It was sometime in March of 1998 when I received a call from my friend and client, Don Bailey, at The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville North Carolina. “We’re having an event at the Diana Wortham Theater for Mrs. Graham’s birthday on April 5th. Everyone here is concerned that we fill the place up! Would you and your wife like tickets to the event?” I had been in the printing business for several years, and Don and I had worked together since he was asked to oversee communications at The Cove in the early 90’s. He was a friendly and passionate man who loved the Graham family, and the ministry he served so well. I immediately said yes, of course. Billy Graham had been a part of our lives growing up in North Carolina, and my family had often gathered around our television set to watch one of Mr. Graham’s many crusades from around the world. My wife, Angie, had read many of Ruth Graham’s books, and I knew she would be thrilled to attend the event.
The evening was a great success! The theater was packed, and the format of a “Reader’s Theater” was the perfect setting for Ruth’s writings. The actress Jennette Clift was one of the readers who brought to life the poetry and prose of Mrs. Graham that evening. She played Corrie Ten Boom in 1975 film The Hiding Place and was a Golden Globe nominee for her acting debut in that picture. Prior to the opening, Angie and I stood in line to meet the Grahams – Angie in Ruth’s line and me in Billy’s. When I got to him and shook his hand, I told him that I was in the printing business and that I had done work for The Cove since its opening. I’ll never forget how he leaned down placing his large hand on top of mine as he said, “Well, I hope they treat you right.” A simple, yet sincere, thought that came from the heart of this kind and humble man. It would be three years before we would learn the amusing story of how this event was almost canceled.
In the introduction of the book Footprints of a Pilgrim, published in 2001 by Ruth Bell Graham, her daughter Gigi wrote about how her father and brother had called her the week before the event urging her to cancel it. According to Gigi, neither of them could imagine why anyone would show up to hear poetry read. Her brother Franklin said, “Poetry? No one goes to hear poetry, Gigi! Don’t you understand that this is going to embarrass Mama?” They relented, of course, and the event was such a great success that they repeated it again two years later for Ruth’s 80th birthday celebration at The Grove Park Inn.
A few years earlier, I remember working with Don Bailey to create the engraved and embossed invitation that would invite dignitaries and friends to the dedication of The Training Center at The Cove in May of 1993. One day I walked into his office and he jumped up from behind his desk, shook my hand and exclaimed, “I ordered 200 umbrellas this morning!” Don could not have known just how hard it would rain that day, but he was prepared in all things! It didn’t just rain – it poured, and I was never able to wear the suit I wore to that event again. Sometimes when I’m up at the Training Center I’ll smile as I pass one of those green and white umbrellas with The Cove logo on it sitting in an umbrella stand near the front door.
Like many people in these mountains, I’m thankful for my times and interactions with the ministry of The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. I served The Cove for many years, working with good people like Don Bailey and many others to help them communicate the message of hope through print. I have prayed often in the Chatlos Chapel on the grounds at The Cove. I have played my guitar in that beautiful space, and spoken, on occasion, to a men’s group that met there. It was my honor to be asked to play in Darlene Zschech’s worship band the first time she came to lead a worship conference at the Training Center. And I’ve had so many other opportunities to serve by helping to lead worship for James MacDonald, Tony Evans and R.T Kendall in that beautiful space.
I mention all these things here with a grateful heart. Not to boast of my accomplishments, but to share my deep and sincere gratitude for how the place and the man have impacted my life – and, yes, Mr. Graham – they have treated me just fine.