CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Earlier this month, my wife Martha Jean and I visited the Billy Graham Library in North Carolina’s Queen City. I was filled with joyful anticipation at the prospect of digesting and absorbing the detailed and diagrammatic biography of one of the world’s most beloved and respected leaders; and I was not disappointed.
In fact, it was one of the most heartfelt, emotional, inspiring experiences of my life. As precious memories of Dr. Graham’s life and ministry were rekindled in my heart, I resolved to live more uprightly, pray more fervently, study God’s Word more conscientiously, write more purposefully, and preach more passionately. I am so glad I made the visit to the Billy Graham Library last week, but I only regret that I did not do it years ago.
Billy Graham’s home in Montreat, N.C. was only a little more than 50 miles from my hometown in North Carolina. When he was in his 30s his preaching on The Hour of Decision radio program won my heart as a young teenager. When Dr. Graham preached his 1957 Crusade in Madison Square Gardens in New York City, I watched every service on Charlotte’s CBS affiliate WBTV. The Crusade was scheduled for eight weeks, but the crowds were so large, and the response was so remarkable that the evangelistic meetings were extended for an additional eight weeks.
The stories and anecdotes of all that happened behind the scenes, the need to prepare additional sermons by day and preach each night, the demands from the press, the sheer exhaustion, the physical toll on Dr. Graham, and his determination to press on would make sufficient fodder for a stirring documentary. The concluding service at Yankee Stadium and the final message on Times Square that attracted as many as 175,000 people according to some radio commentators, thrilled my heart. It was a four-month crusade that changed my life forever.
So, the trip to the Billy Graham Library made a considerable impact upon my life.
When we drove on the property at 4330 Westmont Drive both my wife and I sensed that we had left the attachments of the world for a blessed place of sacred import. We connected with my friend Wayne Atcheson former sports information director for the University of Alabama, author of 8 books, the first Billy Graham Library director, and the senior ambassador and historian for the Library, who took us on a tour through the 40,000-square-foot, sacred facility.
Wayne Atcheson focused on the humility of Dr. Graham and explained that he did not want the library to bear his name. However, when the library was portrayed as a “Crusade” that would continue for future generations, he reconsidered. To date 1.8 million people from 100 countries have toured the library. At the end of the tour each visitor is given the opportunity to watch seven minutes of Dr. Graham’s invitations to trust in Christ’s redeeming grace; and counsellors are prepared to counsel those who want to profess Christ as Savior. The library has 75 employees (some part time), and 200 volunteers, all of whom are devoted to welcome guests and meet their needs.
For more than 3 and ½ hours Martha Jean and I devoured as much of the life and ministry of Billy Graham as we could, but I could have spent another day there without exhausting the message and memorabilia that this beautifully constructed “Journey of Faith” affords. The library chronicles with appealing presentations the life of a young farm boy who became a mighty instrument in the hands of Almighty God.
On the property along with the library is the Graham Family Homeplace where Billy Graham grew up as a boy. The home was built by Billy’s father, William Franklin Graham, in the 1920s on Park Road a few miles east of the library grounds. It was moved and reconstructed on its present site. We entered the home and could imagine Billy playing there as a child. We also entered the living room where Dr. Graham, who died on February 21, 2018, at age 99, lay in repose. There were 13,333 people who walked by his casket in the homeplace in two days prior to the memorial service which was held under a large tent in front of the library with 2,300 invited guests, including all living presidents.
If you go to www.billygrahamlibrary.org you will discover that the Library is organized around the themes of “The Man,” “The Message,” “The Ministry,” and The Mission” with the message being pre-eminent: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This “Journey of Faith” primarily focuses on what a mighty work God did through the life of a young farm boy who completely surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.
I was fascinated as I watched by means of a holographic medium a three-dimensional image of Dr. Graham setting on the front porch of his home in Montreat addressing the visitors to the Library. The presentation was so realistic that I was mesmerized by the experience. The videos, artifacts, written sermons, broadcasts, highlights, recollections, invitations, extensive travels, enormous audiences, notable individuals encountered and divine anointing upon Dr. Graham reminded me of the extensive ministry of this humble servant of God.
It is no wonder that Billy Graham preached the Gospel face-to-face to more people (215 million) than anyone who has ever lived. He preached on every continent of the world and in more than 185 countries. There were 3.5 million people who responded to his evangelistic appeal during his life; and an additional 24 million people have made some kind of decision for Christ through his ministry since 2006.
The lives of Crusade Team members George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows are intricately intertwined with the life of Billy Graham. Their partnership in ministry was amazing from the beginning. They set their course and resolved to honor the Lord, serve Him with faithfulness and maintain a holy life. Both Shea (who died at age 104) and Barrows (who died at age 93) preceded Dr. Graham in death and are buried in the memorial gardens located on the grounds of the library.
One video at the library was extracted from the Billy Graham Crusade in Moscow in 1992. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, perhaps nothing symbolized so graphically the changes that swept Russia as the appearance one evening at the Crusade of the Russian Army Chorus and Band once known as the Red Army Chorus and once famous for its songs extolling the Communist Party.
The Russian Army Chorus brought the audience to its feet with a stirring rendition, sung in English, of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” As I watched, I thought Billy Graham and his pervasive love for the nations may have had more to do with world peace than any governmental negotiations.
Many of the pictures of the audiences in the early Billy Graham Crusades were predominately “white.” As racial tensions mounted in the nation, Dr. Graham embraced Dr. Martin Luther King’s work and the two appeared together during the Graham Crusade at Madison Square Garden in 1957. However, they mutually agreed that Dr. King would continue his non-violent demonstrations to end the racial segregation and Dr. Graham would remain in the stadiums where his impact on the white establishment would be greater than if the two of them marched together in the streets. As the attendance at the Graham Crusades continued the audience began to look not only integrated, but united under the banner of the cross. Dr. Graham may have had more to do with bringing about racial reconciliation than all the Civil Rights Acts the U.S. Supreme Courts could ever pass.
Billy Graham was interviewed by some nationally acclaimed celebrities like Johnny Carson, Larry King, Woodie Allen and Phil Donahue and others. Sometimes the questions directed to Dr. Graham were designed to trap or ensnare him, but he never wavered from the Word of God and never failed to present the Gospel to his host whether he was a Christian, Jew, or an atheist.
The trip to the Graham Library inspired me to never be ashamed of the Gospel no matter who I have engaged in conversation.
Dr. Graham was a friend to most all the presidents from Harry S. Truman to Barak Obama. He stated, “I pray for the presidents, but I do not advise them.” He was disappointed in some of the presidents he befriended, but his prayers for them and his influence in their lives undoubtedly made a lasting impression and likely influenced them in some of the decisions they made.
Each step we took as we moved through the library seemed to highlight some new facet of Dr. Graham’s evangelistic ministry and significant influence thus increasing our appreciation and admiration for this great man of God who just made himself available to God without reservation or qualification.
Our host explained, “We want as many pastors and Christian workers to come to the library as possible. Many burnt out servants of God have come to the library and indicated that they got their second call and were set on fire by God’s Holy Spirit again. Some have said, ‘I can’t wait to go back to my church and preach on Sunday. I have been spiritually energized.’”
I have read Dr. Graham’s autobiography, “Just As I Am” and found it to be delightful and inspiring reading. Before I left the Library I stopped by the bookstore and purchased Dr. Graham’s last book, “Where I Am.” He once was asked, “Where is heaven?” He replied, “Heaven is where Jesus Christ is, and I’m going to Him soon.” If you were to write a book about your ultimate destination and entitle it, ‘Where I Am,” would you write it with joyful confidence that your eternal home is glorious, or would you write it with an unsettled concern that your eternal home fails to offer the promise of peace and fulfillment your heart desires?