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“Television” enables us to “see” (vision) “from a distance” (tele). Although Dad would rent a TV for election night, we usually didn’t have one in our home until I was 11. My parents nicknamed me, “TV.” I was all the entertainment they needed. In 1962, recently widowed Grandma Bostrom (1892-1963) moved in and brought her TV.

Years earlier (1953-1957), we lived in little Elbert, Colorado. Our welcoming neighbors, Ed and Orin had a TV. We’d watch “Roy Rogers,” “The Lone Ranger,” “Lassie” and “Sky King.” When the inevitable scary parts came, I’d hide behind the stalwart wingback chair and peek. Sometimes, with Dad and Ed, we’d watch Gillette’s Friday Night Fights.

Philo T. Farnsworth (1906-1971)

Philo, a farm boy, devised TV when he was 14. Mentioning Philo to Roger Lonnquist, director of Your Network of Praise, brought much more information – including RCA’s attempt to defraud Philo of his patent. Enter Philo’s high school teacher who recalled detailed diagrams by Philo. The judge ruled in favor of Philo.

Philo applied his creative genius when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. Philo’s image dissector sent shots back to earth. His wife, Elma, recalled, “We were watching and, Philo turned to me and said, ‘Pem (her nickname), this has made it all worthwhile.’ Before then, he wasn't too sure” (Wikipedia).

That uncertainty is reflected in a book, “Through My Father’s Eyes” (TMFE), Franklin Graham wrote about key foci of his father, Billy’s life – including TV. Franklin wrote: “Farnsworth said to his son, ‘There is nothing on (TV) worthwhile. We’re not going to watch it in this household.’ His son, Kent, stated, “(Dad) felt he had created kind of a monster, a way for people to waste a lot of their lives’” (TMFE, p. 73).

Farnsworth’s struggles included abusing alcohol in his later years. Alcoholism led to his dying from pneumonia at 65 (Wikipedia).

Billy Graham (1918-2018)

I wondered: “What if he’d watched Billy Graham on TV and believed the good news of Jesus?”

Let’s return to Franklin’s comments: “In 1930, when a farm boy won a patent for his electronic TV and was hailed a ‘boy genius,’ God was preparing another farm boy, Billy Graham, to preach on TV to the nation 27 years later. June 1, 1957, ABC aired the ‘Hour of Decision with Billy Graham’ live from Madison Square Garden. To everyone’s astonishment, when the ratings came in, an ABC executive stated that ‘approximately 6.5 million viewers watched Dr. Graham, enough to fill Madison Square Garden to capacity every day for a whole year’” (TMFE, p. 65).

Franklin summarized: “My father had a way of connecting with hearts beyond the stark lights and probing cameras. He zeroed in on God’s message. Like a laser beam, he pointed others to the cross.” When Billy invited those in stadiums to come and profess faith in Christ, Billy would then look directly at the cameras: “For those of you watching by television… if you feel a tug at your heart, if you hear a small voice calling to you, don’t ignore it. That is the voice of God calling your name to come to Him” (TMFE, pp. 65,66).

Fast forward to June 2018

I visited Spokane churches in advance of Franklin Graham’s Decision America Northwest Tour. Each day, I’d visit 20-30 churches – providing bulletin inserts, answering questions, praying with those I met.

One day, many churches were politely resistant: “We’re not Franklin Graham folks.”

Later that day, I met a young woman and her sister, the pastor’s daughters – helping out with office work. I talked and prayed with them.

As I got in my car, a church van pulled in. Was it the pastor? The driver, talking on his cell phone, got out. He saw the “Billy Graham Evangelistic Association – Always Good News” logo on my shirt. He told his friend: “I’ll call you later.”

With tears in his eyes, he introduced himself. “I’m so grateful for Billy Graham. Our family owes him a great debt. Mom was 13-years old. Her parents were abusive alcoholics. One evening, by herself, as she watched Billy Graham on TV, she kneeled in front of that TV and prayed to receive Christ. That made all the difference for her – and, eventually, for the man she married, their four children, including me, and now, their children’s children, including my four. Today, I’m a pastor. We have a Christian school with 100 students. God started all this by giving my mom hope through watching Billy Graham on TV. What a work God has done.”

I can’t tell you how many times I heard similar stories. I was away from Helena for 14 weeks last spring and early summer visiting churches in California, Oregon and Washington. What a “cruise” – what an athletic event. During my latter years, I want to focus on what is most important. I’m grateful to be able to invest in evangelism.

Will Graham (1975-)

And there’s more. Billy’s grandson, Will, has been invited to Helena’s fairgrounds Sept. 6-8. Will’s personal humility and his commitment to Scripture help him bring a contagious passion for the Gospel. The Big Sky Celebration with its musical guests and kids’ activities will be a huge blessing to Helena. Some reduce their connection to the God and the Gospel to impersonal media or less. Please come, in person. For more, click on the Helena event at the website: http://bigskycelebration.com.

We Helenans love our place. But great natural beauty, valuing community and the arts, and economic stability aren’t enough for our souls. Our 500 nonprofits meet a lot of needs. But, even these great assets do not speak to the deepest needs of our hearts. We need the good news of Jesus Christ.

There has never been a spiritual awakening in the Northwest. God could bring one now. Let’s see what God does as we enlarge the reach of the Gospel in this community. Let’s see God answer longstanding prayers. God, make Helena famous for the Gospel.

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Steve Bostrom, a descendant of Swedish homesteaders, husband of Via, father of eight, and grandfather of 11, loves Helena and serves here as a pastor at large. The Presbyterian Church in America oversees his work. To contact him, email: stevebostrom@gmail.com

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