‘Legacy’ satisfies, if not surprises

Posted Feb. 17, 2014

“Ruth and Billy Graham: The Legacy of a Couple”
By Hanspeter Nüesch


There are dozens of books about Billy Graham. The world-renowned evangelist has written more than 30 books himself.

LegacyHanspeter Nüesch seeks to bring a fresh perspective into Graham’s life with his book “Ruth and Billy Graham: The Legacy of a Couple.” It is evident that Nüesch, director of Campus Crusade for Christ International in Switzerland, sees Graham as a true role model and dear friend. He has grown from a fan to a fellow soldier in the battle to bring hope to the world. This work is a labor of love.

The title is slightly deceiving because the book is not strictly a love story. Instead, the book is separated into 10 chapters that each describes a virtue that Ruth and Billy Graham exemplified.

The first chapter introduces the couple. It describes how Ruth gave up her dream of becoming a missionary in Tibet so that she could support Billy’s full-time ministry. Nüesch uses many excerpts from Ruth’s diary to give the reader insight into her world.

Here, Ruth writes, “He will be increasingly burdened for lost souls and increasingly active in the Lord’s work. I will slip into the background. In short, be a lost life. Lost in Bill’s.” That quote sets the tone for the rest of the book. Despite Nüesch’s best efforts to include Ruth in his analysis of Billy Graham’s endeavors, his great influence can overshadow her humble life.

Both fans of Billy Graham and people who are hearing his name for the first time will enjoy reading this work. It explores Billy and Ruth’s childhoods. The reader is introduced to many people who were a part of the Grahams’ life, including civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright. Readers learn about Billy and Ruth’s public service as well as their personal relationships not only with each other, but also with members of Graham’s team, with neighbors and with people society had given up on.

At times, the book feels repetitive and long. Some stories are reused for multiple virtues. For example, Nüesch emphasizes multiple times how Billy and Ruth treated all people the same whether they were heads of state or waiters at a local restaurant. This is a good characteristic for all people to see and emulate, but it was brought up so many times, the reader might get bored.

Nüesch gives personal anecdotes of how the Grahams made him a stronger believer. For example, he helps run an international conference and through the example of the Grahams, he has learned to trust in God, even when the link to the Budapest broadcast went live only 10 minutes before an event began.

He and his wife were able to visit Billy, now in his 90s, when writing the book. Ruth passed away in 2007, so the author wasn’t able to meet her personally. But through the stories of friends and family, he reveals her as a spunky, no-nonsense woman.

Nüesch uses testimonies from many people affected by the Grahams’ work to build his story. He also utilizes many of Billy’s publications, the works of those who influenced Billy, and his interviews and speeches. The couple’s five children also contributed to this project, especially Gigi Graham, who wrote the foreword and provided the cover photo.

Billy Graham never wanted to be the center of attention, and instead directed all the glory back to God. Books like this can magnify the character of a person and further his worldly greatness. Nüesch does not hold back in explaining Graham’s influence across the globe. He went on hundreds of missions, sometimes to dangerous places including the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He mentored multiple U.S. presidents.

However, the author balances all of these accomplishments with statements from Billy revealing his own weaknesses and total reliance on the Holy Spirit. Nüesch references an interview on a talk show where Graham admits his temptations, including impure thoughts about women. Later in the book, Nüesch recounts a trip Graham took with friend Charles “Chuck” Templeton to Paris where prostitutes approached them. Trying to be gentlemen, they walked the women home. Billy ended up far away from the city and found his way back by sighting the Eiffel Tower. The friends were able to laugh about the incident many years later.

Many elements of Billy and Ruth’s life are fully detailed, including how Ruth kept her Bible open so she could glance at it throughout the day. However, the reader is left wanting more about the Graham children. Nüesch references how the two sons, Ned and Franklin, fell away from faith and then returned. He describes how Ruth prayed faithfully for both of them. But the author does not explain what they did to cause their parents so much grief. Nor does he explain what finally brought them back into God’s family.

The target audience of this book is probably people who are practicing Christians. However, it would be a good read for anybody who studies leadership or current history. The book at times has a lecturing tone that gives advice on how to follow Billy Graham (and Ruth)’s example. But ultimately, it is not the Grahams that Nüesch wants his readers to follow: it is Jesus Christ, who the Grahams and Nüesch model their own lives after.

  • Title: “Ruth and Billy Graham: The Legacy of a Couple”
  • Author: Hanspeter Nüesch
  • Publisher: Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Mich. (Jan. 7, 2014)
  • Hardcover: $14.99 (LifeWay)
  • Digital: $12.99 (iTunes)
  • Length: 363 pages, includes 100+ photographs