Billy Graham died this morning, February 21, 2018, and I must add my voice to the many tributes that are pouring in from all over the world. It is difficult to convey in words what this man has meant in my life ever since I was 12 years old.
It all began in a farmhouse in southern Saskatchewan Canada.
“Who is Billy Graham?” I asked my sister Esther when she came into my bedroom to tell me that we were going to go to see a film that starred Billy Graham. “He is an evangelist in the United States and when he preaches hundreds get saved,” she said. That evening my older brother drove the rest of us to a town about 20 miles away to see Mr. Texas, the first film produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic association. I was mesmerized by vignettes of a young, energetic Billy Graham preaching to a packed stadium in Houston, Texas. From that day on I had but one earthly hero: Billy Graham.
I began to listen to The Hour of Decision regularly; I read Billy Graham’s book, Peace with God, and even used material from it when I preached my first sermon at the age of 16. Like many young men who feel called to preach, I began to impersonate Billy Graham, always pretending that it was I who was speaking to those large crowds!
As the years progressed I continued to admire Billy Graham for his integrity and his faith in the simple message of the gospel. I was amazed at his humility despite having world-wide fame and the adoration of millions.
God had a surprise for this farm boy from Canada. In 1980 I became the Senior Pastor of The Moody Church, and in 1988 Billy Graham spoke here at a rally commemorating the past ministry of Youth for Christ. I spent a few moments alone with him, and finally had the opportunity to tell him how I had followed him throughout the years and how much he meant to me. “That’s too bad,” came his surprising reply. “I am such an unworthy servant of the Lord, and nobody should ever follow me.”
So there he was. The man I’d admired throughout the many years, the man who had a greater impact on my life than I could ever tell—that man, sitting on a couch in my study, was more humble and unassuming than I could have imagined.
This morning, when I heard he had died, I immediately spoke to his oldest daughter Gigi and his grandson Will. As Will was weeping over the phone I told him, “So sad…but just think of the many people your grandfather took with him to heaven!”
As Billy Graham entered into the presence of the Lord today, he did so not as a famous evangelist but as a humble servant totally dependent on the salvation of Christ. He heard “well done” not because of his preaching to large crowds, but rather for being faithful to his calling.
Thanks, Billy. I look forward to meeting you again and thanking you once more for the impact you had on the life of this farm boy.