“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”
Billy Graham commented years ago on what the news today reports. The world-renowned evangelist who was a pastor to presidents passed away at 99 years of age.
Graham was born on November 7, 1918 in Charlotte, NC. He passed away Wednesday morning at his home in Montreat, NC.
Graham placed his faith in Christ at the age of 16 during a crusade led by Mordecai Ham in Charlotte, NC in 1936. It in Florida where Graham received the call to preach and was ordained in the Southern Baptist Church in 1939 while attending the Florida Bible Institute. In 1941, as student at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL, he filled the pulpit at Wheaton’s United Gospel Tabernacle. While at Wheaton College he met his wife, Ruth Bell. Upon graduation in 1943, Graham was hired to preach at Western Springs Baptist Church in Western Springs, IL. His calling was larger than one local pulpit, however.
His itinerant begun soon after he joined Youth for Christ where he preached the Gospel throughout the United States and in Europe.
It was not until a crusade in 1949 in Los Angeles, CA when Graham’s crusade ministry took off.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) described the event and the crusades that occured shortly after in their biography of Graham:
The Los Angeles Crusade in 1949 launched Mr. Graham into international prominence. Scheduled for three weeks, the meetings were extended to more than eight weeks, with overflow crowds filling a tent erected downtown each night.
Many of his subsequent early Crusades were similarly extended, including one in London that lasted 12 weeks, and a New York City Crusade in Madison Square Garden in 1957 that ran nightly for 16 weeks.
BGEA states that throughout his ministry Graham preached the gospel to approximately 215 million people in more than 400 crusades, simulcasts, and evangelistic rallies held in more than 185 countries and territories.
He reached millions more on TV and the internet, and was the author of 34 books.
He also pushed for desegregation insisting that his crusades be integrated which prevented him from preaching in South Africa until 1973 where he preached a message of unity in Christ.
Preaching in Johannesburg in 1973, Graham said, “Christ belongs to all people. He belongs to the whole world.…I reject any creed based on hate…Christianity is not a white man’s religion, and don’t let anybody ever tell you that it’s white or black.”
Graham spoke to people of all ethnicities, creeds and backgrounds. Early in his career, he denounced racism when desegregation was not popular. Before the U.S. Supreme Court banned discrimination on a racial basis, Graham held desegregated Crusades, even in the Deep South. He declined invitations to speak in South Africa for 20 years, choosing instead to wait until the meetings could be integrated. Integration occurred in 1973, and only then did Graham make the trip to South Africa.
Graham had the ear of Presidents having the occassion to pray with every President from Harry S. Truman to Barack Obama. He provided spiritual counsel, but did not engage in partisan politics. His focus throughout his life was the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
He said this during his final crusade in Flushing, NY in 2005:
“I have one message: that Jesus Christ came, he died on a cross, he rose again, and he asked us to repent of our sins and receive him by faith as Lord and Savior, and if we do, we have forgiveness of all of our sins.”
Graham’s wife Ruth passed away in 2007 at the age of 87. He is survived by his sister Jean Ford, his children Franklin, Anne, Gigi, Ned and Ruth; 19 grandchildren; and numerous great-grandchildren.
Upon hearing the news that Billy Graham was called home, I was reminded of what the Apostle Paul wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” (2 Timothy 4:7, ESV).
Well done Mr. Graham, well done.