Good News - March 2023

COVER STORY 25 MARCH 2023 Good News • South Florida Edition quicky, but that taught me a great lesson.” Gigi described both her mother and daddy as nonjudgmental. As an illustration, she recounted attending the celebration of the 75thAnniversary of TIMEMagazine with her father. It was a black-tie affair in Rockefeller Center to which everyone who had ever appeared on the cover was invited and it was a motley crew. This was during the Clinton administration in the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, so there was a little tension, and they were seated at President Clinton’s table. “In the taxi on the way back to the hotel, I askedDaddy, howdowe as Christians deal with these sorts of things? And his answer tomewas, ‘Honey, theNewTestament teaches, our job is to love, the Holy Spirit’s job is to convict, and it’s God’s job to judge.’” Aministry family Raised in South Florida, the Tchividjian children attended various schools at different times, includingWestminsterAcademy, Coral Springs ChristianAcademy (aministry of First Presbyterian Church of Coral Springs that was sold because of damages caused by Hurricane Irma.) and a brief stint at Coral Springs High School and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. There were always a lot of people coming in and out of the family home, recallsAntony Tchividjian, and “I could not go to bed unless my mother came into my bed, read to me, and we said our prayers, consistently every night, which instilled in me a sense of security and love.” There was family dinner around a huge, long table with a home cooked meal and “my dad would read devotions at the end of dinner. If we interrupted, he would start over. It was ridiculous because sometimes he was almost done, we were anxious to get back to our friends and he would start over! And we all had chores right after dinner. It was that structured.” Following in the Rev. Graham’s footsteps, many of the Graham/Tchividjians have gone into some form of Christian ministry. In Fort Lauderdale their eldest son, Stephan Nelson Tchividjian, is co-founder and president of the National Christian Foundation South Florida and serves on the board at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale. Antony Tchividjian, the youngest, is assistant director at Calvary House, a faith-based addiction recovery program. And granddaughter Charlee Tchividjian founded EveryMother’sAdvocate, (ĒMA) a nonprofit focused on eradicating the preventable causes of family separation, where her mother Lisa Tchividjian also serves. In Deland, Fla., Gigi’s son Basyle “Boz” Tchividjian is an attorney defending sexual abuse cases and founder of Godly Response toAbuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE). Her youngest daughter Jerusha Duford is a licensed counselor and author in Greenville, S.C., where her brother Aram Tchvidjian works beside her husband Kyle Duford at The Brand Leader. And her eldest daughter Berdjette Barker lives in the Montreat, N.C., area where she and her husband are active in ministry and she manages several rental properties. Public failures However, TullianTchividjian, Gigi’s middle son, has not always made positive headlines. The founding pastor of New City Church in Fort Lauderdale, in 2009 he merged it with the historic Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, where he served as lead pastor until 2015 when it all came crashing down due to infidelity, and his first marriage ended in divorce. When Tullian fell, Gigi said, “That was so hard for me. I remember I wrote my feelings about the whole thing immediately so I wouldn’t forget them because it was tough.” She received the shocking news as she was driving back to North Carolina from Florida, and immediately turned around and headed back to help out the family. When asked if he recalls anything his mother said at the time, Tullian replied, “I just remember that she was there. My life was so topsy turvy at the time, and I was in such a funk, even if she had said something profoundly wise, I'm not sure I would recall it. She was just present at a time when I desperately needed someone who I knew loved me to be present.” In the aftermath of what he calls his “season of self-destruction,”Tullian, in 2019, founded a nondenominational church in Jupiter, Fla., called The Sanctuary. In February, Gigi attended Tullian’s first “Fallen and Free” conference at The Sanctuary. Because of Tullian’s moral failing, however, there are some in the body of Christ who argue he is disqualified for church leadership. When I asked Gigi what she thought of that, she replied, “You know, Tullian messed up. But when you mess up, it doesn’t mean God’s finished with you. God uses messed up people. And now he’s reaching a different group of people who are not comfortable in traditional church. God is using him in a different way.” Tullian said, “My own story plays a predominant role in what I say now, so I jokingly tell people that The Sanctuary is a recovery place masquerading as a church.” Recovery is something Antony Tchividjian has also experienced firsthand. For forty months,Antony struggledwith drug addictionwhile in and out of school at LibertyUniversity. Remembering the amazing feeling he had when prescribed Percocet for a root canal when he was a teen,Antony began taking pills recreationally in college to fit inwith the crowd at parties. “Before you know it, you’ve become dependent on them and everything in your life revolves around supplying your habit.” Antony had been through three other recovery programs before he finally achieved sobriety at Calvary House. “I just remember being in the hospital detoxing and for the first time I just surrendered. I said, ‘OK Lord, I’m going to do whatever it is you want me to do,’ and I meant it… I came straight from the hospital to Calvary House.” Now Antony leads the Calvary House ministry and Gigi said, “It’s wonderful. I thank the Lord, but I still pray because you never know with these drugs. It’s awful!” Asked how she dealt with the time when she had “prodigal sons,” a reference to a parable Jesus told in Luke 15:11–32, Gigi said, “We’re all prodigals until we come to the Lord Jesus. But I never had peace about my prodigals until I realized that God loved them more than I did. It’s so hard to turn it loose, but I finally would have to say, I can’t do any more.” To mothers having trouble with their children, Gigi recalled her mother would say, “God is the perfect parent, and He has trouble with His children too.” Gigi has experienced her own personal battles as well. She has shared publicly about her struggle with depression, and admits, “I still do.” While mornings are sometimes difficult, Gigi said she is energized by people and was able to get the help she needed once she understood that “depression is clinical and not a spiritual thing.” She said she learned a lot from her husband, Stephan, who she said was very good at his job. Unfortunately, after raising their children, Gigi and Stephan divorced in 2005. She remarried and divorced a private investigator, then in 2012 married her childhood friend, Jim Wilson, who passed away last year. “Gigi is a survivor,” said Hawkins. “She might go through some valleys, but she loves large, and she's always going to end up where she needs to be in the end.” What he most respects about her is, “With Gigi there is no “put on.” She knows who she is and has never tried to “be someone else.” Leaving a legacy Reflecting on something his mother Gigi instilled in his life, StephanN. Tchividjian said, “Authenticity, especially as it relates to one’s relationship with Jesus. She taught me early on that a relationship with Jesus had to be my own. I couldn’t ride on someone else’s faith journey.”As the eldest grandson of Billy Graham, Stephan N., said, “I recognized that it was an honor and a privilege but never felt pressure to be someone I am not…However, I believe that all Christians are in ministry, whether you run a business, teach an English class, care for the sick or preach sermons; that’s what we were taught.” Asked how he thinks God looks at the family’s failures, Stephan replied, “I believe those failures are unfortunate and carry consequences; however, God is also a redemptive God. Each story of failure has a story of redemption, and as long as the hero of the story is God, then He can use it.” In considering what contribution his mother Gigi has made to South Florida, Stephan said, “I hope it has been her honesty and faithfulness to serving Christ…warts and all. I respect her resilience, strength, honesty and teachability. She is a great example that being a Christian doesn’t mean you have to pretend everything is ok, and at the same time we don’t dwell in our past and failures. I believe her to be a fantastic mother who has influencedmy life inmore ways than she will ever know.” Tullian also responded, “Our family has had some public successes and some public failures but through it all I believe my mom (and our family) has persistently pointed this community to the God of grace who never gives up on us… That is, I believe, her greatest contribution to south Florida. And as far as what I respect about her, I think she’s handled the challenges and enormous pressure she was born into with grace and down-to-earthiness. I never once sawher act better than anyone else because of who shewas. She knew the checkout girls at Publix by name; she knew the garbage men by name. She treated people, all people, with the same care and concern.” Although she says it is not finished yet, Gigi said she hopes the Graham Tchividjian legacy in South Florida will be, “God’s faithfulness. Our legacy should be always that we glorify the Lord, whatever we’ve been through as a family. I tell people at The Cove there’s not a single one of you that can tell me anything that will shock me because somewhere in our family, we’ve been there. And God has been faithful through it all.” His answer to me was, 'Honey, the New Testament teaches, our job is to love, the Holy Spirit's job is to convict, and it's God's job to judge.' “ ”