Billy Graham: The Story of a Gospel General – In Memoriam

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Billy Graham: The Story of a Gospel General

1918 - 2018

When dairy farmer William Franklin Graham Sr. and his wife first held their son in the autumn of 1918, little did they imagined that this boy would change the landscape of evangelism of the 20th-century. No; William Franklin Graham Jr. – Billy, for short – only imbibed himself in books, swung on trees like Tarzan and gave out a yell with a thundering voice that the world, many decades later, would hear. Despite being diligently raised in a local Presbyterian church, Graham’s life was not smooth-sailing – in fact, his youth group considered him “too worldly.” He was almost expelled from Bob Jones College – if not for the words of Bob Jones Sr. himself, “You have a voice that pulls. God can use that voice of yours. He can use it mightily.”

Graham did use that voice; he preached his first sermon in 1937 before the Bostwick Baptist Church congregation while he was a student. His calling, however, came in an unexpected way. In his autobiography, Billy wrote of hearing God's "calling on the 18th green of the Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club." His epiphany in faith happened in the middle of the woods where he paddled a canoe and freely preach on birds, alligators, and stumps of cypress.

It was in Wheaton when Graham finished his degree in Anthropology, and where he met his wife, Ruth Bell. From 1943, Graham served the First Baptist Church in Western Spring, Illinois. But the pulpit was not enough to contain his voice.

When Torrey Johnson, host of Songs in the Night, confided that his radio show was about to be cancelled, Billy Graham, with the support of his church in Western Springs, took over the program and relaunched it in January of 1944. The ministry continued for many years, but Graham's prospects did not stop there. At the age of 29, he became the youngest president of a college, heading the Northwestern Bible College, Minneapolis for five years. He intended to become a chaplain in the Armed Forces, but Youth for Christ, where he re-joins Johnson, hired him as a full-time evangelist.

Billy Graham's first crusades included revival meetings in circus tents erected in parking lots. This attracted the media, which in a way, amplified the Christian voice in a worldly manner. Crowds grew into thousands. He would, unapologetically, preach the Gospel and invite people to come forward, and later on give a Bible study booklet for further reading. In 1992, one of his largest crowds responded to him: one-fourth of the 155,000 attendees heeded his call, resounding the lyrics of Just as I am – his favourite altar call hymn.

Graham's powerful voice was heard all over the White House; he was a pastor to the presidents and wisely integrated the use of emerging technologies to spread the Word. He was everywhere: in the radio, television, books, magazines and the Internet. Despite the clamour for his presence, his humility and integrity did not wane. The fire, he admits, was not through him. “I am not a great preacher, and I don’t claim to be a great preacher,” said Graham. “I’m just communicating the Gospel in the best way I know how.”

Right in the heart of the modern evangelical movement was Billy Graham – a servant-leader who ferociously committed himself in widening the reach of the Word through many various means. At February 21, 2018, the world lost a brother, but heaven receives a son.