seats were right at the front. This better be good, he thought. He’d heard nothing but talk of this famous preacher all week. Curious to see what all the fuss was about, he’d decided to go along on the last night.

The hour passed in a flash. Ned was gripped by every word Billy Graham spoke. He had not expected to be so affected by his message. His words had weight. Uncomfortable, yet compelling. He thought he knew what Christianity was about. But he’d never heard the Bible explained like this before. Was he really a sinner?

Ned spent the next four months trying to disprove the accusation. He quit smoking. He drank less. He did his best to clean up his act. But he soon came to see that the real problem was on the inside. It was something he was unable to change himself.

Later that year, Ned once more found himself among the crowds listening to the famous preacher. This time 17,000 packed into Madison Square Garden in New York to hear Billy’s simple yet powerful message of the crucified and risen Christ. His challenge to repent and believe echoed around the arena. For Ned, this gospel was irresistible. Responding to Billy’s call, he rose to his feet and his whole life changed direction.

Unto death

Ned soon discovered that he was not alone on this new journey:

“After making that commitment in 1957, I was pleased to discover a host of other students who were part of a group called InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I began to attend ‘IV’ that fall with a grateful heart and a growing realisation that I had entered a large and growing family of ‘brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers’, people from many cultures and ethnicities who all loved God!”

Ned was one of 1,700 students who committed to follow Christ during the 1957 meetings in New York. That winter he travelled 1,000 miles by bus to attend a student missions conference called Urbana, where Billy Graham was speaking again. He remembers:

“Billy cited a letter from a Communist youth showing the dedication unto death that this youth was willing to make for Communism, and challenged us all to have that same commitment for Christ. It was there I made a second commitment to follow Jesus, wherever He might lead me.”

Ned went on to spend over 44 years serving students on campus with InterVarsity. Dr Graham’s urging to reach the nations had left a deep impression on him, and he spent much of his time reaching out to international students. He later spent a year in Calcutta, encouraging UESI India students, studying other religions, and learning how to witness to Hindu students in particular. The gospel he had first heard preached by Billy Graham years before was now, through him, touching the lives of university students all over the world.


Billy Graham and IFES

Ned Hale was one of an estimated 215 million people from around 185 countries who heard the gospel preached by Billy Graham. More than two million of those were thought to have responded to the invitation to become a Christian.

As he spoke around the world, thousands of students came to hear him. Local IFES movements would often have the privilege of following up with students who made commitments to follow Jesus during those events. We will never know how many of today’s Christian leaders are a legacy of Billy Graham.

Dr Graham was a keen advocate of the work of IFES, saying:

”It would be hard to imagine a group that is more strategic. Everywhere I go I meet Christian leaders whose lives have been touched by IFES emphasis on biblical evangelism and discipleship.”

One particularly fruitful aspect of Dr Graham’s student ministry was his involvement in the Urbana student mission conference in North America. He was a regular guest speaker between 1948 and 1987, challenging thousands of students into evangelism and mission around the world.

“What a wonderful joy it is to go to a city and hold a crusade in which there are university students engaged in InterVarsity, who are winning people to Christ, and who believe in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Dr Graham said at Urbana 57.

He challenged students to make a commitment to follow Christ unreservedly, wherever he might lead them. In his Urbana 61 message he told students:

“I am ready to go to India, to Africa, to South America. I am willing to go or stay. I am willing to be expendable! I am willing to die.”

It was not just Ned who was inspired by his words. Tom Lin, former IFES Regional Representative for North America, reflected:

“He has left an unforgettable legacy with generations of Urbana students, tens of thousands who have been mobilized long-term around the world because of Dr Graham’s challenge to give their lives to God’s global mission.”

Billy Graham’s remarkable life has touched far more than the millions who heard him preach. His legacy lives on through those who, like Ned, are continuing to share the gospel they heard proclaimed — the gospel of Jesus Christ, the one man whose life ultimately touched millions.

The Urbana conference Billy Graham spoke at continues in its aim to be an eye-opening global missions conference, a sacred space for college and graduate students, faculty, and church leaders to hear God’s call. Find out more at: urbana.org

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