The world lost a tremendous evangelist named Billy. These words were spoken countless times recently describing William “Billy” Graham. These same words were spoken more than 80 years earlier about another evangelist named Billy. William “Billy” Sunday.
With the funeral of Rev. Billy Graham March 2, I found it amazing to see the connection between Billy Sunday and Billy Graham.
Stay with me as I show the connection.
Billy Sunday met his young wife to be, Helen, at a young person’s Bible study. For 47 years, they lived and worked together with Helen traveling much of that time managing his affairs. After Billy Sunday’s death in 1935, she traveled extensively throughout the country helping to raise money for rescue missions and similar Christian ministries, addressing youth rallies, and was active in the work of such Christian ministries as Bob Jones University, Youth for Christ, and the Voice of the Andes radio station.
A young man named Billy Graham was the first full-time staff member for Youth for Christ and met Helen Sunday in the 1940s. He would visit in her home when he was attending Bible camps in Winona. Helen Sunday even spoke at his Atlanta, Ga., crusade in 1950.
Hardly a person doesn’t recognize and respect the name of Billy Graham. I write all of this to set the stage for an interesting program that will describe the life of Billy Sunday. A name still well recognized today but similiarly recognized and respected in his day as the Rev. Billy Graham is today.
Craig Bishop, writer of the book “Billy Sunday – The Baseball Evangelist,” will be presenting a program on this remarkable life. Bishop shares photos, video and audio materials of Billy Sunday for his audiences. The program is free to the public and copies of his book will be available for purchase and signing.
“I never saw my father,” Sunday began his autobiography, for his father had died of pneumonia in the Civil War five weeks after Sunday’s birth. His early childhood was spent in an Iowa log cabin. His mother was so impoverished, she sent her children away to the Soldier’s Orphans Home. Sunday survived only with the support of his brother and his love of sports, especially baseball.
His professional baseball career began with the Chicago White Stockings in 1883, he moved to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and in 1890, to the Philadelphia Athletics, where he was batting .261 and had stolen 84 bases when he quit.
But a man who thrilled thousands as a player would impact hundreds of thousands as an evangelist. This dynamic evangelist who traveled around the country preaching his message has a Colfax connection.
Billy Sunday visited Colfax when bringing his message to the Epworth League Assembly Aug. 8, 1908. We know from the written program that he visited at least one other time for an earlier assembly.
Epworth League Assemblies drew people from far distances to hear nationally renowned speakers. These 10-day events took place out beside what is now the Teen Challenge grounds. League Road derives its name from the event and grounds.
Here is an excerpt taken from that 1908 Epworth program describing Billy Sunday:
“Ninety thousand men, women and children have been converted in the past 12 years through the preaching of that unique Iowa product, the Rev. ‘Billy’ Sunday. He is a dynamo of nervous energy; a trip-hammer of power; a consummate actor; a peerless pleader and advocate; an impassioned orator; a genuine man in deadly earnest, bent on a great mission. As an athlete he had the tense springiness of a cat and was the swiftest base runner the National League ever knew. Over 90,000 people have been converted in his evangelistic campaign and scores of towns and cities have had their moral regeneration through his work. His star has not yet reached its zenith. Multiplied thousands will hear him at the Chautauquas and in his evangelistic campaigns and his fame and influence will girdle the earth.”
I hope to see you at the Colfax Historical Museum at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 17 for this interesting program, refreshments and a visit through the museum.