“I am so thankful that I had the blessing of living during the time that Dr. Billy Graham has been preaching the Gospel.”
Those words by Georgia Baptist Mission Board Executive Director J. Robert White match many others today regarding the life and ministry of William Franklin Graham, Jr. The world knew him as Billy. Eternity knows him as a good and faithful servant.
The 99-year-old earthly body of Graham died at 7:46 a.m. yesterday at his mountaintop cabin near Montreat, NC. Graham had been living with numerous illnesses the last few years, including prostate cancer, fluid buildup on the brain, and symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. He is preceded in death by his wife of 64 years, Ruth, who died in 2007.
The son of a North Carolina dairy farmer, Graham was more about baseball than Jesus until at 15 years old he attended a revival led by Mordecai Fowler Ham.
“I was opposed to evangelism,” Graham is recorded in his official obituary as saying. “But finally, I was persuaded by a friend [to go to a meeting] … and the spirit of God began to speak to me as I went back night after night. 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.”
That step led to a preaching ministry ultimately presenting the gospel to some 215 million souls via more than 400 crusades, simulcasts, and evangelistic rallies in over 195 countries and territories. Millions more heard him through TV, video, film, and books. Thanks to the Internet, Graham will continue to preach in perpetuity.
Expressions of thanks
“Throughout his long and faithful ministry there has been the clearest expression of integrity in his ministry and in his dealings with people around the world,” White testified.
Graham’s delivery of the Gospel left people with little choice but to respond, added White, calling the evangelist “a trusted prophet sent from God” in the eyes of those listening.
Georiga Baptists joined others around the Southern Baptist Convention and the country in paying homage to the man called “America’s Preacher.”
“R.I.P. to Billy Graham, a true general of the faith,” posted Gabriel Stovall, Clayton State University Baptist Collegiate Ministries director, on Facebook.
“Just heard my hero and role model, Billy Graham, had passed into glory … God’s choice servant! He finished well,” exclaimed Ike Reighard, pastor of Piedmont Church in Marietta, on Twitter.
Al O’Quinn, pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in McDonough, echoed those words. “Billy Graham was my hero! I grew up watching all his crusades on TV and attending a couple of them,” he also said on Twitter. “What young preacher didn’t want to be like Billy Graham? What a witness!”
John Blackmon, pastor of Meansville Baptist Church, wasn’t the only one to point out Graham’s efforts toward racial reconciliation.
“Billy Graham led in this fight in incalculable ways,” Blackmon wrote on his website. “He caused a stir when he invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to pray at his New York City crusade in 1957. He personally removed ropes intended to segregate crowds in Chattanooga, TN in 1953. Other times he boldly insisted on the integration of crowds or said he would not come to cities from Jonesboro, Arkansas to Jackson, Mississippi to Johannesburg, South Africa.
“His actions speak louder than words. These are real gospel moments when the man of God insisted on bringing together the people of God.”
Other voices paying tribute included:
Johnny Hunt, pastor, First Baptist Church Woodstock:
Meteorologist David Chandley of Fox 5 in Atlanta, a member of Passion City Church, gave a weather update regarding the famed evangelist’s death.
Evangelist Brian Fossett:
Pastor Ken Alford, Crossroads Baptist Church, Valdosta:
Georgia Baptist Collegiate Ministries, asking for testimonies:
Harris Malcom, Georgia Baptist regional state missionary:
Johnson Ferry Baptist in Marietta won’t be the only church altering its sign to honor the legendary evangelist.
Other Baptist leaders pay respect
“Billy Graham is with Jesus. He has seen and talked with our beloved Savior. May the awareness of his death result in many people hearing the Gospel and being converted to Jesus Christ!” said Steve Gaines, SBC president and pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis.
Added Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee: “As I came to Christ as a young man out of a non-Christian home, he became a mentor to me from afar. I admired his preaching, his life and his integrity. I told him so years ago when I got to meet with him. Heaven is a richer place today.”
Graham’s final column was released the day of his death.
“I’m sure I’ve failed in many ways, but I take comfort in Christ’s promise of forgiveness, and I take comfort also in God’s ability to take even our most imperfect efforts and use them for His glory,” he wrote.
“By the time you read this, I will be in heaven, and as I write this I’m looking forward with great anticipation to the day when I will be in God’s presence forever.”
This Saturday a private family prayer service will be held at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, NC. Georgia Baptists familiar with Ridgecrest Baptist Conference Center could personally witness the funeral motorcade scheduled to leave Asheville around 11:30 and proceed through the town of Black Mountain onward to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte. There, it will arrive around 3 p.m. Graham’s body will lie in repose at the library from 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 26-27.
On Wednesday, Feb. 28, Graham’s body will be brought to the U.S. Capitol. There it will lie in honor in the Rotunda until the next day for members of the public to visit. Graham is only the fourth person to receive the honor, joining two Capitol police officers killed in 1998 and Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks.
A private funeral for Graham will be held at noon in Charlotte on Friday, March 2 at the Billy Graham Library in a tent reminiscent of the evangelist’s early Crusades that made him famous. He will be buried in the prayer garden next to his wife, Ruth. Like his wife, his body will lie in a simple plywood coffin made by inmates from Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola.