My home is sandwiched between Billy Graham’s homes. Today, I was present to witness the procession carrying his body from his adult home in Montreat to his childhood one in Charlotte, right past my small town. Right past people old and young, many too young to have known him in his vibrancy. Past people of all races who came to pay tribute to a life well-lived.
Along with hundreds who lined the route, I remembered my encounters with the humble man, pastor to presidents and the most famous preacher and evangelist of the 20th century. Billy Graham could frequently be seen on our television set when I was growing up. I’d flip through the small number of channels we had in those days, looking for something more interesting, and I’d skim by one of his crusades. It only took a few words of that commanding voice to hook me in to his simple message: Just as I am, I can come to Jesus. He never deviated from speaking about the gospel and the cross.
I heard him a few times in person. The first time was in 1972 in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. My church’s youth group rented a bus and drove down from Maryland for Explo ’72, a weeklong training culminating with him and his good friend, Bill Bright, speaking to the crowd of 80,000 young people. I remember there was a downpour, but when Dr. Graham stood up, the sun broke through. I thought it was the rapture.
You probably read a quote that went viral hours after Billy Graham’s death.
Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you 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.
It perfectly sums up his life, and Billy Graham did say it, but he isn’t the original author. He reworded the opening lines of The Autobiography of Dwight L. Moody, the most prominent preacher and evangelist of the 19th century. I think Moody would’ve been honored.
Some day you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody, of East Northfield, is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now. I shall have gone up higher, that is all; out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal—a body that death cannot touch; that sin cannot taint; a body fashioned like unto His glorious body.
Today, I think of Bill Bright’s homegoing celebration among the staff of Cru at their summer training. I missed that; I was no longer on staff. But I watched it online, crying along with everyone present as they shared memories of another humble man of God, another man who kept his message focused on Jesus. Another good and faithful servant who received his “Well-done!”
I think of the Sunday school class in Hollywood, California in the early 1950s. Participants included a dairy farmer from North Carolina named Billy Graham, a candy salesman from Oklahoma named Bill Bright, and many more who went on to influence their generation. You would expect the teacher to be someone of the caliber of D.L. Moody. Instead, these men (and women) who would soon start and lead world-changing movements were inspired by a school teacher, a single woman, whose name you may have never heard. Henrietta Mears.
God can use anyone. And he does.