VOL. 133 | NO. 57 | Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Olford Ministries Continues to Influence the World
By TONI LEPESKA
The man who reportedly most influenced the Rev. Billy Graham’s ministry left a legacy in Memphis that still impacts people from all over the world.
David L. Olford, president of Olford Ministries International, says the work of training ministers to preach is a legacy Memphis can be proud of. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
Stephen Olford, born in Africa as the son of missionaries, planted an institute for preaching in Hickory Hill in 1988 to provide pastors and ministers personal, intensive instruction.
The Stephen Olford Center of Biblical Preaching celebrates its 20th anniversary in June. Tucked behind a treed entrance at 4000 Riverdale Road, the center houses dozens of ministers a year who come to sharpen their craft. In turn, they take what they learn and influence their congregations and ministries in places as far away as Japan and Sierra Leone.
The center was purchased by the Global Ministries Foundation in 2015 from Union University. GMF also has a housing ministry that has had difficulties in recent years managing some of the properties it owns, such as the Warren and Tulane low-income housing complexes in Memphis. GMF sold the Warren and Tulane apartment complexes after they failed Housing and Urban Development inspections and GMF has been criticized for living conditions at this complexes.
GMF founder, the Rev. Richard Hamlet, said his organization inherited “some serious generational issues,” and that HUD had denied attempts to rehabilitate the properties. While the housing ministry was a challenge, GMF’s thrust remains primarily evangelistic, to spread the gospel to the world, Hamlet said.
David Olford, Stephen Olford’s youngest son, is now president of Olford Ministries International Inc., and a keeper of his father’s legacy. At one time, about 200 students trained annually at the center. Now the younger Olford travels with teaching materials several times each year in addition to hosting students. He is launching efforts to begin bringing more people to the center, which he believes has a subtle but meaningful influence on the city.
Stephen Olford, right, was called by the late evangelist Billy Graham one of the most important people to his ministry. (Submitted)
“We are bringing to Memphis some really, really sharp international pastors and preachers, and that’s not bad for Memphis,” he said. “It’s not like these (preachers) come with thousands of dollars and spend it on Beale Street … But I think of St. Jude … with an absolutely incredible service that’s identified with Memphis. I’m not going to put us anywhere near the same league, but there are quite a few (people) internationally who know what we do. We impact lives from many parts of the world. We’re thankful to the Lord to have a little piece in these people’s lives.”
Wade DeForest, pastor of Living Water Church in Fort Worth, Texas, visited Memphis for the first time as a student at the Stephen Olford Center. He found out about the ministry via the Internet. He’s since been to the city about four more times.
“The last time I went, my wife got to go with me,” DeForest said. “We got to go to the Peabody and had lunch and toured Sun Records.”
Years before the elder Olford moved to Memphis and established the center at the invitation of a local church, he’d met Billy Graham, who would become the most famous evangelist of his time. Graham was best known for his crusades, where hundreds of people walked to the front stage at his invitation to commit their lives to Jesus Christ. Graham died Feb. 21 at age 99.
David Olford recently provided a video recording of his father preaching a sermon in which he talked about meeting Graham. The year was 1946.
Stephen Olford had been preaching at a youth conference about his experience of being “filled with the Spirit” and surrendering his life to God.
Graham, in Great Britain to meet key leaders before starting his first evangelistic tour of England and Wales, approached Olford after his sermon. He was moved to learn more and live fully in the power of the Holy Spirit. The pair spent time together in study and prayer. In the recording, Stephen Olford recalls of Graham, “I can hear him now, crying out to God.”
By 1949, Graham started to become an international figure. and maintained a lifelong friendship with Olford, who died in 2004. Graham was once quoted as saying Olford was “the man who most influenced my ministry.”
Warren Pellom, now pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Southaven, said he was living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when he first heard Stephen Olford’s messages, but it was only after he’d read Graham’s remark that he traveled to Memphis to attend classes at the Olford center. “
As soon as I read that, I said, ‘I’ve got to go.’ Really, (the Olford ministry) taught me to preach,” Pellom said.
David Olford recalled attending one of Graham’s meetings in New York’s Central Park some 20 to 25 years ago with his father. As music was playing during the gathering, someone tapped his father on the shoulder and said Rev. Graham wanted to see him.
The Olfords went to the platform, where Graham “looked like he was worn out,” David Olford said. Graham expressed an intense need for prayer and “my dad got down on his knees” and started praying for him. To David Olford, the encounter showcased the relationship his father and Graham shared and revealed the kind of person Graham was.
“He was a man of humility and desired the prayers of others.”