Bell, Ralph S. 1934–
Ralph S. Bell 1934–
Dr. Ralph S. Bell is an associate evangelist with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. One of three Christian ministers handpicked by Dr. Graham to help lead the Billy Graham crusades, Bell assists in every aspect of the popular mass Christian meetings. He also holds city-wide and single-church crusades of his own and addresses Christian topics on radio and television shows. Since 1965 Bell has been directly involved in every major Billy Graham crusade, and since 1980 he has led more than 30 smaller crusades himself.
Like Graham, Bell does not believe that the message of a crusade begins and ends during the brief period when the well-known leaders come to town. Instead he urges a galvanization of Christians in all communities to continue the fight against such problems as racism, divorce, homelessness, poverty, and crime—and to seek converts to the Christian faith. Reverend James Fitzhugh of the Billings, Montana Evangelical United Methodist Church told Decision magazine that Dr. Bell “preaches the Gospel with great balance, presenting a personal relationship to the Lord and social issues.”
Bell himself told the Montgomery Advertiser that he likes to go “right into the lion’s den” to preach. Indeed, his bestknown work as both an individual evangelist and a Billy Graham associate has been his dedication to prison ministry. During the weeks before and after a major crusade, he may visit as many as two prisons a day to preach. “If you can help one or two [inmates], and then they get a job and develop a stable family life, it’s worth it,” Bell told the Syracuse Herald-Journal. Nor does Bell shun controversial topics. He has used the pulpit to condemn the nation’s soaring divorce rate and other social ills. “No nation can be secure if the family is deteriorating,” Bell said in the El Reno Daily Tribune. “The church determines the stability of the family life and if there is no spiritual foundation in the home then it cannot survive.”
Like the Reverend Graham before him, Ralph Bell dreamed of becoming a major league athlete. Bell was born in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada in 1934. He spent much of his youth there honing his athletic ability, especially in baseball. As a teenager he was a member of a high school team that advanced to the all-province finals and then played for a Canadian national title. Baseball scouts lured
At a Glance…
Born May 13, 1934, in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada; son of Archiebald and Cecilia Bell; married Jean Overstreet, 1957; children: Ralph S., Christian Eugene. Education: Attended Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, IL, 1954-57; Taylor University, B.A., 1959; Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA, M.Div., 1963; attended pastoral clinical training, Metropolitan State Mental Hospital, Los Angeles, CA, 1963–64. Religion: Christian.
Pastor of West Washington Community Church, Los Angeles, CA, 1960–65; began intermittent association with Billy Graham Crusade in 1963, became associate evangelist of the Billy Graham Crusade, 1965. Has also worked as a professor at Los Angeles Bible Training School and as chaplain at the Los Angeles County Jail. Leader or associate leader of evangelical crusades in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Guinea, and Korea. Author of Soul Free, Baptist Publishing House.
Awards: Honorary degrees, including D.H. from Richmond College, Toronto, 1978, and D.D. from Indiana Christian University, 1981.
Addresses: Home —Bellvue, CO. Office —Ralph Bell Crusades, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, P.O. Box 9313, Minneapolis, MN 55440–9313.
the talented youngster, and at sixteen Bell left home against his parents’ wishes to play professionally with a minor league team.
While still in his teens, Bell had an experience that changed the direction of his life. He heard an evangelistic church sermon and realized that something was wrong. “As I listened I realized God was talking to me,” he told the Montgomery Advertiser. “I was a sinner and needed a savior.… God came into my life.”
Bell’s newfound zeal in the Christian faith led him to Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute, where he studied from 1954 until 1957. After marrying in 1957, he finished studies for his bachelor’s degree at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. By 1960 he was working as pastor of the West Washington Community Church in Los Angeles.
His evolution as an evangelist was gradual over the next three years, but in 1963 he was galvanized by the preaching of Dr. Graham, who visited Los Angeles for a crusade.
As one of the organizers for that crusade, Bell began a relationship with Graham that deepened over the ensuing two years. In the meantime, Bell earned a master’s degree in divinity from the Fuller Theological Seminary and studied pastoral counseling at Los Angeles’s Metropolitan State Mental Hospital.
In 1964 Bell took the challenging job of chaplain at the Los Angeles County Jail. That position convinced him to take his ministry community-wide, and he became a featured evangelist at ecumenical meetings and revivals. “It seems like I was out of church more than in it,” he remembered in the Montgomery Advertiser. On the other hand, his ministry for the benefit of prisoners, the mentally ill, the homeless, and others on the fringe of society further endeared him to Billy Graham.
Bell was honored in 1965 when Dr. Graham asked him to join the Billy Graham crusades as an associate evangelist. Bell became a sort of right-hand-man to Graham and traveled with the popular television preacher all over the world. A dynamic speaker in his own right, Bell continued his prison ministry, this time visiting jails as part of the overall crusade goal. He felt his special calling was to develop a strategy for meeting the spiritual needs of both church members and the community at large.
While some other television ministries have foundered amidst allegations of corruption and fiscal mismanagement, no such charge has ever been leveled at a Billy Graham or a Ralph Bell crusade. Financial arrangements for the crusades are overseen by executive committees staffed completely by residents of the community in which the crusade is held. Local profits on crusades are forwarded to the Billy Graham Associate Crusades offices in Minneapolis. Bell himself earns an annual salary determined by the Minneapolis office. It is a modest sum. “I don’t make as much as a garbage man in New York City,” the minister told the Montgomery Advertiser.
But Bell does not labor for the financial rewards: he gains satisfaction in helping people to find answers to life’s perplexing problems. His work as Dr. Graham’s associate has taken him to all corners of the globe, and his solo crusades have been conducted in many parts of the United States and Canada. In preparation for crusades, Bell travels to the crusade location and spends weeks and months helping local pastors to mobilize congregations in order to reach out with aid and fellowship. Bell told the Montgomery Advertiser: “I have developed a strong belief in the important role the local church should play in meeting the needs of the sick, elderly, disadvantaged, and handicapped in the community.”
Illness has forced Dr. Graham to curtail his preaching in recent years, and from time to time Bell has taken the podium for his ailing friend. Like Graham, Bell urges Christians old and new to find a church in which they can be comfortable, no matter what the denomination. Bell himself is a member and minister with the Evangelical Free Church of America.
Bell’s sermons follow a standard evangelical style, in which the minister challenges the audience to seek a personal relationship with God and Jesus Christ and then invites listeners toward the podium to make a public confession of faith. Many thousands have responded to Bell’s call, and his ministry has been praised for its special outreach to indigenous American and minority populations.
Bell told Decision that his message is simple but important. “Death is the great leveler of mankind,” he said. “It is also a great separator… You may be successful in life, but that is no guarantee that you will be successful in death. You have to ask yourself, ‘Where will I go? Where will I spend eternity?’ Maybe your life is all mixed up, and you can’t find a way out… Level with God, and you will discover that he is able to give you a brand new beginning.”
Decision, October 1987.
El Reno Daily Tribune (Oklahoma), March 24, 1992.
Montgomery Advertiser (Alabama), April 6, 1991; April 9, 1991.
Mountaineer (Colorado), May 22, 1991.
St. Louis Review, July 10, 1991.
Syracuse Herald-Journal (New York), March 3, 1989.
Additional information for this profile was supplied by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
—Anne Janette Johnson
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