Everyone recognizes Billy Graham and his influence on the world through his crusade efforts and organization. Graham’s impact cannot be minimized; particularly because he has the distinction of preaching to more people than anyone in the history of Christianity. For decades, his evangelistic team held mass crusades all over the country and in every civilized continent on earth. It is amazing that one born in such a humble setting has become such a worldwide recognizable figure. Surely, eternity will reveal the influence has had on millions of people.
Graham was born in rural North Carolina, the son of a farmer. He grew up in a wholesome home which was involved in the Presbyterian church. He came to Christ through an evangelistic meeting conducted by evangelist Mordecai Ham in 1935. Graham came forward in the crusade and was converted under Ham’s preaching giving his life to Christ.
Although Graham had a penchant for baseball, he began to study the Scripture and began correspondence with a Bible College where he entered feeling called to preach but with the rigid legalism of the school and did not last long there. Soon, he was searching for another school finally landing at the Florida Bible Institute. The school offered practical instruction in the Bible knowledge and practical instruction in preaching and evangelism.Graham preached his first sermon in a small country church for a professor who served there as pastor. He had a lot to learn but his dynamic approach was apparent to everyone.
After Bible College, Graham enrolled in Wheaton University and continued his studies for the ministry. There he met and begin to date Ruth Bell, the daughter of a veteran medical missionary to China: Nelson Bell. They were married, and Graham became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Western Springs, Illinois. During his pastorate, he got involved with the “Youth for Christ” ministry and begin preaching in several meetings for them. His ministry expanded with him going out of town preaching in several meetings. He began to tour with an upcoming evangelist: Charles Templeton. Many were converted, and the crowds grew prompting Graham to go into full-time evangelistic work. During his touring with Templeton, his partner began to have doubts about the integrity of the Bible and the claims of Christianity. He quit his evangelistic ministry and began to question much of the Bible. Despite getting Graham to discuss these issues, he rejected Templeton’s doubts and reaffirmed his commitment to preach the Bible as completely God’s Word at a Bible camp in California.
Graham continued speaking in meetings and he asked renowned singer: George Beverly Shea, to join him in his first radio broadcast of “Songs in the Night” and in assorted meetings. He also had meetings with W.B. Riley’s church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Riley asked Graham to take over the presidency of the college connected to the church there. He became one of the youngest college presidents as he came to assist Riley in his ministry. During this time, he did not devote himself fully to running the school. The evangelist/president continued to speak in evangelistic meetings. Graham was invited to Los Angeles for a several week crusade. He invited Cliff Barrows to be his music director with Shea as soloist in a large tent. The rest is history as Graham was catapulted into notoriety through William Randolph Hearst urging his news people to “puff Graham.” From Los Angeles, Graham emerged in one of the great evangelistic ministries in modern times.
The opportunities were wide open to Crusades and meetings in main cities across America. Graham resigned as President of the school and begin to fulfill obligations he had to speak in meetings. The team was now conducting meetings in all different directions. He incorporated an evangelistic association and preached in his first crusade out of America in England. Revival and conversions came in droves, wherever the team went. The turning point in the expansion of Graham and the team was when they conducted a crusade at New York City in Madison Square Garden and had to extend the meetings due to their popularity. The massive crowds, Shea’s solo’s and guest testimonies made Graham’s meetings an extravaganza.
Graham retained his identification as an evangelical whose ministry reached across all denominational barriers. However, he began his pastoral ministry as a Baptist pastor at a Baptist Church, and although he did not live in Dallas, he joined the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas and retained his membership there for many years.
Into the 60’s Graham’s preaching and crusades reached epic proportions. The largest crowd ever to attend the Los Angeles Colosseum packed the stands and spilled over into the field area in 1963.
Further crusades featured more out of the country meetings and expanded communications through television and the weekly regular broadcast of the Hour of Decision. Even in the rebellion of the late 60’s Graham’s ministry was as popular as ever. He traveled extensively from his newly built home at Montreat, North Carolina with ministry pulling him away from his growing family. They now numbering five children, with his wife Ruth as the rock of the family.
Graham began to be a trusted confident of many America presidents. He was especially close to Eisenhower, Johnson and particularly Richard Nixon. He even had Nixon speak in one of his meetings in Knoxville, Tennessee. He prayed in several inaugurations and conducted Nixon’s funeral in 1994.
Graham’s preaching was urgent declaring his favorite expression: “The Bible says.” His classic invitation was a memorable event that everything led toward. Many from all walks of life and ages and ethnic groups trusting in Christ as Saviour.
The 70’s featured Graham’s friendship with Johnny Cash who began to appear with him after his conversion and commitment to Christ. Schools of Evangelism were held before meetings featuring various speakers and leaders in evangelistic ministry. The “Decision” magazine was the printed organ of Association, getting the word out even more.
The Association sponsored the Lausanne Conference on Evangelistic training for articulating evangelism in future decades. Conferences were also held for evangelist in Third world countries.
A trip to Russia in the 80’s before the Iron Curtain fell was very controversial. Graham went any way speaking in state churches and other groups who attempted to express Religious Freedom in an environment of atheism.
Graham’s books ranged from the basic salvation message of Peace with God to books on the 2nd coming of Christ. Worldwide pictures began to make Christ-centered movies centered around Graham’s crusades. Some of these movies were used as evangelistic opportunities for many churches.
As scandals rocked Christian television figures, Graham continued to minister with utmost integrity. He was more famous than ever appearing on T.V. programs, talk shows and in many other venues.
In the 90’s Graham became more of an elder statesman as his son Franklin started ministering through Samaritan’s Purse, beginning a ministry that would be noted for compassion for all those in disasters and needy areas. Operation Christmas child, a ministry to help needy children in third world countries, featuring them receiving a Christmas gift box, became a favorite of churches in North American churches and worldwide.
Ann, his daughter was a fabulous speaker and writer. Franklin eventually succeeded his father in his evangelistic ministry.
Graham’s ministry in the new millennium featured a stirring message at a memorial service after 9/11 that spoke to the whole nation in a televised service at the Washington Cathedral. 2006 featured his last crusades. The Billy Graham library in Charlotte, North Carolina was dedicated, housing many memorabilia and highlights of the ministry still captured on film in that is replayed constantly. Graham’s beloved wife was laid to rest there in 2007 and he will be buried there as he has gone on to be with the Lord this year.
Graham just passed away approaching 100 by only a few months. His presence and preaching the gospel has world-wide implications. He carries with him to glory the multitudes of souls converted to Christ under his preaching. That is the greatest legacy one can leave. DN
Information taken from Author’s recollection and general information