by Elizabeth Folsom
Dr. Billy Graham, it seems almost foreign to me to just refer to him as “Graham,” has been a beacon in my life for as long as I can remember. He always exalted the highest standards of being a Christian, a warrior for the Holy Spirit in spreading the Gospel worldwide to thousands of people of all nations.
It would have been most unusual if I had not heard of Billy Graham or been affected by him in my life. Most of the evangelists I follow, such as Don Wilton, Encouraging Word, and Rick Warren, author of A Purpose-Driven Life, had personal relationships with him. Even my own pastor, Russell Hines, Open Door Baptist Church of Kansas City, Kansas, and his wife were directly affected by one of Billy Graham’s radio broadcasts in their own salvation.
Since 1949 when the newspaper mogul, William Randolph Hearst, first perceived Billy Graham, he informed his staff to “puff Graham.” As controversial a subject as Hearst was throughout his own life, he recognized quality, sincerity and integrity in Billy which only goes to show that, indeed, the Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways.
However, since Billy Graham was forever made popular and respected by anyone who ever met or listened to him by his simple message that God loves us, just as we are, he influenced other Christian leaders determined to help spread the word. These leaders started churches, mission groups and youth groups that continue to affect people and youth to this very day.
Billy Graham traveled the world, met with presidents but was also very humble in his presentation of Jesus that you knew he was talking to himself as well as you during his sermons. His crusades and television presentations and books and rallies showing him with every section of the human race inspired me to be a better person, a better Christian, a lover of humanity as a whole. As a result of his worldwide influence and being coined as “America’s Pastor,” he has been given the honor to reside in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda Feb. 28-March 1.
I remember as a teenager, a reporter friend of my mother’s came back from a conference where Billy Graham attended. “I met with the great man!” he said in awe. “I met Billy Graham.”
I never had that privilege, but I did get to meet his very influential son, Franklin Graham, “CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) and of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief organization,” quite by chance.
While working with the Wyandotte Daily News several years ago, I covered the ground breaking of the Victory Junction Camp Midwest, a camp for chronically ill children in Wyandotte County (which has been placed on hold for some time). Franklin Graham had driven a motorcycle, along with about 50 to 100 more hearty enthusiasts, across country to this event.
I did not know he was in attendance until I heard him give the benediction for the lunch provided to volunteers. From the first utterance, I recognized his voice because it is so like his father’s, strong and confident, that I knew it had to be him.
I took the opportunity to introduce myself and interview him. I then asked quite flippantly at the end of the interview about the camp, “How’s your Daddy doing?” because Billy Graham had been so much in my mind my entire life, it was like inquiring of a distant relative.
Graham replied, “He was walking across the floor the other day with his walker, turned to me and said, ‘Don’t ever get old!’”
We both had a good laugh.
Tuesday, Feb. 21, when I heard of Billy Graham’s passing, I realized I was not tearful or mournful as people would expect Christians to be. Billy Graham served his life better than any man or woman has ever done to my knowledge. He preached the simple Gospel of Jesus and let people know that “Just as I am” is where everyone of us stands. He has now been graduated to his reward and we celebrate his victory.
As a last thought, Franklin Graham shared on his Twitter page Feb. 22 his father’s advice to all of us who wish to mourn for the passing of this great man who literally changed the world:
“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.” –@BillyGraham
There was a reason why the late Billy Graham used the hymnal “Just as I am” at the end of all of his services. His messages were full of the reason that, no matter who we are or what we have done in our lives, God will accept us and cleanse us with Jesus blood. In other words, “just as I am.”
Elizabeth Folsom is a former writer for the Wyandotte Daily and the Wyandotte West.