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When the World Met Billy Graham: Youth for Christ’s First Employee

27 Feb 2018 Mike Green
As Youth For Christ’s first field representative, Graham’s salary in 1944 was $75/week, plus expenses. In his first year with the organization, he traveled 200,000 miles, speaking in 47 American states. As Youth For Christ’s first field representative, Graham’s salary in 1944 was $75/week, plus expenses. In his first year with the organization, he traveled 200,000 miles, speaking in 47 American states. Youth For Christ

The crowds were dismal three weeks into the young, fiery Youth For Christ evangelist’s 1949 Los Angeles crusade. But for reasons still unknown to Billy Graham, media mogul William Randolph Hearst issued a two-word directive to all his publications that made Youth for Christ’s first employee an instant celebrity.   

Puff Graham” was the mandate Hearst issued, and “the sudden front-page coverage showered on Graham by Hearst newspapers ... was quickly matched by other newspapers and news magazines [creating] literally a media circus descending on his rallies under a big tent,” John Dart reported in a 1997 Los Angeles Times article. The coverage enabled Graham to extend that LA crusade six more weeks and to launch, the following year, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association – and to preach the Gospel to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history.   

Dr. Graham, who passed away on Feb. 21 in Montreat, North Carolina at age 99, helped birth Youth for Christ, an organization originally founded for ministry to youth and servicemen during World War II. Today, Youth for Christ is one of the longest-recognized outreach organizations serving young people worldwide. 

According to Graham biographer William Martin,1949 wasn’t the first time Hearst ordered coverage of the Youth For Christ organization. Hearst also sent a “puff YFC [Youth For Christ]” telegram in 1946, according to Martin’s book, A Prophet With Honor. The Hearst-owned Los Angeles Examiner also gave Youth For Christ leader Roy McKeown a weekly column to report on the group’s activities.

“Youth For Christ came into being through a conversation I had while fishing off the coast of Florida in late 1944,” Graham said in his autobiography, Just As I Am. “It was my privilege to be the first full-time employee of Youth For Christ ... It grew rapidly, and thousands of young people came to Christ.” 

“We stand on the shoulders of Dr. Graham’s legacy of innovation and passionate drive to communicate with young people around the world,” said Dan Wolgemuth, president of Youth For Christ/USA. “Mr. Graham’s gifted style was considered ‘edgy’ in the forties so it, of course, appealed to young people. Today, Youth for Christ continues what Dr. Graham started by loving and engaging young people in relevant, authentic conversations through the latest technologies and the life-changing power of story—God’s story and their story.” 

Dr. Graham recently shared some of his thoughts with Youth For Christ staff about their work, saying, “... the instruments that technology has provided are sharper. I see no reason why we could not touch the entire youth population of the world in the next quarter-century with the good news of the Gospel. Youth for Christ staff, let’s make that our goal!” 

Youth For Christ is active in 2,000 communities in the U.S., as well as over 100 countries. Youth For Christ USA is committed to serving young people—especially those on the fringe—with sustainable youth and family outreach.

Opportunities to share your thoughts and reflections about Dr. Graham can be found at yfc.org. Memorial gifts and pledges to celebrate Dr. Graham’s remarkable life and legacy will be directed into the Billy Graham Legacy Fund in the YFC Foundation (a USA registered 501©3 non-profit, jointly operated by YFC/Int’l and YFC/USA). This Legacy Fund has been designated to train and equip a new generation of evangelists around the world who will follow in Dr. Graham’s footsteps. 


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