Reflections on the Passing of Rev. Billy Graham, One of the Greatest Christian Heroes of Our Time
Ed Stetzer, who holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair at Wheaton College (Billy Graham’s alma mater), shares his thoughts. |
Image: Billy Graham Center Archives
Eighty million people. That’s the number of people that Rev. Billy Graham is thought to have preached the gospel to during his years of active ministry. This doesn’t include those who heard via radio or film. Millions have come to faith in Christ as a result of his commitment to his Savior and his pursuit of the call of God on his life. He has held the position ofone of the most admired people in America more than any other individual.
Billy Graham was beloved by both Christians and non-Christians, admired by those who love Jesus and those who have rejected Him. And with his passing today, we are at a loss for words in many ways.
His impact on modern Global Christianity is unparalleled. And yet His life calling was one of simple obedience. “My one purpose in life,” Rev. Graham once said, “is to help people find a personal relationship with God, which, I believe, comes through knowing Christ.”
In the Billy Graham Center, where I work, we have an entire section devoted to the life and ministry of Rev. Graham. On the walls are panoramic pictures of him at Crusades, him with his family, him on magazines, and perhaps most importantly, him praying to the God he loved so dearly.
These walls tell the story of Rev. Graham, from the time he was born in 1918 and through his latter days. Having walked through these sections many times, it is hard to believe he is now face to face with the One he told millions about.
William Franklin “Billy” Graham Jr., the eldest of four children, was born on November 7, 1918, near Charlotte, North Carolina. He grew up on a dairy farm, and at the age of 16 went to visit evangelist Mordecai Ham. He trusted in Jesus at one of Ham’s revivals. Graham attended Florida Bible College, where he received his call to ministry, and later Wheaton College, where he met his future wife, Ruth Bell, the daughter of a medical missionary. The couple had five children.
While attending Wheaton College, Graham became pastor of the United Gospel Tabernacle and later served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Western Springs, Illinois, after which he took over the radio program “Songs in the Night” from his friend and fellow evangelist Torrey Johnson. In 1947, at the age of 30, Graham was named as President of Northwestern Bible College in Minneapolis. He served in that position until 1952. During this time he became the first full-time evangelist with Youth for Christ and in 1949 held a crusade in Los Angeles, which launched him into national prominence.
Over his ministry career, Rev. Graham held over 400 crusades in 185 cities. He also spoke at InterVarsity’s Urbana Student Mission Conference nine times.
In 1950, Rev. Graham founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
It is nearly impossible for me to imagine the welcome he is receiving in heaven, the “well done” spoken directly to him from the One he spent his life telling others about.
As an Evangelical leader, and now holding my position as head of the Center that bears Rev. Graham’s name, it is hard for me to put into words how I feel and respond knowing that he has passed into heaven.
Thankfulness and extreme gratitudetop my list—gratitude that he rarely lost sight of his true calling to proclaim Christ to a lost and hurting world. Rev. Graham was on a mission to tell people about our Savior so much so that he once said, “I’ll preach until there is no breath left in my body. I was called by God, and until God tells me to retire, I cannot. Whatever strength I have, whatever time God lets me have, is going to be dedicated to doing the work of an evangelist, as long as I live.”
Awe and admirationcome in a close second. Rev. Graham was a man who knew what was important. His God, his family, his friends. He didn’t waver in the face of numerous opportunities to be esteemed and lifted high in the sight of man. He didn’t cower in speaking the name of Jesus at all times, in all ways, to all who would hear. His singular vision to see our world know Jesus is nearly unparalleled.