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A life transformed by 1956 OKC Graham crusade

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–In June 1956, Jack Humphreys volunteered to be an usher at the month-long Billy Graham crusade to be held at the state fairgrounds in Oklahoma City. He figured he’d graciously donate his time about every third night, enjoy the spectacle and then quietly go about his business.

“A fellow in our church (Northwest Baptist in Oklahoma City) was in charge of recruiting ushers, so I volunteered,” Humphreys told the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger in an interview in his home. “I went to the crusade the first night not expecting much. But, Billy gave an invitation and about 200 people went forward. I was so stunned. I had no idea God was that big!

“I was so shocked that I went down the aisle, too, and followed them into the decision counseling tent. I walked around and heard people counseling with those who had made a decision.

“Then someone suddenly came up to me and asked, ‘Where’s your badge?’ I said, ‘I’m not a counselor,’ so they threw me out!”

Humphreys walked out of the tent and saw another member of his church who was in charge of getting decision cards sent over to the processing room.

“He recruited me to be an errand boy and run the cards over to the processing room, and they gave me a badge. That’s how I got started,” he laughed.

Humphreys, now 80, carried the wonder of that first evening home with him and he passed it on to his wife, Bonnie.

“He came home really excited from that first meeting and said, ‘We are going back every night!'” Bonnie recalled. “I just thought, ‘Sure we are.’ He was very busy at the time and so was I.”

The Humphreys were “busy” becoming rich with a wholesale business. In addition, they had four children and Bonnie was pregnant with their fifth.

But God had other plans. A man named Charlie Riggs noticed something about Humphreys as the crusade continued. A month later, Riggs called Humphreys and invited him to lunch.

“Charlie came to Oklahoma City — about 150 miles out of his way — and spent one day with me and one day with Gene Warr,” Humphreys said. “He asked me, ‘When do you spend your quiet time?’ and I said, ‘Charlie, when you have four kids and another one on the way, it’s never quiet!’

“But he explained to me what a quiet time is and got me started doing it. Charlie followed up with a letter to me, and he wrote a Scripture at the bottom of it. It was Psalm 63:1-2, ‘O, God, Thou art my God: early will I seek Thee: my soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth for Thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; To see Thy power and Thy glory, so as I have seen Thee in the sanctuary.”

Humphreys set out to do his quiet time with determination.

“I set aside 10 minutes to start, and on the first day I decided to get the praying part out of the way first,” he recounted. “I knelt down and prayed about everything I could think of and then told myself I’d better quit or I wouldn’t have time to read the Bible. I looked at the clock, and it had taken me three whole minutes to pray!”

Still, he kept up his fledgling efforts and it soon began to show.

“Three weeks later, our 6-year-old, Kirk, asked Bonnie, ‘Mom, why doesn’t dad yell at me anymore? He used to yell at me every morning!'”

That gentler spirit was just one evidence of how God was changing Humphreys’ life.

“My life changed by me getting into the Word of God and disciplined prayer,” he said.

Besides Humphreys and Warr, Riggs had eight other men he was discipling at the same time. Three or four were in the ministry while the others were successful businessmen.

“By 1958, there were 10 of us,” Humphreys said. We’d meet once or twice a year and agreed that we would pray for each other consistently, faithfully and systematically, but not necessarily daily. These were all men that Charlie discipled through the years during the crusades.

“Since that time, I’ve read the Bible through at least once every year for longer than 40 years. It still is fresh, and I find things new each time I read through it.”

While Humphreys was busy getting to know his Lord better through prayer and Bible study, God was busy putting him out of business. Literally!

The Humphreys’ wholesale business exploded when the Lord opened the door for them to get into Post Exchanges (PXs) on Army and Air Force bases, including Tinker Field in Midwest City, Okla.

“Within five months, we were in five states, and in two years we were in 30 states and were making a lot of money,” Humphreys said. “That’s how Jack’s Service Co. got started.” The company supplied sewing notions and health and beauty items to PXs. In addition, Humphreys worked the real estate business on the side and profits soared through various deals.

“We started out in grocery stores, but we felt like we were puppets with the strings being pulled by God, you know, because opportunities just came to us,” Bonnie marveled. “God was busy making it so Jack could retire.” Humphreys effectively did so in 1972, selling the wholesale business to his sons, although he still works in real estate.

In 1973, Riggs called Humphreys from St. Louis and begged him to come help him train counselors for the Billy Graham crusade there.

“He asked me if I could come up and teach five classes during the week and then go back home to Bonnie,” Humphreys said. “I volunteered for four weeks; it lasted 26 years.”

Humphreys and Riggs led counselor training for the Graham crusades for almost three decades. Humphreys finally “retired” from that “job” in 1998 after training men and women at 58 crusades around the world, using the “Christian Life & Witness Course.”

“Billy’s association estimated that I trained more than 120,000 counselors over the years,” Humphreys said.

He taught counselors all across the United States, at eight crusades in Canada and in Sydney, Australia, in 1979.

“In Sydney, Charlie and I trained 12,000 people,” Humphreys said. “We had five classes each, and one of my classes had 1,600 people in it.”

The classes lasted four or five weeks, with a two-hour session held once a week at the same location.

“We held 15-25 classes each week in the larger cities,” Humphreys said. “The third week, we encouraged the trainees to bring an unsaved friend with them. We spent 25-30 minutes on ‘Steps to Peace with God’ and then gave a closed-eye invitation. We didn’t ask them to stand up or anything like that; we told them God would know about their decision and asked them to follow up on their decision at a local church.”

Humphreys said training counselors was “the highlight of my life.”

“To see God work in people’s lives was the exciting thing,” he said. “Then, these people that you and God have had an investment in are going to help people at the crusade — confirm their decision, give them assurance and walk them through the ‘Steps to Peace with God.’ That’s just marvelous.”

The Humphreys’ children were basically grown by the time Jack started counselor training. But, they closely observed the changes the experience made in their dad’s life.

That 6-year-old who marveled at his father not yelling at him anymore grew up to be the mayor of Oklahoma City.

“I turned 6 years old just after the 1956 Billy Graham crusade in Oklahoma City,” Kirk Humphreys said. “During the crusade, Dad began what became a lifelong friendship with Charlie Riggs.

“Charlie spent more than four decades training counselors and directing crusades around the world for Billy Graham. But his most lasting ministry came from his prayer that God would give him at least one man in each city in whose life he could make a personal investment. In the 1956 Oklahoma City crusade, God gave Charlie two men — Gene Warr and my dad, Jack Humphreys.

“Charlie taught Dad how to grow in his relationship with Jesus Christ — how to become mature in his faith through a daily time alone with God. He taught Dad the value of daily Bible reading and prayer, and how to memorize Scripture. Even after the Graham team left town, Charlie kept in touch with Dad, encouraging and challenging him. That relationship continues even today — almost 50 years later! You can imagine the impact this had on us as children — growing up in a home that was filled with love and encouragement, instead of tension and performance-based acceptance.

“The most vivid portrayal of that love was when I was in college and ran our ski boat aground in shallow water while pulling skiers. The boat was so damaged that it would move only in reverse. So I backed it across the lake, certain that dad would chew me out for being careless.

“I will never forget his reaction when he saw the boat. He said, ‘That’s all right. I can get another boat — I can’t get another son.’ Thirty years later, I am still empowered by Dad’s response to that stressful situation. Instead of criticizing me for damaging the boat, I received love, patience and forgiveness — a different response because Dad had become a different man through Jesus Christ.”

Another son, Kent, is a businessman-author.

“I saw the change in Dad’s life,” Kent said. “I started a daily quiet time a few years later. Dad was a workaholic and wanted to get rich. All of that changed. He became a man who loved and served God. He became a giver and a servant.

“Dad loves people and led thousands to Christ when he taught the classes for Graham. He loved the practical teaching, because it was biblical and changed lives. Dad loved to have lunch with pastors and encourage them, because most were lonely and did not have a close friend.

“Jesus Christ changed Dad from a driven businessman to a loving father and grandfather and friend. I have tried to integrate my faith and work for 25 years. I now lead a national organization of Christian CEOs and speak across the world and write and help pastors. I do all of this because my mom and dad first modeled Jesus to me.”
Bob Nigh is managing editor of the Baptist Messenger. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: CRUSADE MEMORIES.

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  • Bob Nigh