Rather than stand stoically behind a pulpit, he would leap, dance and slide across the stage, then pick up his chair and spin it over his head. And instead of inviting people to come forward to receive Christ, he told them to 'hit the sawdust trail.'"1 William Ellis agrees and he adds, "Beyond question he is the most vigorous speaker on the public platform today. One editor estimates that he travels a mile over his platform in every sermon he delivers."2
Yet there was no sign in his early childhood or in his growing up years that he will be a great revivalist. Again W. Ellis writes, "His life was normal; no different from that of tens of thousand of other American boys. He himself was in no wise a phenomenon. He was possessed of no special abilities or inclinations. He came to his preaching gift only after years of experience in Christian work."
There was no early sign of greatness. He was born William Ashley Sunday on November 19, 1862. His father died shortly after he was born. Two years later, his mother Jeni, remarried an alcoholic who gave up on the family after a few years. So, Billy and older brother Ed was sent to a soldier's orphanage that made Billy independent and stubborn.
Years after he was known for his acrobatic preaching some would began to make the connection between his playing days and present ministry. Ellis remarked, "A level head, a quick eye, and a body which is such a finely trained instrument that it can meet all drafts upon it, is part of Sunday's inheritance from his life on the baseball diamond."3
His life was moving on the fast lane until he was invited to join a church service. At the height of his career as a professional baseball player he gave his life to the Lord.4
In 1885 through the famous Pacific Garden Mission he became passionate for the Lord. Some would say that he joined because of the beautiful Helen "Nell" Thompson who would later become his wife. Others, would tell it differently, that Billy met Nell after his conversion but chose to become a member of the Presbyterian Church because of her.
He chose to serve the Lord rather than to continue playing baseball. But he was not able to let go of his first love that easily. Soon after the announcement that he was released by his former club, many invitations came to join a new club with a lot of cash incentives. He finally turned them all down.
Billy was no overnight success as a mass evangelist. He had to work hard on his craft and had his start teaching at the local YMCA. Yet his extensive training came at the hands of J. Wilbur Chapman, a traveling Presbyterian evangelist.
When Chapman retired, Billy felt called to continue his mentor's work as an itinerant preacher. Not long after newspaper reporters began saying that he was attracting large groups of people. Elijah P. Brown recalls, "The religious interest is becoming deeper every day.5 People cannot stay away. As a result, the name of God is being