Billy Graham, Evangelist to the World, Dies at Age 99
“There were a few times when I thought I was dying, and I saw my whole life come before me…I didn’t say to the Lord, ‘I’m a preacher, and I’ve preached to many people.’ I said, ‘Oh Lord, I’m a sinner, and I still need Your forgiveness. I still need the cross.’” – Billy Graham, Cincinnati Crusade, June 24, 2002.
World-renowned Evangelist Billy Graham died at his home in Montreat, North Carolina. He was 99.
Throughout his life, Billy Graham preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to some 215 million people who attended one of his more than 400 Crusades, simulcasts, and evangelistic rallies. He reached millions more through TV, video, film, the internet, and 34 books, reaching souls across more than 185 countries and territories and 6 continents. He founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, incorporated in 1950, which employs some 500 people worldwide.
Evangelist Graham has the distinction of praying with every U.S. president from Harry S. Truman to Barack Obama. He was a champion for desegregation and was a voice of hope and guidance in times of trial. In 2001, he comforted his country and the world when he spoke at the National Cathedral in Washington, following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. At three global conferences held in Amsterdam (1983, 1986, 2000), Graham gathered some 23,000 evangelists from 208 countries and territories to train them to carry the message of Jesus Christ around the world.
Evangelist Billy Graham has the distinction of praying with every U.S. president from Harry S. Truman to Barack Obama.
During the week of his 95th birthday in 2013, Graham delivered his final message via more than 480 television stations across the U.S. and Canada. More than 26,000 churches participated in this My Hope project, making it the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s largest evangelistic outreach ever in North America.
Answering the Call
Born Nov. 7, 1918, four days before the armistice ended World War I, William Franklin “Billy” Graham Jr. was raised on a dairy farm in Charlotte, NC. He grew up during the Great Depression which helped to develop his strong work ethic. Back then, “Billy Frank,” as he was called, preferred baseball to religion. “I detested going to church,” he said when recalling his youth.
In 1934, Graham was persuaded by a friend to attend a revival led by traveling evangelist Mordecai Fowler Ham, 15-year-old Graham, who had been opposed to evangelism, found himself going back night after night. “The spirit of God began to speak to me as I went,” said Graham. Astonished, he found himself committing his life to serving Jesus Christ. “One night, when the invitation was given to accept Jesus, I just said, ‘Lord, I’m going.’ I knew I was headed in a new direction,” he said.
Several years later, Graham’s “new direction” led him to the Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College of Florida), and later, to Wheaton College in suburban Chicago. There he met fellow student Ruth McCue Bell, the daughter of medical missionaries in China. The couple graduated and married in the summer of 1943. Mr. and Mrs. Graham and their five children made their home in the mountains of North Carolina.
In 1945, Billy Graham began traveling as a speaker for the Youth for Christ organization. Two years later, he held his first official evangelistic crusade, but in he captured the nation’s attention at the 1949 Los Angeles Crusade. Originally scheduled to run for three weeks, the “tent meetings” were extended for a total of eight weeks as hundreds of thousands of men, women and children gathered to hear Graham’s messages.
On the heels of this campaign, Graham started the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which was incorporated in 1950.
Breaking Down Barriers
Graham spoke to people of all ethnicities, creeds, and backgrounds. Early in his career, he denounced racism when desegregation was not popular. Before the U.S. Supreme Court banned discrimination on a racial basis, Graham held desegregated Crusades, even in the Deep South. He declined invitations to speak in South Africa for 20 years, choosing instead to wait until the meetings could be integrated. Integration occurred in 1973, and only then did Graham make the trip to South Africa.
While preaching in Johannesburg in 1973, Graham said, “Christ belongs to all people. He belongs to the whole world…I reject any creed based on hate…Christianity is not a white man’s religion, and don’t let anybody ever tell you that it’s white or black.”
In 1973, Graham also addressed more than one million people crowded into Yoido Plaza in Seoul, South Korea—the largest live audience of his Crusades. A 1977 trip to communist-led Hungary opened doors for Graham to conduct preaching missions in virtually every country of the former Eastern Bloc (including the Soviet Union), as well as China and North Korea. Throughout his career, Graham preached to millions in locations from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Zagorsk, Russia; and from Wellington, New Zealand to the National Cathedral in Washington.
Graham authored 34 books, including his memoir, Just As I Am (Harper Collins, 1997), which remained on The New York Times best-seller list for 18 weeks. In 1996, Graham and his wife, Ruth, received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award Congress can bestow on a private citizen. He was also listed by Gallup as one of the “Ten Most Admired Men” 61 times—including 55 consecutive years (except 1976, when the question was not asked). Graham was cited by the George Washington Carver Memorial Institute for his contributions to race relations and by the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai B’rith.
Living for the Lord
Throughout his life, Billy Graham was faithful to his calling: Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Said Graham at his final Crusade in June 2005 at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in New York:
“I have one message: that Jesus Christ came, he died on a cross, he rose again, and he asked us to repent of our sins and receive him by faith as Lord and Savior, and if we do, we have forgiveness of all of our sins.”
William Graham died peacefully in his sleep on February 2018. His wife of 64 years, Ruth, preceded him in death on June 14, 2007, at age 87. He is survived by his sister Jean Ford; daughters Gigi, Anne and Ruth; sons Franklin and Ned; 19 grandchildren; and numerous great-grandchildren.
Adapted from information on BillyGraham.org, where notes of remembrance may be posted. Featured Image: Billy Graham Center Archives
Hear Pastor Andrae Crouch minister to the congregation at the Billy Graham Crusade in New Mexico, 1975: