Almost everyone has some sort of Billy Graham story. Some are positive and some are negative, but at some level, most of us have some memory of this unique individual. He was human and had his flaws, yet his impact on our world cannot be denied. Over the years there have been many men and women who have lived lives that challenged and strengthened the Christian faith. Some changed the landscape forever and some were only limited in their impact. Over the almost 2,000 years since Jesus death and resurrection, many have been instrumental in bringing the message of Christ to others around the world. The apostle Paul was the first. There were many that followed.
Then in the reformation movement there were several that helped transform the church: Luther, Calvin, Knox and later in England Wesley. In the last two centuries there were great missionaries that crossed oceans and continents, and evangelists that focused primarily on the United States. Billy Graham followed in the footsteps of Charles Finney, Billy Sunday, and his contemporary, Oral Roberts. But he also took the message of Christ to many countries around the globe like the great missionaries of the past, such as Mother Theresa.
His impact is hard to quantify. Only time will tell whether his efforts have long term results, but he went wherever he could and went into nations that were closed to others to bring the message of love and forgiveness.
Basically, he preached the same message every time: “You are lost. Jesus came to find you. Let Jesus rescue you.” Only the packaging changed over the years. And the way the message was proclaimed. While he continued to hold mass evangelistic services, he also embraced print and broadcast media as well. His weekly radio broadcasts were soon overshadowed by television specials, and eventually full length movies. And the digital age allowed his message to also come into homes around the globe at the same time.
My earliest memory of Billy Graham goes back to my childhood. I watched him preach on television, mesmerized by his down-to-earth delivery and the hundreds that responded to his invitation to “Come down to the front of the auditorium” and accept Christ as your personal savior. I had a card beside my bed when I was 11 or 12 that glowed in the dark. It showed his schedule and where in the world he was at the time and invited us to pray for him there. I did.
He also helped with my love life. In the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I dated a girl a couple years younger than me. She was being raised by a single mother who was a little apprehensive about this older boy dating her little girl. One night she and I were alone in her house watching Billy Graham preach at some revival. When her mother returned to find us watching that on TV, she was relieved to see that I, as a preacher’s kid, did not fit into the negative strereotype of some minister’s kids. From then on, her mother was one of my biggest fans. When we broke up, I think her mother was more upset than my ex-girlfriend.
I attended a few services at which Graham team members were preaching, but never saw him in person. But whatever his Billy Graham Evangelistic Association did was strictly above board. There was never a hint of scandal about their activities. Financial matters were handled in a transparent way and there was never a story that any of the team members had acted holy but lived unholy lives.
He was a hero of my late wife, Deborah, who read many of his books and books about him. We visited “the Cove” near Asheville, NC, three times, and the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, once. They were always a source of spiritual renewal. And for that, I am grateful.
One of my friends from my Doctor of Ministry group traces his spiritual journey back to its beginning, watching Billy preach on television and praying with him at the end of the broadcast. I am sure that story can be told of many others as well. So what is your memory of Billy Graham? What did his life and ministry mean to you?