One night in June 1984, I boarded a coach with dozens of others from St Peter's Church, Stapenhill in order to hear Billy Graham preach at Villa Park. He was visiting England for a 3-month long 'crusade' called 'Mission England'.
I can still remember the power of his voice, the persuasive preaching ('the Bible says...') and the warmth of his invitation to 'get up out of your seats'. Thousands responded that night by getting up out of their seats after Billy preached, and walking onto the Villa Park turf - I'd love to be able say that I responded to his invitation, but I didn't! However, his message made a deep and lasting impression on me, and I responded to the gospel later that year at a Mission England follow-up meeting in Derby Assembly Rooms.
No doubt there will be thousands upon thousands of people with a story to tell in coming days of how this gifted and humble man pointed them to the life giving relationship that they now know with Jesus. Billy has said that the first question he will ask when he gets to heaven will be:
“Why me, Lord? Why did you choose a farm boy from North Carolina to preach to so many people, to have such a wonderful team of associates, and to have a part in what you were doing in the latter half of the twentieth century?”
I have no idea why God chose Billy Graham, but Billy unstintingly used the evangelist's gift that God had given him. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) reports, "nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries" have been reached through his ministry.
He Billy lived his life simply and with a disciplined determination to honour Jesus in every area of his life. He lived with great personal integrity, never travelled alone with his secretary, and no scandal has ever attached itself to him.
He once said:
"Some day you will 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."
Thanks be to God for the life of Billy Graham. May God raise up another one like him soon.
Billy and Ruth Graham - married for 64 years.