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The Impact of One Decision by Marcie Handrich

I would guess that many people had at least heard of Billy Graham before his passing a few days ago. Some might say that his life and ministry inspired them or that they admired the evangelist. For my family, it’s much more personal. In 1957, when I was a year old, my parents traveled across the country from Hollywood to quaint and quiet Greenfield, Massachusetts, my father’s boyhood home. He and my mother had maintained a successful dance act in Las Vegas but moved to Hollywood in search of greater opportunities. My father did not get the jobs he had expected, and another child was due in the fall. Financially strapped, they sold their furniture and headed east to seek work while staying at the home of my grandparents. Having written songs and still under contract to Frank Loesser, who wrote “Guys and Dolls,” he took the early train to New York one morning soon after their arrival in Greenfield to see if Frank had any work for him. Once on 46th Street, he found what he thought was Loesser’s office. 

Billy Graham had begun the 1957 Crusade in New York City on May 15, and office space was acquired at 165 W. 46th Street. Lane Adams temporarily joined the Billy Graham Team to direct the outreach to entertainers. In an excerpt from the book, God in the Garden: The Amazing Story of Billy Graham's First New York Crusade, we read about Lane’s ministry:

The Graham team is composed of razor-sharp specialists in an exacting profession. One must be a strategist but not schemer, humble but not servile, resolute but not obstinate, persuasive but not pedantic. This is a singular combination of personal qualities. Additional standard equipment is a cast-iron stomach, nerves of steel, and a heart of gold . . . Lane Adams was another of those . . . evangelists on the Graham team. His assignment was show business.

His background? He had been a Navy fighter pilot, a singer, and a night-club entertainer. When Graham asked him to join the New York crusade staff, he was a ministerial student at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia, just three months from graduation. He left school, said good-bye to wife and child, and arrived in Manhattan on March 21.

Within a few months, on June 29, the following story was printed in The Altoona Tribune, in Altoona, PA:

NEW YORK CITY-The man walked into the office of what he thought was a theatrical agency. He appeared to be about 35, was well dressed and had strong facial features. An agency had been located there before moving to a nearby office. The space had been taken over by Lane Adams, a former nightclub entertainer now doing specialized work among show people for The Billy Graham Crusade. The hour was rather early in the morning, but Adams was at his desk digging into the day's work. He explained that the agency wouldn't be open until later and invited the man to wait in his office. 

In introducing himself, Adams said, “I used to be in show business myself, but now I am associated with Billy Graham in the New York Crusade." The visitor, a little surprised at such a switch in roles, gave him a sharp once over before asking, "How did you happen to get into this?" Adams replied, "It all began when I was converted to Jesus Christ. My wife and I thought we were in for a life of thrills as night club entertainers, traveling from city to city. But we ran into a lot of drabness behind the scenes. Instead of thrills, we found our lives empty and were on the verge of breaking up the marriage. In desperation, we began to read the Bible in hotel rooms around the country. The words didn't mean an awful lot, but we kept It up, hoping for a miracle that would put meaning in our lives. One night the words came through. They made sense. We were on the verge of losing each other because we were separated from God. The Bible said Christ was the answer to our problems. We surrendered our lives to Him and found the happiness we had been seeking." 

The man leaned back and searched the face of Adams. This was the kind of stuff that usually came from a preacher, but he was getting it in obvious sincerity from a tall, handsome fellow who knew what it was like behind the footlights. Sensing his interest, Adams invited him to attend one of the Crusade meetings at Madison Square Garden, where he would more than likely bump into some old friends. Night after night, some of the top names in show-business are present. The man said he would like to attend, but had to return to Maine that night. It wasn't a polite brushoff. A button had been pushed that had stirred the memory of some of the emptiness he had known in the search for abundant life. "You know," said Adams, “God isn't confined to Madison Square Garden. You can find Him right here through simple faith in Jesus Christ.” "Is it possible?" asked the man. "I'd like to do that more than anything." Adams showed him the promises of God in the Bible. They prayed together. A glow came to the man's face. Friends might say he was nuts, but he knew better. Many crossroads, where he could have gone either way, had brought him to New York. He had walked into the office of what he thought was a theatrical agency. And, in his opinion, he landed the greatest role in history.

In my online search for information over the past few days, I found the article printed so long ago in Altoona. My mother and I then recounted the details of our experience and relationship with Lane Adams. We know that Dad returned to Greenfield by train later on the same day he had gone in search of Frank Loesser’s office. Although the reporter printed Maine instead of Massachusetts, this story matches the one that my father told my mother upon his return, and we believe, though he wasn’t named, it was written about him. He was a changed man whose enthusiasm was contagious. They immediately became involved in a church. He soon received an offer to live in the home of another entertainer in Miami, Florida, who was going on tour. We began the long drive to Florida, stopping at Lane Adams’ home, where his wife welcomed us and later sent us on our way with gas money to finish the trip. Within the following year, Lane Adams was called as the pastor of Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church. My parents were thrilled and immersed themselves in the life of the church. Dad and Lane did some collaborative writing with plans to do more. My father had landed a job as a local television host and news anchor. He also performed numerous roles in local theaters. Sadly, in a culture where the entertainment world and the Christian journey were thought to be mutually exclusive, my father went back to his old lifestyle about a year later. Lane Adams continued to pray for him as well as provide support and encouragement to my mother. During a hospitalization which followed a series of traumatic events, Lane stayed at my mother’s bedside through the night, holding her hand, singing, and reading scripture. His love, concern, and commitment were a lifeline for her.

Mom kept in touch with the Adamses through cards and letters, now among her most cherished keepsakes. Lane went on to serve with the Billy Graham Crusade Ministries for ten years as an evangelist. Mom attended some of his crusades and always enjoyed reconnecting with him. She also sang in the choir and served as a counselor in some of Billy Graham’s crusades, experiences that helped shape her life, and our lives. Lane remained heartbroken that my father had turned away and felt somewhat responsible for what he perceived as a situation where the church had prematurely given too much responsibility to an immature babe in Christ. In spite of my father’s decision, the impact of Lane Adams on my family is immeasurable. God used his relationship and investment in my parents’ early growth in profound ways that determined the course of my mother’s spiritual journey, even after my father left our home. As a result, my siblings and I were raised in a Christ-centered home, and all of us are Christ followers.

So I mourn the passing of Billy Graham and reflect on his life and impact. According to the Billy Graham Library, the 1957 Crusade in New York City was monumental in his early ministry. It lasted 16 weeks. In the course of 110 days, there were 100 services, attended by almost 2 million people, with more than 56,000 making decisions to follow Jesus Christ. Billy went on, of course, to hold crusades all over the world where millions more chose to follow Christ. I never met him face to face to be able to thank him but I am so grateful. Because he was obedient to Christ, he followed the call to ministry. Because of his faithfulness to that call, Lane Adams was in a New York office early one morning in 1957.  Because Lane was faithful, my father made a decision that would influence my mother. Because she followed Christ, my siblings and I followed Christ. May I too remain faithful to my own call to discipleship and never forget the power and impact for the kingdom of God that can result from one decision to step out and follow Christ.

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