Many have called him the most influential person in America during the last half of the twentieth century. Through him and, more importantly, his message, countless lives have been changed. And there’s no telling how much impact those changed lives have had on others. He was a counselor to presidents and kings for over seventy years. And he was still amazed that God could ever use “a farm boy from North Carolina.” He is Billy Graham.
Like many of you, I’ve been familiar with Billy Graham for most of those seventy years. The Billy Graham Crusades were on television often during my childhood. I would watch sometimes with interest and, to be honest, sometimes out of boredom. (Remember, there were only three channels back in those days.) But, no matter what was the reason for watching, Billy Graham was planting the seed of Jesus Christ in my life during those television programs. During those teen years, I can also remember attending one of those Billy Graham Evangelistic Association movies with my church’s teen group at the old Austin theatre (yes, I’m that old) here in Clinton. I don’t remember anything about the movie, but the seeds were still being planted.
After becoming a Christian in 1972, I attended a Billy Graham Crusade in 1973 at Carter Stadium (it wasn’t even Carter-Finley yet) in Raleigh. Over the years since, I’ve received teaching and encouragement through his ministry. During that past few years, I’ve been able to attend seminars and programs at the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove near Asheville.
I was reminded of these events while reading “Billy Graham & Me,” a book of personal stories from people who know Dr. Graham, and the impact he has had on their lives. The 101 short personal stories are from a variety of people, like southern rocker legend Charlie Daniels, pro golfer Gary Player, newsman Dan Rather and former President George Bush. Some of the stories are from people who are personal acquaintances of Billy Graham, who may not had known him real well, but have been impacted by him. There were many, however, from close personal friends and family; and through them we get to see a more personal side of the great evangelist.
As I was reading the book, I noticed a couple of themes mentioned in almost all of the stories. First, almost every person who wrote was amazed with the humbleness of Dr. Graham. One writer stated that Billy Graham “didn’t think less of himself. He just thought less about himself and more about others.” He lived in the same modest log home up a winding road in Montreat, N.C., for over fifty years. He never saw himself as anything special, only a willing vessel for God to use. And maybe that’s why God has used him so mightily.
The second theme mentioned often in the book is Billy Graham’s consistency and faithfulness. One writer put it simply, “When you see Billy, you see Billy.” He was faithful to his calling of an evangelist over the years, and, with very few exceptions, stayed above any religious and political arguments. Dr. Graham’s faithfulness could also be seen in his marriage of over sixty years to his wife, Ruth. An example of this was that, despite all the traveling and the time away from home with the ministry, he had a policy of never being alone with any other woman other than his wife.
Billy Graham passed away last week after being in declining health for several years. His beloved wife, Ruth, passed away in 2007. Over 58 years, the Rev. Billy Graham preached at 417 crusades in 185 countries and territories worldwide, reaching 84 million people face to face and a total of 215 million by satellite feeds. I’m sure he would be a little surprised and embarrassed by all the fuss and ceremony given him since his death After all, in his eyes, he was just a “farm boy from North Carolina” doing what God called him to do. And for that, we all are grateful.
Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at email@example.com.