As someone who was alive all during the ministry of Dr. Graham, I was asked to recall the memories I have of him. I remember as a youngster listening with my parents to his radio program “Hour of Decision.” Then, my parents purchased their first TV in 1952, and I recall seeing his “crusades” on TV. The year I graduated from high school, my friend Dale and I decided to attend “A Youth for Christ” camp at Winona Lake, Indiana. Dr. Graham (who was one of the founders of Youth for Christ), Cliff Barrows, and George Beverly Shea were there for the entire week. As a special guest, Ethel Waters was there. It was certainly a blessing I’ve never forgotten. We’re talking sixty-four years ago, so Dr. Graham was 35 years old, and I was 17. You might say it had a lasting impression on me.
The next time I attended a crusade was around 1968 in Hartford, CN. By that time, I had spent four years in the Air Force, was married with children, and was working at a bank in Hartford. I had drifted away from the Lord but hearing there was a Billy Graham Crusade in town, I felt compelled to go. On that occasion, I felt very convicted, but stubbornly refused to admit my guilt and condition.
In the year 2000, the Billy Graham Crusade came to St. Louis. I had totally given my heart to the Lord in 1982, so this time I wanted to really be a part of it. A friend of mine here in this church decided we would not only sing in the choir, but we would also volunteer to be “counselors.” I learned what really went into one of these “crusades.” The crusade asked churches in the community to form groups who would pray for the crusade weeks before it started. They sent people to have choir rehearsals and train counselors. They also had people committed to follow up with those who made “decisions” during the crusade. A lot of prayer, work, and cooperation went into the effort. It always amazed me to see the number of people who came forward at each invitation, but now I was beginning to understand why. The Holy Spirit was asked to be there, to touch hearts and lives, and the Bible says, “When you ask, you shall receive”. I remember hearing Kurt Warner, the quarterback for the St Louis Rams, give his testimony of faith. I remember music by Charlie Daniels, Michael W. Smith, and of course, George Beverly Shea.
When Dr. Graham gave his message, people would listen. I believe most people considered him a “Man of God.” He always spoke with a passion and conviction, and his message never deviated. He would emphasize that “God Loves You,” whoever you are, whatever you’ve done. He always included the “Gospel” as it says in I Corinthians 15:3-4: “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures”. Dr. Graham didn’t hesitate to say that heaven and hell were real places and people were given a choice. “Now” is always the time to make that choice. There was no guarantee of a “tomorrow.” Although there were thousands of people attending the crusade, you felt like he was speaking directly to you. How many came to know Jesus because of Billy Graham—only God knows. But, looking back on his life, no one can say he was not faithful in “planting the seed,” and praying for the Holy Spirit to do His work.
One other thing I remember, Dr. Graham always wanted the same Invitational Hymn…. “Just as I am, without one plea, but that His blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!”
Yes, Dr. Graham had an impact on my life, and continues to have an impact. He was a humble, devoted, disciplined, passionate servant of Jesus. He was a rare “Evangelist” who “walked the talk.” The media thinks we should “mourn,” but I rejoice for Billy Graham. I know he is having a great reunion with his wife, Ruth, and her parents (who were missionaries in China), with George Beverly Shea, Cliff Barrows, and thousands, perhaps millions, of saints who are there because they heard his message. If you are a believer, you have the promise of joining that group someday—praising, rejoicing, and fellowshipping with all the saints of heaven.
By the way, “the Graham Team” (Billy, Cliff, and George B. Shea) were blessed with long lives. Cliff Barrows (92 years), Billy (99 years) and George Beverly Shea (104 years). It pays to follow God’s will!!