Monday, April 30, 2007

A Word from England

Several weeks ago I had an e-mail from someone in England asking about my father. This person had just seen the movie about my father's life, Wiretapper, at a local vintage film show. When this person told me Maurice Rowlandson was the person showing the film I said, "I recognize that name!"

Maurice Rowlandson worked for Billy Graham in England for many years and so I decided to e-mail Mr. Rowlandson and let him know that "the son of the wiretapper" was alive and kicking. He graciously wrote back to me and a brief correspondence has ensued. In the midst of that correspondence I sent Mr. Rowlandson a photo in my possession, a photo of my father taken in England during evangelistic meetings he held there in the 1950's. Mr. Rowlandson immediately wrote back and was able to tell me the exact location and exact date when the photo was taken. Needless to say, Maurice Rowlandson is a man with a wealth of knowledge who must either have an incredible filing system, memory, or both!

Mr. Rowlandson has read my forthcoming book, My Father Was a Gangster: The Jim Vaus Story, in manuscript, given some very helpful suggestions, and written the following wonderful endorsement:

"I first heard of Jim Vaus shortly after Billy Graham's first Los Angeles Crusade in 1949. It was therefore quite remarkable that I was the one to be selected to organise a programme for him in the British Isles. At the time I was working with the British Evangelical Alliance, and my friend George Wilson (who had been business Manager at Northwestern College when I was there in 1948/9) had asked me to do this.

"We had a remarkable time with Jim and his wife as we took them to church after church where, time and again, he told the story of his conversion. More importantly (for me) he brought with him one of the tiny 'bugging' microphones which he had removed from Mickey Cohen's house, and when he left England, he left it with me. I still have it - and it is a prized possession.

"To me it seemed inevitable that Jim would devote his life to Christian service - and so it was. It was not long before I heard the story of what he was doing and, as a result, he remained on my prayer list for the rest of his life.

"God has many trophies as He works through the proclamation of His word. Through the ministry of Billy Graham in the Los Angeles tent, Jim was one of them. Surely his welcome into heaven must have been accommpanied by the angel choir singing 'Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord!'"

April 2007

Thursday, April 26, 2007

What Others Are Saying . . .

Here I am with my friend and fellow evangelist, Steve Russo, way back in 1991 in Palm Springs, California. Steve has graciously written the following endorsement for my forthcoming book:

The story of Jim Vaus needs to be read and shared by this generation. He is a tremendous example of a man who had a dramatic encounter with the living God and whose story has impacted countless lives. Take time to read it, absorb it, and share it.

Steve Russo
International Communicator,
Best-selling Author
Host of the syndicated daily radio program Real Answers

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


The picture above is of me with Leighton Ford in about 1991 or 92. Need I say I was at least 15 years younger and looking a bit thinner then? I'm sure Leighton looks just as good today as he did in this photo.

At any rate, here is the Foreword to my forthcoming book, written by Leighton Ford, brother-in-law of Billy Graham:

It was the fall of 1949 when I first heard the name of Jim Vaus. That September I had enrolled at Wheaton College at the recommendation of Billy Graham who had spoken at a youth rally in Canada that I was leading and told me about his alma mater.

One of the first Sundays at college I went with friends eagerly to hear Billy preach at the church he pastored in Western Springs, Illinois. That Sunday night he left for Los Angeles to begin the evangelistic campaign that would make him first a local, then a national, then an internationally-known evangelist.

The headlines of his extended preaching in Los Angeles excited me and the other young aspiring preachers at Wheaton. We were intrigued not just at the crowds, but the “name” figures who gave their lives to Christ then—the cowboy singer Stuart Hamblen, the Olympic runner and war hero Lou Zamperini, and, most unusual of all, a wiretapper for the gangster Mickey Cohen named Jim Vaus.

Jim was only the name of a kind of “celebrity” then. Later I came to know him as he became a man of God, a lover of young people, a devoted father, a man marked by God’s grace.

Sometimes one who has been dramatically converted is described as a “trophy of grace.” Does that conjure up the image of a glass-covered cabinet in heaven where Jesus proudly displays the “trophies” he has won? Hardly.

What matters to the Lord (and should to us) is when someone who has come to faith in Christ, famous or ordinary, becomes a “letter from Christ”, to use Paul’s metaphor—one in whom the marks of Christ are seen.

Jim Vaus, as I came to know him, was such a “letter.”

He was a good-sized letter, a big, towering giant of a man who also exuded the loving gentleness of his Lord.

He was a fun-loving letter. My wife Jeanie and I learned how he loved practical jokes when at our wedding (where her brother Billy officiated) Jim hinted that as a reformed wiretapper he was going to use his skills to “bug” our honeymoon hotel!

Most of all, he was a God-loving and people-loving letter. After his conversion Jim became a kind of evangelical “celebrity”, traveling from city to city to give his testimony. But that was not enough.

He became a letter from Christ to gang members in the heart of New York City, moving into the ghetto to reach hard-core youngsters, sharing with them in word and deed and presence the love of Christ that changed his life.

And Jim was a long-lasting letter to those in his family who knew him best. His son Will was also called to ministry, and it was my joy to have Will associated for a time with our own ministry of evangelism and leadership training. Will is a second-generation letter from Christ.

So Jim was, and is still in heaven, a letter worth God’s writing. And this book is worth your reading. It is a story that needs to be told, remembered, and one that leads us to praise the God of grace who met Jim Vaus in that canvas cathedral in Los Angeles, and is still ready to enter and transform lives today.

Leighton Ford
Leighton Ford Ministries
Charlotte, North Carolina

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Cover

Here is a brief description of my next book, soon to be published by Believe Books:

One of the most fascinating conversion stories of the 20th century, My Father Was a Gangster tells the dramatic life story of Jim Vaus, former associate of crime syndicate boss Mickey Cohen. In this book, son Will Vaus tells the inside story of his father’s nefarious activities in organized crime and describes how close his father came to losing his life in a “Sting” operation. The author then describes the dramatic transformation that took place in his father’s life as a result of attending the 1949 Billy Graham meetings in Los Angeles.

This story has been recounted in Time, Life and Reader’s Digest, and was chronicled in a motion picture, The Wiretapper. Now it is told from a son’s perspective, a son who watched his father reach juvenile delinquents across America with the same message of hope that changed his own life.