Edward Kimball. Probably very few people have ever heard or know his name. In the mid-1800s he set in motion a chain of spiritual dominoes that changed the world of evangelism extending into the 21st century and our world today--even to Billy Graham. Only God could orchestrate such a series of events.
More than 150 years ago in 1855 Edward Kimball was a Sunday school teacher at the Mt. Vernon Congregational Church in Boston. Normally one would expect to see their Sunday school teacher only at church on Sunday. But, Kimball was different! He was involved in the lives of all his students. During the week he would often go to see his “boys” at the place where they worked to check on them and to see how they were doing.
One Sunday a new student came to his class. Kimball learned that this new student was not a Christian. As was his custom Kimball went to see the young man the next week at the place where he was employed. He found the teenage boy in the back room of a shoe store.
Kimball said, “I went up to him and put my hand on the young boy’s shoulder, and as I leaned over I placed my foot upon a shoe box.” Kimball told the young man that Jesus loved him with the kind of love that He wanted in return. The boy said later, “I don't remember what he said, but I can [still] feel the power of that man's hand on my shoulder.” There, in the back of that shoe store in Boston a future great evangelist gave his heart and his life to Christ.1
That young boy became the evangelist, Dwight L. Moody! Moody couldn't spell, his grammar was atrocious, and his manners were often uncouth. He never had more than a fifth grade education, and he never became an ordained minister. Yet, Moody went on to become one of the premier evangelists of the late 1800s.
D. L. Moody, as he came to be called, travelled around the country leading numerous revivals. During one of those revivals another young man, named J. Wilbur Chapman, accepted Christ as Lord and also became a famous evangelist of that era.
Chapman was a student at Lake Forest College in the 1870s. Following is Chapman’s own testimony of how he was born again. "When the great evangelist, D. L. Moody, called for an after-meeting (following one of his revivals), I was one of the first to enter the room, and to my great joy, Mr. Moody came and sat down beside me. I confessed that I was not quite sure that I was saved. He handed me his opened Bible and asked me to read John 5:24; and trembling with emotion I read: (words that Jesus said):
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. John 5:24 KJV
'He said to me: 'Do you believe this?' I answered, 'Certainly.' He said, 'Are you a Christian?’ I replied, 'Sometimes I think I am, and again I am fearful.' 'Read it again,' he said. Then he repeated his two questions, and I had to answer as before. Then Mr. Moody inquired: 'Whom are you doubting?' and then it all came to me with startling suddenness.”
"Read it again,' said Moody, and for the third time he asked: 'Do you believe it?' I said, 'Yes, indeed I do!’ 'Well, are you a Christian?' and I answered, 'Yes, Mr. Moody, I am.' From that day to this I have never questioned my acceptance with God.”2 Chapman worked with Moody, and also became an evangelist in 1893.
Meanwhile, a man who had gained fame as a professional baseball player had become a Christian by listening to street preachers outside of the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. He attended services at the Mission, left baseball, and was later hired by Chapman as his assistant. His job was to go to towns and cities where the next revivals were scheduled in advance of Chapman’s arrival and take care of all the details.
As he observed Chapman and listened to his sermons, this ex-baseball player learned a lot about how to deliver an effective sermon. His name was Billy Sunday. When Chapman returned to the active pastorate ministry sometime in late 1895, he gave his blessing to Billy to take over for him. Billy led revivals throughout the US. from 1895 until his death in 1935 and brought thousands to Christ through his evangelistic work.3
Mordecai Ham was born in 1877. He came from eight generations of Baptist preachers. Ham wasn’t able to pinpoint the exact date he became a Christian, but he said, "From the time I was eight years old, I never thought of myself as anything but a Christian. At age nine I had definite convictions that the Lord wanted me to preach….”4
He studied law at what is today Western Kentucky State Teacher’s college. When he graduated he was too young for the Bar examination, so he worked at various trades for a few years. When he was twenty-three, though newly married and with added responsibilities, he quit his job, borrowed money, and answered God’s call to preach.
In 1924 Billy Sunday held an evangelistic campaign in Charlotte, North Carolina. A men's prayer and fellowship group grew out of that Crusade. Ten years later this group invited Mordecai Ham to come to Charlotte to be a preacher for a revival.
It was at Mordecai Ham’s 1934 revival in Charlotte, North Carolina, that a farm boy known as “Billy Frank” became a Christian. Billy Frank eventually became known to the world as Billy Graham, the evangelist who has preached to more people—an estimated 2.2 + billion—more than any other person who ever lived, including the Apostle Paul.5
As Billy Graham tells the story, “As soon as the evangelist started his sermon, I was spellbound”. Graham went to hear Dr. Ham night after night for weeks. “And then it happened sometime around my sixteenth birthday. On that night, Dr. Ham finished preaching and give the Invitation to accept Christ. We sang Just As I Am—four verses. Then we started another song, Almost Persuaded, Now to Believe. On the last verse of that second song, I responded.”6
It all began with an unknown Sunday school teacher nearly one hundred years earlier, and resulted in the work of several evangelists who have brought so many to Christ. So, the next time you doubt the power of your witness, please remember Edward Kimball, whose persistence and faithfulness to the Lord was tremendously honored and used by the Lord to further the spread of the Gospel to millions and continues to bring souls to Christ yet today. Maybe your witness efforts could start your own “spiritual dominoes” effect!
1. Chapman, Rev. J Wilbur, D.D. "5. His Conversion: The Life and Work of D.L. Moody." 5. His Conversion: The Life and Work of D.L. Moody. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <http://
2. Pickering, Hy. "Conversion of Wilbur Chapman: A World-Wide Evangelist." J. Wilbur Chapman - Conversion to Christ - Christian Biography Resources. Wholesome Words, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015. <http://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/bchapman2.html>.
3. "Billy Sunday." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Sunday>.
4. Unknown, Ruckman. "Mordecai Ham, 1878-1959, Baptist Evangelist Two Biographies of Mordecai Ham, Baptist Evangelist, Who Preached to Billy Graham Believersweb.org." Mordecai Ham, 1878-1959, Baptist Evangelist Two Biographies of Mordecai Ham, Baptist Evangelist, Who Preached to Billy Graham Believersweb.org. Believer's Word, CCN, 17 Mar. 2003. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <http://www.believersweb.org/view.cfm?ID=128>.
5. Agnew, Travis. "The Chain of Events Leading to Billy Graham’s Conversion." TRAVISAGNEW.ORG. N.p., 07 Nov. 2016. Web. 19 Nov. 2016. <http://www.travisagnew.org/2013/07/22/the-chain-of-events-for-billy-grahams-conversion/>.
6.Graham, Billy. Just as I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997. Print. Pages 27-29.