Julia Saccar Graham
Her home was full of wailing women, morning death in the traditional ways of the Middle East. But the young widow at the center of it all wasn't feeling comforted. It was January 1946. Henry Hagood '38 and wife, Julia Saccar Hagood '38, had been in the Middle East seven months as Southern Baptist missionaries. They had moved from Jerusalem to a new home in Nazareth only ten days before. And then Henry fell ill and died.
Julia was overwhelmed and uncertain what to do next. "Everyone was coming to me and saying, ‘When will you return home?' and ‘Of course you must return home now,'" she recalls. "I didn't know what I wanted to do."
Julia slipped away from the mourners filling her house and found a quiet place to pray. Suddenly a childhood memory came to mind with startling clarity. It was a Wednesday-evening missionary study at her family's Baptist church in San Antonio. "I can shut my eyes right now and still see the whole thing," she says. "While the teacher was talking, I felt the Lord speaking to me and telling me he wanted me to be a foreign missionary. I felt flattered that God would want me---insignificant me---to do something so important."
When that memory came flooding back, Julia knew exactly what she should do. Henry had been her sweetheart since they were both fifteen years old. They had attended Baylor together and, in the same Chapel service, felt the call to service in the Middle East. After her prayer, she understood that it was her husband who had died, not her call to missionary service. She was staying put. Their son, Jimmie, was only a year old when Henry died, and Julia had already taken in a motherless girl of about the same age. That became the start of her new ministry----a home for poor and orphaned children. After a year, the home had seventeen children.
As if that weren't enough to keep her busy, she began taking Arabic language lessons. And it was there that she met Dr. Finlay Graham. Originally from Scotland, he had served in the Middle East during World War II and had felt God's call to return as a missionary. "Before long we knew that God had brought us together," Julia says. They were married in September of 1947.
What followed were four decades of pioneering missionary work in the Middle East. "She's really a leader and a mentor in missionary work---in women's missionary work especially," says Gerry Volkart, the International Mission Board's Liaison to Northern Africa and the Middle East. "She was known for her love of the Arab people."
The Grahams served their longest and left their greatest mark in Lebanon, where they founded the Beirut Baptist School, still one of the premier private schools in the Lebanon for children of all faiths. They also established the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, which trains students from all over the Middle East and North Africa.
The Grams retired in 1987 and moved to Dallas, where Finlay died in September 2000. Julia, now eighty-eight and legally blind, still lives in Dallas, where she is a beloved Sunday School teacher at Wilshire Baptist Church and stays busy with five children, fifteen grandchildren, and ten great grandchildren. But she makes no secret of still longing for the foreign mission field. As she says, "I wish I had another life to give."