We all wanted to put Billy in our box, but he crossed countless boundaries and in a sense united us all with the gospel of one Lord, one faith and one baptism.
I had a Glory Sighting in queue just itching to go to press Wednesday morning, when the first word I heard was that the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham had died. It wasn’t long after that when thoughts and memories filled my soul, and I knew my topic had just changed.
If there was ever a Glory Sighting found in one person, it was to me, Billy Graham. I couldn’t find any crusades he held in Bay County, but he was in multiple Florida cities in 1953 and 1961. He was in Miami and Orlando at least twice. The closest he got to us was Tallahassee in ’61.
Billy Graham was a “phenom” and famous well before I was born. My grandfather (Horace Jack) also was an evangelist and contemporary of Graham’s. I don’t know if they ever met, but do know they corresponded by letter. Graham attended Trinity College (then Florida Bible Institute) in Clearwater, where John Nussbaum, a mentor to both me and my grandfather, taught. I did my ministerial internship in Dunedin under Nussbaum, just down the road from Trinity.
The first time I remember entering a movie theater was to see a Billy Graham movie, “The Restless Ones.” It was very exciting because the theater was otherwise “verboten!”
Billy III, known as Franklin Graham, spoke and received an honorary doctorate at my graduation from Toccoa Falls, Georgia, back in 1988. Toccoa wasn’t far from Graham’s hometown, so more than once the music groups I led went up to their hometown near Asheville, North Carolina, to sing in his home church. Jimmie Rich, my boss at WRAF in Toccoa, was Billy’s college roommate.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association founded a beautiful retreat center, The Cove, near Asheville. The Cove annually sponsors an entirely funded retreat for military chaplains. I was able to attend once (and bring my wife!). They held nothing back, providing amazing meals and renowned inspirational teachers like the Blackabys and Gary Chapman. It was at that very retreat the publisher of my first book found me.
We all wanted to put Billy in our box, but he crossed countless boundaries and in a sense united us all with the gospel of one Lord, one faith and one baptism. He met with world leaders such as Pope John Paul ll, proclaiming him the most influential voice for peace and morality in his generation. All at their request, he met with U.S. presidents and even Queen Elizabeth when they were struggling with a tough decision. His 1973 crusades are credited with turning around South Korea, rising from its ashes to be a showcase for the world in the Winter Olympics.
Celebrities shared testimonies and sang at his crusades. One of my U.S. Air Force heroes, WWII POW and Olympian Louis Zamperini, credits Graham for finding Jesus and forgiveness for his captors, later sharing his testimony in crusades. This was featured in the recent movie “Unbroken.”
Billy Graham was human but kept his head rooted in reality, simply using the glitz or glam to bring more people to the Savior. At one time, considered the most well-known human on Earth, he deflected all praise, lest it distract him from his calling.
Someone asked me how I thought Graham might wish to be remembered. I could almost hear him say, “It matters not a hill of beans how people will remember me, but how they remember the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ because of me.”
I can only imagine the great cloud of witnesses waiting at the “Pearly Gates” on Wednesday when Billy walked in. Can you? Right there at those gates was his Lord and Savior saying “Well done, good and faithful servant,” while behind him I’m betting stood Ruth Bell restraining Louis and a literal ocean of souls waiting to get to him to say, “THANK YOU! Thank you ... for leading us ... here.”
Thank you, Billy, for leading us there and showing that one person fully devoted to the Lord can indeed change the world.
Send your Glory Sightings to firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/ParkerPastor, or mypumc.org.