By the time most of you read this post, you will have heard the news that Rev. Billy Graham passed away this morning at his North Carolina home at the age of 99.
There will be a multitude of these reports that will describe in detail the amazing accomplishments of this incredibly devoted servant of Jesus who preached in most nations of the world and held scores of crusades over the decades here in America.
However, it was his strong and passionate voice over the radio and then ultimately the emergence of TeleVision as the primary medium which Dr. Graham found his way into millions of households in our nation and around the world.
One personal story that I would like to share with you is about Dr. Graham’s influence on my family and me at a very significant time in my life.
In the late 1950’s our family relocated from the city of Pittsburgh to the little town of Beaver, which in those days was nearly a one hour drive. My parents were very committed to visiting their parents on a weekly basis. Every Sunday afternoon we would drive into the city right after church and visit relatives in the Hazelwood and Bellevue communities. It’s just what we did… No questions asked.
However, I have a vivid memory of the long ride home every Sunday evening. My parents seemed to plan our exit from the city around the time that Dr. Graham’s national radio broadcast came on the air. For nearly an hour every Sunday evening, we would listen to George Beverly Shea, the crusade orchestra and choir, and most important, Dr. Graham’s gospel message. Even as an adolescent I found his messages easy to understand and somehow very relevant to my life. I had the experience that many people share with me from time to time using words like “I felt he was speaking just to me“.
There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that those messages prepared my heart to receive Jesus as an early teenager when we attended a small outdoor crusade somewhere around 1960-61. It wasn’t with Billy Graham, but it was the same gospel message and I remember very clearly responding, confessing my sins and going forward to begin my relationship with Christ.
If I remember the story correctly, my mom had received Christ just before that experience and my father later at another Billy Graham Crusade in Pittsburgh in 1968. I wonder how many countless thousands of others could share similar kinds of stories about the influence of one faithful servant of the Lord who somehow managed to avoid the snares of the ministry to faithfully preach the word “in season and out of season“ leading millions to know Jesus.
As a result of Dr. Graham’s influence on my family and me, I counted it as one of the great honors of my ministry to serve on the executive committee of Dr. Graham’s last crusade in Pittsburgh in 1993. Even in his later years, he was still able to draw the largest crowds of any evangelist or minister before or since his visit here.
The attached photo of Carol and me with Billy Graham in 1993 reminded me of the unmistakable sense that I had when we met – that this man was indeed humbled to be so powerfully used by God, and very authentically encouraging to those of us who were so greatly affected by his life and ministry.
And though our nation and our world will not be the same without him; they have been greatly changed because of the ministry of the gospel of Jesus through him, one faithful servant. For that, we should all give thanks and praise to God!