(Editor’s Note: On the anniversary of Billy Graham’s death (February 21, 2018) …reposting a piece I wrote earlier.)
My grandfather was pastor of a large church in the beautiful mountain town of Asheville, NC, back in the 1940s. During that time, a young youth evangelist began coming to hear my grandfather on Sunday evenings. Thus began a long friendship.
When my grandfather became president of Toccoa Falls Institute some years later, he asked his friend, Dr. Billy Graham, to come speak on the 50th anniversary of the school’s founding. Graham’s message was so compelling and clear that day, even a young boy like me could understand its significance.
Yes, I knew I had to make a decision. So shaking and barely able to breathe, I leaned over and whispered to my mom that I wanted to walk up to the front of that stage and publicly pray that prayer that Billy Graham would lead so many thousands of people through during his life. Now the stage had been quickly and somewhat primitively erected on a softball field, but for a five-year-old boy nervously praying aloud in front of about a thousand people, I felt like I was standing oh so close to the gates of heaven.
Years later, I personally met Billy in Brussels at a press conference during his crusade and International Youth Conference at Eurofest. I was struck by three things…his imposing stature (he stood about 6’2″ but seemed taller!), his striking blue eyes and the spiritual presence he had when he shook your hand. He had a focused clarity of concern about the message of the Gospel…both in his public communication and his more private, interpersonal exchanges. (Oh, and he introduced me to his film director of “The Hiding Place,” Jim Collier. Thus began my serious interest in film…)
Billy was gracious and caring, but Dr. Graham spoke with clear authority in alignment with scripture…and also always held himself personally accountable with trusted advisors and mentors. It’s difficult to even begin to fathom the impact of the life of this young man from the mountains of Western Carolina. That said, good to keep in mind that in God’s economy, there are no little people, no little places…