Written by Tyler Lee
On October 16, Montreat College hosted Bell Graham day, which honored the legacies of Billy Graham and L Nelson Bell and welcomed various members of the Bell and Graham families to Montreat for a historic day. This summer, two current Montreat students had the exciting opportunity to work with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), the first official Montreat interns for the organization. I had a chance to interview one of these students, Christian Smith, about his experience interning with the BGEA.
Tyler Lee: So what actually is the BGEA?
Christian Smith: It’s the organization first founded by Billy Graham. The thing they do the most is Festivals, which is the Franklin Graham version of Billy Graham’s Crusades [Franklin Graham is Billy’s son, and the current BGEA President]. They get proposals from certain cities to come in and do a big Festival, just like Mr. Graham used to do back in the day. So they’ll go in and have bands and a guest speaker come in and introduce Franklin. Then Franklin will preach and do a big altar call and you’ll see hundreds if not thousands of people come down and accept Christ.
Jennifer Valiant and I were both Festival interns. We both left headquarters in Charlotte; Jenn went to Birmingham and I went to Oklahoma City. They run Decision Magazine from there and publish and distribute a lot of materials, radio and podcast from there. Also, after 9/11 they formed the Rapid Response Team, which is a big group of chaplains who go out to cities where there is turmoil or unrest. They went into Baltimore in the middle of all the riots.
Is that the first time Montreat students have worked with the BGEA?
This is their first official internship program. They were originally thinking of hiring 5 interns and then Franklin Graham said he wanted 30. I think they ended up compromising for 17 of us, coming from mostly Christian schools such as Liberty, Asbury, Wheaton, Montreat, and a couple more. It was just overall a really good, paid internship. Everything about it went above and beyond my normal expectations for an internship.
What kind of things did you end up doing as the intern to the festival director?
I did a huge range of things. Anything from office work, whether that be envelope stuffing, big mailings, and a lot of phone calls. I also met with some pastors and worked on some of the courses that are offered. When there’s a festival, there’s something called CLWC (Christian Life and Witness Courses) and that is training for the counselors who will be down there on the floor in the big arena when people come forward to accept Christ. We train them on how to walk people through accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Right off the top, I did a bunch of pick up and deliveries, got to sit in on a lot of executive team meetings, and work a little bit with the venue, which was really great for my Music Business major because there’s a lot of working with venues in that industry.
How did this as an internship benefit you and your future career direction in the music business industry?
The first night we had Lacey Sturm (formerly of Flyleaf), Skillet, and Dae-Lee. I got to work a lot with them and see the whole set up of the festival take place, which was cool because it’s very fast, precise, and organized. I also went to a couple of Summit meetings where we met with every single department in one big room and talked about everything from guest Wi-Fi to emergencies and bomb scares. We covered everything you could possibly think of. The most beneficial part was actually working with the artists. I got to meet everybody and talk with them for a while. I got to hang out with Skillet in a hallway and I hung out one-on-one with Lacey for a while. She walked in while I was taking a break and she taught me how to “fake scream” like she does. It was nice to see how the artist interacts with the venue, which is really important for the music industry. The prep work throughout the summer was beneficial, but the best part was when I returned to Oklahoma City for the Festival and got to see all our work take place.
What were your main take-aways from your time with the BGEA?
On the Charlotte end, it was really well-organized internship. The two people from human resources who headed it up did an amazing job of not just making it a career for us, but an educational opportunity. In Charlotte, the intern did have specific tasks to do and they made sure that we spent a lot of time in orientation, a lot of time going from department to department to get a feel for the organization. There were a lot of activities and learning opportunities. Plus, it’s a very prestigious organization. BGEA is known internationally and has been around for decades. It was an honor to have Montreat chosen and I think we definitely need to pursue having that happen again, having that opportunity offered to Montreat students.