Famed minister credits Ontario roots, Rev. Graham

Chatham native Leighton Ford returns home

The Peterborough Examiner
October 3, 2009
Ellwood Shreve

Dr. Leighton Ford, who has travelled the world spreading the word of God, traces his ministerial roots to his time growing up in Chatham.

Ford, who will be the guest speaker during the 175th anniversary celebration of First Presbyterian Church this weekend, recalled being asked at age 14 to be president of the local branch of the forerunner to the Youth for Christ movement.

Noting he was the youngest director in the world at the time, Ford said "that was really my start (in ministry)," during a telephone interview from his home in Charlotte, N.C.

When asked how this experience shaped him, Ford shared that his adopted mother had been emotionally ill, which was a lonely time for him during his teen years.

He remembers going to a summer Christian conference near Wallaceburg.

"It was while I was there, I remember walking in the woods and reading my Bible and praying and feeling very lonely," he said.

Ford realized the power of faith he had as a small child, which was instilled by his adopted mother.

"It was out of that I then felt a desire to share this reality of Christ as a living reality, not just as an historical figure," he said. "So this was an expression of something that had become very important to me in those teenage years."

It was also through the Youth for Christ movement that Ford met the Rev. Billy Graham at age 17, when the famous evangelist came to Chatham on a cold January night in 1949.

Ford recalls Graham had a reputation for having people respond to his message, but admitted being disappointed at the lack of response the preacher received that night.

"I remember (Graham) came over and put his arm around me and tried to encourage me and said, 'You keep on praying and be humble and I think God will use you.'"

He said Graham later invited him to become part of his evangelistic organization, which Ford was a part of for 31 years.

"That was an introduction to world Christianity that began in a very small moment for me," he said.

Ford said Graham came back to North Carolina and told his younger sister about this guy he met in Canada. Ford later married her, becoming Graham's brother-in-law.

Today, Ford is the president of Leighton Ford Ministries, and has authored 11 books. He has been a social activist working to combat such issues are world hunger, poverty and racism, and is currently a  mentor to young men and women working in ministry.

He is looking forward to returning to Chatham, noting it will be a nice reunion with the church and the community. He is also honoured to be part of the 175th anniversary celebration of First Presbyterian Church.

"Really, I just want to say thank you to the church and thank you to Chatham as someone who was nurtured by the city and the church," Ford said.

Rev. Mike Maroney, of First Presbyterian Church, is expecting Ford will attract a good crowd for the celebration.

"We really don't know other than there's really quite a buzz in the community about (Ford's visit)," he said.

Maroney said he's heard people talking in Dresden, Thamesville, and Windsor about Ford's visit.

He said a lot of people knew Ford when he lived in Chatham or from his ministries and association with Graham.

The services are open to the public, which include an evening hymn sing beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday and two church services at 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Sunday.

BBB Festival of Hope My Hope with Billy Graham

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada

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