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Former Billy Graham Crusades advance team member celebrates Christmas with nativity sets

For 12 years Pat Borgens traveled around the country preparing cities as a member of the advance team for the Billy Graham Crusades, but she always made it home for Christmas.

Borgens, who now makes her home in Prosser and co-owns Dream Dinners in Kennewick with her sister, grew up on a farm in Eltopia, just north of Pasco.

While working for the Billy Graham Crusades, she generally spent about a year in each city. The first nine months were spent setting up in the city, preparing the venue and training people for the coming event. The final three months were clean-up, which mostly consisted of making sure everyone who needed help got it.

The longest she spent in any one city was the Denver "From Peak to Plains" crusade of 1987, but the event included satellite events in other states. Some events took less time, but picking up and moving once a year while continuing to work, even during packing, was stressful at times. Borgens said the volunteers helped lift the load.

The crusades took Borgens to many interesting places, and while she was in a particular city it was often possible to make short visits to other places. She generally didn't make it home for most holidays, but she made sure to be home every Christmas.

While she was in Washington D.C. one year it took her 36 hours of travel time to make it home. The weather had delayed and diverted flights, and her father had to drive to Portland, Ore. to pick her up. To make it more difficult, she was also suffering from the flu at the time.

Christmas always had special meaning for Borgens and her family, and the choice of hobbies of her and her sisters reflects that.

Borgens collects nativity sets. She always loved the story of the nativity, but the fascination with nativity sets started with a tiny crèche her mother had while Borgens was little. Eventually she collected more than 30 sets, mostly as gifts from friends and family members.

Borgens didn't set out to collect nativity sets, but once she showed an interest in them they seemed to come to her. She said that it wasn't unusual to get two sets at Christmas.

One friend brought a nativity set for Borgens back from Israel, made of native wood. An employer brought a hand carved set back from China. Other sets came from the Philippines.

She has a number of different types of sets, from displays that form a single figure to sets that can be arranged any way the owner chooses. Some of the sets are lighted, while others are tiny but detailed. One set is a nativity wreath with candle-holders around it.

Two of her three sisters also collect Christmas related items. One collects snowmen figures and another collects Santa Claus figures.

Borgens looks back on her time with the Billy Graham Crusades with satisfaction. She met a lot of people while on the job, as she worked as a liaison and often had to speak with city officials.

She said she got to know Governor Bill Clinton, Tom Landry, Joe Gibbs and Elizabeth Dole, among others. "Lots of athletes and mayors," she recalled.

She described Billy Graham himself as a man that knew no strangers. "He loved people," she said. "He was very kind, gentle and sweet. He said he always wanted to be a farmer, so he liked talking with me about my father."

The volunteers always impressed her. "We met some of the most wonderful people in the world," she said.

One time after returning from a trip, she learned that she was moving on to the next city in only a couple of days. With no time to pack and still suffering from jetlag she began to despair until a group of volunteers arrived and got her ready to move in less than a day.

She recalled being in Washington D.C. during the Challenger disaster. "There was a hush on the streets," she said. "D.C. never stops, there's always something, but that day it was solemn."

Borgens doesn't like eating out much, remembering a time that she went four months eating only one homemade meal. Perhaps as a reaction to that she now co-owns a Dream Dinners franchise, helping others to assemble homemade meals that can be frozen for later use.

Borgens also spends time volunteering at her church, and displays her nativity sets each Christmas. And she can tell lots of great stories about her travels and the people she's met.

Laura Gjovaag/Daily Sun News

Pat Borgens stands next to one of her nativity sets that she's collected over the years. The white set at the top was given to her by her sister, and lights up.

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