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A Tribute to Billy Graham Evangelist to the World 1918 – 2018

“My one purpose in life is to help people find a personal relationship with God, which i believe comes from knowing christ.”
– Billy Graham

Ruth and Billy Graham, college sweethearts at their home in Montreat.
Ruth and Billy Graham, college sweethearts at their home in Montreat.

On Feb. 21, 2018, Billy Graham passed away at age 99 after a lifetime of ministry.

His son, Franklin Graham shared, “Since 1947, some 215 million people at more than 400 crusades, simulcasts and evangelistic rallies heard my father tell them, “The Bible says, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life’” (John 3:16). “Today, he is experiencing what he devoted a lifetime to telling others they could experience if they placed their trust in Jesus Christ.”

He reached millions more through TV, video, film, the internet and 34 books. Yet, he always deflected any credit to God: “If anything has been accomplished through my life, it has been solely God’s doing, not mine, and He—not I—must get the credit.”

Born Nov. 7, 1918, four days before the armistice ended World War I, William Franklin “Billy” Graham Jr. grew up during the Depression and developed a work ethic that would carry him through decades of ministry on six continents.

“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,” said Graham at his final Crusade in June 2005 at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in New York.

While Graham’s primary focus was to take this message to the world, he also provided spiritual counsel to presidents, championed 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.

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.

Preferred Baseball to Religion
Graham, a country boy turned world evangelist, who prayed with every U.S. president from Harry S. Truman to Barack Obama, was raised on a dairy farm in Charlotte. Back then, “Billy Frank,” as he was called, preferred baseball to religion. “I detested going to church,” he said when recalling his youth.

But in 1934, that changed. At a revival led by traveling evangelist Mordecai Fowler Ham, 15-year-old Graham committed his life to serving Jesus Christ. No one was more surprised than Graham himself.

“I was opposed to evangelism,” he said. “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.”

Several years later, Graham’s “new direction” led him to the Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College of Florida), and later, Wheaton College in suburban Chicago, where 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. They were married for 64 years before Ruth’s death in 2007.

After two years of traveling as a speaker for the Youth for Christ organization, Billy Graham held his first official evangelistic Crusade in 1947; but it was his 1949 Los Angeles Crusade that captured the nation’s attention. 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. Since 2000, Graham’s son, Franklin, has led the Charlotte-based organization, which employs some 500 people worldwide.

Billy Graham may be best known, however, for his evangelistic missions or “Crusades.” He believed God knew no borders or nationalities. 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. In 1973, Graham addressed more than one million people crowded into Yoido Plaza in Seoul, South Korea—the largest live audience of his Crusades.

Breaking Down Barriers
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.”

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.

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.

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.

The summer of 2005, he preached his final series of public messages to more than a quarter of a million people in New York City over three days. It would be his final live evangelistic crusade. That same year, a Gallup poll revealed that one in six American adults— 35 million—had heard Billy Graham preach in person.

The Final Word
According to his son, Franklin Graham, the purpose of Billy Graham’s life is captured in a single paragraph found at the end of a little book a number of years ago:
“No matter what your problem is,” he wrote, “if you and I could sit down and talk, I would want to tell you one great truth: God loves you, and He can make a difference in your life if you will let Him. God loves you so much that He sent His Son into the world to die for your sins. When we open our hearts to Christ, He forgives our sins and comes to live within us by His Holy Spirit. He also gives us strength for the present and hope for the future. This is the message of the Gospel—and this is the message you have read in this book.”

If my father could speak or write to us today, he would say the same thing. It was what he lived and breathed—until his very last breath.

Throughout his life, Graham was faithful to his calling, which will be captured in the inscription to be placed on his grave marker: Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

To read Billy Graham’s “Steps to Peace” and “Here is how you can accept Christ into your life,” visit

About The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is a nonprofit organization that directs a range of domestic and international ministries, including: Franklin Graham Festivals, Will Graham Celebrations, The Billy Graham Library, The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove,, the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team of crisis-trained chaplains, My Hope with Billy Graham TV ministry and others. Founded in 1950 by Billy Graham, the organization has been led by Franklin Graham since 2000. The ministry employs some
500 people worldwide and is headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, with additional offices in Australia, Canada, Germany and Great Britain.

About the Billy Graham Library
The Library is a living ministry in Charlotte, North Carolina, that’s free and open to the public. Lives are transformed daily as visitors encounter the love of Christ through the story of Billy Graham’s life.
4330 Westmont Drive, Charlotte, NC 28217, 704-401-3200

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