Barker was 23 when she spent 10 days in Knoxville covering Graham’s Crusade — one of 147 evangelical campaigns Graham conducted in his decades-long career as an international spiritual leader. Every day of the Crusade, from May 22 to May 31, 1970, she would attend the service, return to her hotel room to write the story, then rush to have the story faxed back to Johnson City so it could run in the next day’s edition.
Even though she didn’t get a one-on-one interview with Graham, she attended all of the press conferences throughout her stay and asked him several questions. She did get to meet Graham’s wife, Ruth, and wrote a two-part series about her, and interviewed several other people who were instrumental in Graham’s ministries.
“He never used fancy words, he just spoke the people’s language,” Barker remembered. “He considered himself an ambassador for God, and he really was. He was very plain and very humble, he was just a tremendous person.”
On the second day of the Crusade, 55,000 people went to Neyland Stadium to hear Graham preach, and on the third, Johnny Cash played a set on the field and 62,000 people attended the event. On May 28, the seventh day of the Crusade, President Richard Nixon arrived at the stadium to speak, drawing a crowd of 70,000 people — and about 200 people protesting the Vietnam war.
Barker said the protesters stayed outside of the stadium and that she never saw them.
After her coverage of the Crusade, Barker was asked to write a book about her experience. She wrote about 25 pages and chose photos for the book – Billy Graham in Big Orange Country – and it went on sale later that fall.
And from there, Barker’s writing career picked up.
She has 11 published books, including a Christian bestseller Twice Pardoned: An Ex-Con Talks to Parents and Teens, a national Christian bestseller and a personal account of a man who was on death row before being paroled and pardoned. She has a 12th book she hopes to publish later this year, and she said she owes it all to Graham and his Crusade.
“The connections I made were a stepping stones God used for the rest of my writing career,” Barker said. “Almost everything I’ve done professionally since then came from the Knoxville Crusade.
“I was sad to think that he was gone, and yet joyful for him because I know he lived his entire life to be with the Lord and he’s there now. He was a faithful servant for sure, he just declared God’s word and made it so easy for people to come to Christ for a changed life.”
Email Jessica Fuller at [email protected] Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.