Good News - March 2023

COVER STORY 24 MARCH 2023 Good News • South Florida Edition Conversing withAuthor and Speaker Virginia “Gigi” Graham Tchividjian is like being transported to a cozy cottage in the mountains of North Carolina, where “mother” and “daddy” raised her and her four younger siblings on Southernmanners and blackberry cobbler. “They call me Mama G,” she said, fondly referring to her 22 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. The matriarch of “the first family of faith,” Gigi is the daughter of the late Rev. Billy Graham, the world's best-known evangelist who prayed with U.S. presidents and foreign dignitaries and preached at large evangelical crusades worldwide. However, Gigi said she has lived in Florida longer than anywhere else, having attended boarding school in Zellwood, Fla. at 12 years old. She and her former husband, the late Stephan Tchividjian, a respected psychologist, raised seven children of their own in South Florida, where the Tchividjian family continues to build a lasting legacy in the community. Gigi married Stephan, a Swiss-Armenian, at the age of 17, in what she calls an arranged marriage, and moved to Switzerland where they found her father-in-law’s controlling influence intolerable. After about eight years the couple moved to the states so Tchividjian could pursue a college education. He earned a doctorate in clinical psychology at Marquette University, in Milwaukee, where he interned under the late Larry Crabb, a popular Christian counselor and author who encouraged Tchividjian to move to South Florida. Tchividjian built a thriving practice, and in the 1980’s founded Life Management Ministries, focused on training for small groups, at First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale. He also hosted a radio talk show on what was formerly WMCU. Raising a family in South Florida While Stephan pursued his career, Gigi was busy at home managing their large family and household. Writing on scraps of paper between chores, she has since published more than 10 books and developed an inspirational speaking ministry. When the family first moved to Florida, they briefly attended Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church under the leadership of the late Rev. D. James Kennedy, where in 1974 the Rev. Graham spoke at the dedication of their new church sanctuary to an overflow crowd. A few years later, the family became members at First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale, pastored by Dr. O.S. Hawkins, where Tchividjian developed the counseling ministry, and the Hawkins became close family friends. Their large family filled the front row pews, and Gigi chuckled as she recalled Hawkins as an instigator with the children. In a phone interview, Hawkins, nowpresident of Guidestone Financial Resources, agreed, “I totally was. When Antony was about six years old, I’d pay him money to run up and touch the prayer altar and run back and sit down, and they'd go crazy!” Remembering the time fondly, Hawkins said “God was doing a fresh work in Fort Lauderdale.” In 1985 the Rev. Graham conducted an eight-day crusade at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale that attracted crowds estimated in excess of 25,000 per day, to hear a gospel message encouraging a personal relationship with Christ. The Rev. Graham was welcomed by then Florida Governor Bob Graham, who called the preacher “a son of Florida returning to Florida,” according to a Sun-Sentinel article. Graham attended Florida Bible Institute inTampa and preached his first sermon in Palatka, Fla. During the crusade, the entire family was involved in some form. “There is no doubt that Stephan and Gigi were a powerful ministry couple in the 80’s,” said Hawkins, adding “Stephan helped so many broken lives become whole… and apart from her own relationship with Christ, Gigi’s strength was in her family.” Growing up Graham Asked if it was difficult being the daughter of “America’s pastor,” Gigi said, “We were never sacrificed for public opinion.” However, with her father travelling about 70 percent of her childhood, her mother chose to move the family to North Carolina to be near her parents, who were former missionaries in China. “I could go on talking for hours about my mother, and I do at The Cove.” (The Billy GrahamTraining Center at The Cove is a Christian Conference and Retreat Center inAsheville, N.C., where Gigi currently serves as a family ambassador, speaking and welcoming guests.) “She was a character,” Gigi said of her mother. “She was a wonderful writer, a poet, theologian and intellectual, but she had a streak in her that could think of things, and they were fun!” Gigi recalled that when she was a child, busloads of tourists came on their lawn and called the family out by name, just so they could take pictures. “And in the 1960’s there were so many threats against my dad, the FBI made him put up an electric fence and get guard dogs. My mother was furious and said, ‘This is an afront to my guardian angels!’ She was spunky! Spunky with her grandchildren too.” Of her seven children, Gigi said Tullian was the one always running out the door with a surfboard. “He came in one day with his ears pierced and I was horrified! And he always fixed his hair in some strange way, so I felt like I was sitting in the front row at First Baptist Fort Lauderdale with six children and a chicken! But after he had pierced his ears, mymother sent him a box of earrings. Then for thanksgiving, she sent him a knife and a fork for his ears. She was teaching me, ‘Gigi, don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.’ She had a wonderful way of teaching. She didn’t get on to him. She didn’t criticize him, and he got over it pretty Gigi GrahamTchividjian onGod’s Faithfulness to Their Legacy Family Shelly Pond Editor The Graham Tchividjian family at the Billy Graham Library. Front Row L-R: Charlee Sherry and Levi Sherry, Hope Saliba and Caden Saliba, Stephan N. Tchividjian, Zooey Tchividjian, Lisa Tchividjian, Genna Tchividjian, Blesi Tchividjian, Ruby Tchividjian, Stacie Tchividjian, Jamie Tchividjian, Anabelle Arnold, Jerusha Duford, AllieArmfield, ChrisArmfield, LiamArmfield, Gigi GrahamTchividjian, Zeke Tchividjian, Isabella Barker, Lily Tchividjian, Berdjette Barker, Charlotte Tchividjian, Adalie Campbell, Basyle “Boz” Tchividjian, Lydia Tchividjian, and Hannah Davidson. Back Row L-R: Jacob Sherry and Matt Sherry, Steve Saliba and Leon Saliba, Tullian Tchividjian, Clayton Barker, Nate Tchividjian, Riley Tchividjian, Aram Tchividjian, Seth Barker, Antony Tchividjian, David Barker, Stetson Tchividjian, Gabe Tchividjian