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Remembering Billy Graham, A Good and Faithful Servant

By Jeffry Boatright

The tall, well-spoken servant of the Lord from North Carolina was known as a husband, father, counselor and minister. On a larger scale, Billy Graham was revered as one of history’s greatest evangelists and missionaries. An unofficial title, which resonates with millions, was simply America’s pastor. After decades of steadfast service to God, and fulfilling his life-long call to the ministry, the 99-year-old evangelist passed away on Feb. 25.

Most people are familiar with Rev. Graham’s world-wide ministry and his soothing demeanor from the pulpit, but not everyone is aware that his ministry was officially launched in North Florida. It was in 1939 that Graham, while in his early twenties, was ordained by Peniel Baptist Church in Palatka. According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Graham received a solid foundation in the Scriptures at Florida Bible Institute, which is now Trinity College of Florida.

Graham’s journey with Christ began in 1934 while attending a revival led by Mordecai Ham, a traveling evangelist. We can only wonder if Mr. Ham, who visited Charlotte for a series of revival meetings, would eventually realize the indirect impact that his own ministry would have on the world.

As a young minister, Graham attended Wheaton College in Illinois and graduated in 1943. It was there that he met Ruth McCue Bell. She was the daughter of a missionary surgeon, and according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, had spent the first 17 years of her life in China.

The years to follow carried Graham on a journey that he probably never envisioned while growing up on a North Carolina farm. After pastoring a church in Illinois, his ministry focused on youth and servicemen during World War II. Emerging as a dynamic young evangelist, Graham traveled with the Youth for Christ organization. He shared the Word of God throughout the United States and in Europe at the close of World War II.

According to Reverend James Carrier, God has chosen different men and women from each generation to meet the needs of the people. Billy Graham was called during a time when not only America, but the world was hungry for the gospel. With the dawning of modern transportation and communication, the young evangelist was able to embark on journeys at home and abroad that might have never before been possible. Wherever he went, the crowds followed.

With an organizational structure designed for large crowds, Graham’s ministry flourished. Upon launching a 1949 crusade in Los Angeles, it became evident that the young evangelist offered something that people longed for. The Los Angeles crusade, which was scheduled for three weeks, was extended to more than eight weeks. Each night the crowds overflowed, filling a tent that had been erected downtown.

Billy Graham was simply on fire and people flocked to hear him preach and subsequent crusades offered the same results, especially during those early years. One London crusade lasted for an astonishing 12 weeks. Graham’s 1957 New York City Crusade in Madison Square Garden was extended to 16 weeks, his organization reported.

With gentle, yet urgent discourse, the renowned evangelist had a message to share. He carried that message to more than 185 countries. He was consistent, and his message was simple. He knew his purpose and summed it up well when he said, “My one purpose in life is to help people find a personal relationship with God, which I believe comes from knowing Christ.”

Through his extensive travels, countless crusades and nearly 80 years of ministry, Billy Graham sought to help everyone find that personal relationship with God. He helped break racial barriers and appealed to all denominations of faith. Whether witnessing to the impoverished of undeveloped nations, or providing counsel to America’s presidents, Graham saw all men as God’s creatures.

“When I was president, I was thankful that Billy came to the White House to visit. He has no political agenda. He has an agenda of the Lord,” Former U.S. President George W. Bush has been quoted as saying.

Graham was certainly no stranger to the White House. His presence and counsel have been welcomed since the Presidency of Harry S. Truman. As an ambassador for God, Graham overlooked political barriers at home and abroad. The last place he ever expected to go was to North Korea, but he went. His crusade in the communist state resulted in hundreds of thousands of personal commitments to Christ.

In the end, Billy Graham would surely acknowledge that it was never about him, however. Instead, it was all about the Master he served. God provided countless opportunities and the ability for the respected evangelist to speak directly to over 200 million people. It is widely accepted that no other evangelist in history has reached so many. As Christians, we know that the tall, lanky farm boy from North Carolina with those piercing blue eyes and dynamic voice still serves the Master. Perhaps it was Graham who said it best when he said, “One day you’ll hear that Billy Graham has died. Don’t you believe it. On that day I’ll be more alive than ever before, I’ve just changed addresses.”