“Billy Graham is more alive than he’s ever been,” my daughter Amanda texted early on February 21st. And I knew: Billy would celebrate his 100th birthday in heaven.
In the evangelical world, Billy had no equal. Over his more than six decades of worldwide evangelistic “crusades” as they were called, not even a whisper of a scandal tainted his ministry. He preached to more than 210 million people, and his words changed millions of lives. In a Ladies Home Journal poll, he was chosen as the most trustworthy man alive, next to God. If Protestants had a Pope, Billy may have been chosen for that too, though he would have shunned the post.
Six feet two, wavy hair, piercing eyes, angular features, strong chin. His appearance remained as iconic as that of Queen Elizabeth, whose friendship he cherished and whose timeline ran parallel to his own. That face showed up on every major media outlet on the day he died. For many, myself included, memories came galloping.
…Mid 1960s. Crowds overflow the Vancouver football stadium. Billy has just finished preaching. “Won’t you come? Jesus is calling. Tomorrow may be too late.” A thousand-voice choir, mine among them, sings, “Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood, was shed for me…”
People leave their seats by the hundreds; walking, running to the far side of the field. Billy stands on the platform, open Bible in one hand, the other thrust into the air, still inviting as counselors pray with those who have come seeking the only thing that can fill the vacancy in their hearts: Jesus Christ himself.
For the majority of the last Century the tall man with the humble spirit and clarion voice, the pastor to presidents, blanketed the world with the simple but profound Biblical gospel . “There is only one way to God,” he preached, “and that is through accepting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. No matter who you are, pauper or King, you will one day bow before him, too.”
From leaders of nations to children, people listened and people responded. I was one of those children.
In later life, when asked by a member of the media if he felt there was any danger that his effect on the world may pass. He answered, “My effect, yes, as a person, will. Definitely. I thought it would have passed long ago. But the gospel I preach has been going for two thousand years, and in my opinion is much stronger now than it ever was.””
When an interviewer asked Billy what he’d like people to say about him after his death, he answered, “I want to hear one person say something nice about me and that’s the Lord, when I face him. I want him to say to me, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’” He heard that on February 21st ,2018.
See you later, Billy. And thank you.