History Spotlight: Percy Crawford (1902-1960): “He Being Dead, Yet Speaketh”
"Pioneer extraordinary! Surely these two words vividly describe the life and ministry of Dr. Percy B. Crawford, founder and first president of TKC." - Howard Vos in "The History of TKC"
Dr. Howard Vos in a Wheaton College yearbook. Photo provided by Phyllis Burtch Porter.
Pioneer extraordinary! Surely these two words vividly describe the life and ministry of Dr. Percy B. Crawford, founder and first president of TKC. Always reluctant to talk about himself, yet always willing to speak a word for his Savior—this was Percy Crawford.
He was born in the little village of Minnedosa, Manitoba, Canada, on October 20, 1902, the son of Margaret and Thomas Crawford; his parents little realized that this tiny babe would someday move a nation toward God.
His early years were spent under the influence of a strict religious home. Here it was that there was evidence of real rebellion in the heart of this young man, which eventually took him to Portland, Oregon, in an effort to escape. In Portland he worked his way through high school, and then, seeking pleasure and more freedom, found his steps taking him to Los Angeles. Surely now he had found freedom from restraint of religious ties. Little did he know as he stepped from the boat in Los Angeles that here he would come face to face with Jesus Christ in an encounter that would change not only his life but the lives of thousands of people yet unborn.
On Sunday morning, September 23, 1923, the young man found his way into the back pew of the Church of the Open Door. Here for the first time the message of the Gospel pierced the armor of the fun-bent youth, and he felt as though he were the only one in that crowd of more than four thousand persons, so direct was the message to him delivered by Billy Nicholson. This was the hour of decision for Percy Crawford. He said in later years that on that morning he was either going to give himself one hundred percent to the devil or one hundred percent to Christ. He chose Christ! Thus began the New Life for this young man who had been chosen of God. Conviction was followed by conversation and immediate consecration.
Percy Crawford’s career as a “fisher of men” began soon after his conversion. Hearing the call of God for service, he entered the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. To earn his tuition he took the job of custodian of a large office building near the school. Here as he polished the floors he began to memorize verses of Scripture from the Gospel of John which had been given him by the Church of the Open Door. Other employees heard him reciting Scripture, and many heard from the lips of the new convert the age-old story of salvation.
From the very beginning the Christian experience of Percy Crawford was marked by one word—zeal! He took every opportunity to convey the Gospel message. Frequently he found his pulpit in the park near the school, and often in the midst of his sermon he would clap his hands loudly so that [someone sleeping] might hear a few words of the message.
During the summer of 1925 Percy Crawford organized his first Gospel team. The group traveled from Los Angeles to Vancouver and returned in an old Dodge touring car. Here the pattern was set for future meetings. It was the fall of 1925 that he entered the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. Immediately he saw the need of a fellowship of Christians on the campus, and organized the Alpha Gamma Omega Christian Fraternity.
His push toward the East coast began in 1928 when he transferred to Wheaton College (Illinois) and became a speaker for the college Gospel team. When he received his degree from Wheaton in 1929, there was written under his yearbook picture these words: “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.” Thus that saving sense of humor so apparent during the difficult days of his ministry was with him from the early days.
In the fall of 1929 God’s Pioneer moved East again, this time to Philadelphia. Here he became one of the first students of the newly organized Westminster Seminary. In 1930, while a student at Westminster, he began holding rallies at the Barnes Memorial Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. These Saturday night rallies became the foundation for the Saturday night Youth for Christ rallies of the future. Torrey Johnson, great Youth for Christ leader, once said, “To you, Percy Crawford, Youth for Christ owes a great debt of gratitude!” Bu to this pioneer, regular meeting inside the Church did not suffice. Fearful lest some should not come into the Church, he erected a large plank under the railing of the Church building, on the outside, and began to speak to any who would stop long enough to listen. In those days he used a battered trumpet to get the attention of the crowd.
In September of 1931 there was put upon the heart of this servant of God the need of broadcasting the Gospel. After checking with station WIP in Philadelphia, he found that one hour of time on Sunday afternoon would cost sixty dollars. No one had thus far undertaken such an ambitious project in the sending out of the Gospel. But this young man, on fire for God, allowed no barrier to be placed in the way. He went ahead by faith, signed the contract, and prepared the first broadcast of the Young People’s Church of the Air. The money for the first broadcast had been deposited in the bank for several days when the news came—the crash had closed the banks, and the money was gone! It was then that friends in the Rhawnhurst Presbyterian Church replaced the money so that the first Y.PC.A. could go on the air. From this humble beginning the Y.P.C.A grew until it was heard on 450 stations on the Mutual and American Broadcasting networks.
By 1931 almost everyone in the Philadelphia area knew of Percy Crawford. Over in Collingswood, New Jersey, a group of young people were meeting for a hymn sing one night in the Duvall home, and the young preacher from Philadelphia was a guest. It was here that he met the younger daughter of the Duvall home, Ruther Marjorie, the girl who would one day be his wife.
During the years 1931-33 Percy Crawford conducted rallies all over the Eastern seaboard. In 1933 he had a vision of a Bible Conference for young people. After much searching, a location near Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania was selected, and Pinebrook Bible conference was opened. One of the first acts that was performed on the grounds now held sacred to so many was a service of dedication to the Lord. This first act has been a symbol of Pinebrook through the years—now operated by Bible Fellowship denomination.
In 1938 things seemed to have settled down to a pattern in the life of the young evangelist. He held meetings each night, and saw the hand of the Lord in the salvation of many young people. Most people would have been satisfied with the progress of the work, but not Percy Crawford. The vision came for a Christian college in the East. In September of 1938 he opened the doors to the first class of The King’s College. Those early years of the College, in the midst of war, were lean years, but the dynamic leadership of a man who had great faith in the providing hand of God kept the door open.
Coast-to-coast Christian television was the call in 1950 to the Pioneer. Seeing the need of presenting the Gospel message to thousands who would never enter a church, Percy Crawford began the first coast-to-coast Christian TV program in November, 1950. Youth on the March, the 20th century crusade, took the Gospel into the home. The Sunday night viewing audience grew into the millions and as a result of one telecast over 500 professed Christ as Savior.
In 1953, a group of friends, under the sponsorship of the Alumni Association of The King’s College, honored Dr. Crawford with a testimonial dinner. At the close of the program this statement was given by a spokesman for the Alumni Association: “. . .but the end is not yet. For you, Percy Crawford, the fearless twentieth century prophet, see more unpossessed land in the future. You see more lost men to lead to Christ, more youth to inspire, more saints to encourage. You see the fields of America, even the world, white already to harvest. We have this confidence, that as long as you have breath, the Gospel will be proclaimed! Then one day you shall hear from His lips, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord.’”
The Pioneer walks among us no more, but the shadow that he cast has touched multitudes. His life has not really ended, for his vision has been implanted in the hearts of thousands whom he has influenced. To have come in contact with him, however briefly, was to have felt the urgency of his mission. Our hearts will forever be thankful that there walked among us one who showed men to Christ.
This essay is excerpted from Dr. Vos’s 1989 booklet, The History of TKC, p. 56-60.
Photo of Percy Crawford.