On Wednesday of last week, the world lost the greatest evangelist it has ever known when Billy Graham passed away. My wife Hope and I are both employees at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Her for almost 7 years, myself for a little over 6. We’ve been preparing for Dr. Graham’s passing for our entire tenure, others were preparing long before. For all of the preparation, it still came as somewhat of a surprise, even though he was 99 years old. As employees, we begin each day in staff devotions in the dining hall at BGEA. As our time was wrapping up, we saw people getting up and leaving before the speaker had finished. I looked over at Hope and said “I’ll bet Dr. Graham has passed away.” Sure enough, as we headed to our desks a few minutes later, I felt my phone vibrate. Looking down, I saw a news alert from a local Charlotte station confirming it. By the time we made it to our desks, the news had spread to most of our other co-workers. In that moment, I stopped and imagined what heaven must have been like as Dr. Graham made his entrance. I imagined Jesus welcoming him with open arms, then pointing to the millions of people who were impacted by his preaching. I imagined him getting to see his beloved Ruth again after 10 years. I imagined him being reunited with the two other men who partnered with him so faithfully as they built BGEA, George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows.
As a child of the 70s and 80s, I had some great memories of Billy Graham from my youth. I distinctly remember what an event it was when one of his Crusades would be televised. Visions of my family gathered around a tube TV that only picked up three channels on the rabbit ear antenna. Or being at my grandmother’s house or my aunt’s house and watching them make sure that all of the day’s work was wrapped up so they could get in front of the TV in time for the Crusade to start. One of the added bonuses was when Johnny Cash opened the Crusade! Many times, Dr. Graham was on more than one of those channels. You see, this was in the time before cable or satellite TV was readily available, at least to us. We couldn’t turn the channel to ESPN to watch a game, or to HGTV to watch a home-reno show, or to one of the many cable news networks to watch talking heads argue with each other. Billy Graham was what was on, and he captivated our attention with his booming voice that was both direct and loving at the same time.
There will never be another like Billy Graham. Not because there aren’t great men of God who stand faithfully and preach the Gospel and preach it well, but because our world has changed so much. Dr. Graham was tireless in his efforts to travel to all parts of the world. He was also a pioneer and a visionary when it came to spreading the Gospel through the media. He used radio and TV in such a way that will never be duplicated. For anyone under that age of, say 35, it is difficult to understand what life was like as Dr. Graham’s ministry was in its prime in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. For anyone under 20, it is nearly unfathomable how one man could be so prominent on all of the communications streams that were available at the time. Today’s equivalent would be someone who would be the only viewing option on everyone’s tablet, smartphone, streaming service, radio and television. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this is virtually impossible. I would venture to say that as even as great as Billy Graham was, had the prime of his ministry happened in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s instead of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the impact wouldn’t have been near as massive. The message would have certainly been just as powerful, but people would have had the option to tune out and tune in to something else. Dr. Graham and the BGEA team knew this very well, and God granted them favor and wisdom to use everything at their fingertips to share the love of Christ.
It took a man of character and humility to have the impact that he did. Had Billy Graham been a lesser man, a man of pride or ego, his ministry would have been small and short-lived no matter how smart he and his team were in using media. This is exactly why God chose to bless them. My time at BGEA came long after the prime of his ministry, but there is absolutely no mistaking his legacy. Accounts of his humility, leadership and integrity are still repeated inside this building even though in his later years he was rarely here. The well-publicized “Billy Graham Rule”, where two people of the opposite sex are not to be alone with each other without a third person around, is still part of how we operate today. It applies to every single employee at BGEA. Some may think it is a hassle to deal with, and many more think that it is old-fashioned, but it is difficult to dispute that it protects marriages and homes. I believe that 50 years ago, Billy Graham, Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea and their team could see that. That kind of foresight and wisdom isn’t normal, it comes through prayer and obedience.
My prayer during this week is going to be that through his death, people who never heard of Billy Graham are going to discover more about him. Through that, they will undoubtedly be exposed to the Gospel that he so faithfully preached. Thank you, Dr. Graham, for standing firm through the decades. Thank you for establishing the legacy that you did, there are countless numbers of us who continue to walk in the blessings.