If you have never heard of Edward Kimball, then you are not alone. Many people have never heard his name before, and therefore do not know the very interesting story of the chain of events he started many years ago.
The story begins in 1854, when Kimball, who taught a Sunday school class, went to visit a 17-year-old boy from the class. The boy was working in a shoe shop in Detroit. The boy did not know Christ and seemed to have little interest in the Sunday school that he was forced to attend.
So Kimball hesitantly set out to talk with the boy and to let him know that he was worried about him, and that he needed Christ. (This is evangelism.)
In the basement of that shoe store that day the boy was led to Christ. The 17-year-old boy’s name was D. L. Moody.
We now know that he went on to become one of the greatest evangelists in the world, and he shared the gospel with 100 million people. Moody also founded the Moody Bible Institute and the Moody Memorial Church in Chicago. His name is well known in the Christian community, even today, more than a hundred years later.
However, Kimball’s spiritual dominos were just beginning to fall. The rest of the story goes like this:
• Sunday School teacher Edward Kimball helped lead Dwight L. Moody to Christ;
• J. Wilbur Chapman attended a Dwight L. Moody evangelistic meeting in Chicago in the 1870’s and received personal counseling and an assurance of his salvation from Mr. Moody. He later became a friend and coworker of D. L. Moody, hiring a former baseball star named Billy Sunday as an advance man for him;
• Billy Sunday held an evangelistic campaign in Charlotte in 1924 and a men’s prayer and fellowship group, known as the Charlotte Businessmen’s Club, grew out of those meetings. It was this group that invited Mordecai Ham to Charlotte to hold evangelistic meetings in 1934;
• Mordecai Ham preached a sermon where a 16 year-old young man now known as Billy Grahamwent forward and received Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior
It is pretty amazing that one can trace Billy Graham’s ministry back to that shoe store basement. But that is God, and that’s how He works. We know that nothing is impossible through God. What we do not know, however, is what would have happened if Edward Kimball would have walked passed that shoe store.
The most amazing part of the story, even if it had just stopped with Moody, is that it all began with a layperson. Kimball was a Sunday school teacher, not a pastor, and not a great theologian in his day. (He admitted to being hesitant and feeling awkward.) But the Great Commission is not a mandate for “professionals” only. Every Christian has a stake in evangelism. After all, we may never be the next Billy Graham, but we may end up being the next Edward Kimball.