Billy Graham: A Faithful Witness

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Billy Graham
Billy Graham

A Man of Peace
Long ago Graham decided to focus on his mission and let God deal with his enemies. Although he is recognized for helping to bridge the gap between fundamentalists and mainstream denominations, there were many times he was criticized for his actions by both sides.

"There were a few times when I would hear of some of the lies, distortions of the truth, and slander, that I had a bit of resentment in my heart and was tempted to lash back," Graham wrote in his diary. "But then scores of Scriptures began to echo in my ears and penetrate my heart and gradually the Spirit of God shed abroad in my heart an overwhelming love for these brethren."

"It's been in Dad's heart his whole life to see unity in the body of Christ," says his son Ned, "but that has not happened, and it has grieved him and caused him massive internal pain. But he would never criticize or condemn anyone."

"My father is so accepting, so nonjudgmental," says eldest daughter, Gigi Graham Tchividjian. During the height of the Clinton scandal, she was her father's date at the 75th anniversary celebration for Time magazine. The Clintons were also in attendance.

"Daddy sat with the Clintons and was so warm and gracious," Tchividjian told Charisma. "In the limousine going back to the hotel, Daddy and I were talking about how difficult it must be for the Clintons with so many people gossiping and judging them. His comment was: "It's the Holy Spirit's job to convict; it's God's job to judge; and it's our job to love."

Graham's genuine graciousness and acceptance of others, along with his ability to steer clear of controversial issues, has provided him a broad ministry platform. On the political front he has been a friend, confidant, and adviser to 10 American presidents, including George W. Bush. And Bush has made no secret of the fact that a conversation he had with Graham triggered his own conversion.

In the summer of 1985, Graham was invited to Kennebunkport, Maine, where several Bush family members were vacationing. In his biography, A Charge to Keep, Bush recounts the effect Graham had on his life.

"That weekend Rev. Graham planted a mustard seed in my soul, a seed that grew over the next year. ...It was the beginning of a new walk where I would recommit my heart to Jesus Christ."

Graham has been a great encourager to many around the world, but none appreciate him more than those with whom he works at the BGEA. "Billy has always been a great encourager who inspired confidence in those who worked for him," Barrows told Charisma. "We were a team, we had a partnership, and the guys, including myself, would have died for him because of his love, appreciation and trust in us."

His co-workers also know Graham as one who enjoys a good laugh. Barrows recalls a time when Graham filled a colleague's hat with shaving cream. That man, Grady Wilson, an associate evangelist with the BGEA and a boyhood friend of Graham's, put the hat on and found himself covered with the foamy soap. "Billy was always full of great joy and enthusiasm," Barrows says. "And authentic. He was himself in the pulpit and out of the pulpit."

A Fragile Messenger
Today, at 86, Graham is in declining health. In addition to having Parkinson's disease, he broke his hip last year and was forced to postpone two crusades planned for summer 2004. The Heart of America Crusade, held in October in Kansas City, Missouri, marked the first time he had preached in more than a year.

Leaning on a walker, he told his audience: "I feel like I did when I was a teenager starting to preach. I feel like I'm starting over again."

Graham said the recent New York Crusade, held on June 20th at Madison Square Gardens, was his last. But family and friends are not so sure.

"It's his eighth last crusade!" Barrows told Charisma. "Billy doesn't find the word "retirement" in the Bible, and he's going to preach as long as the Lord gives him strength."

"At this point I think a lot depends on his health," Gigi Tchividjian says. "I was with him in Kansas City, and just before he got up on the platform he was very weak and could hardly speak. Then he stood up in that pulpit, and he was like a different man. The Holy Spirit adrenaline began to kick in!"

"Right now his health is very good," says Franklin, current head of the BGEA. "He's the best he's been in three years. When he gets strong he starts having all kinds of ideas and that means more work for me!"

The BGEA moved from Minneapolis to Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2004 - closer to Franklin's Samaritan's Purse offices in Boone, as well as to the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville.

What are Graham's plans for the future? "Billy recognizes we have a great responsibility to pass the baton to the younger generation," Barrows says. "I think a great legacy that he has now, and will increasingly have, is encouraging and helping to inspire young evangelists. I know young preachers who would love to sit at Billy Graham's feet."

Barrows says he'd like to see the elderly Graham do broadcasts from the training center or from his home. "He could sit by the fireplace in the winter time, or on the porch in the summer time, and talk to evangelists gathered in different parts of the world about the calling and ministry of evangelism," Barrows adds.

Graham's preaching has been the catalyst for millions of transformed lives. Many now wonder who will fill his shoes.

"There are many evangelists who are faithfully preaching the Word today," Barrows says. "But I believe that God had this particular era of evangelism, and I think it's been unique. It's been God's sovereignty that has allowed Billy to preach in the largest stadiums in the world filled with people who are hungry to hear."

When asked about the legacy he hopes to leave, Billy Graham told Charisma: "I want to be remembered as a person who was faithful to God, faithful to my family, faithful to the Scriptures and faithful to my calling. I want the world to remember Billy Graham as a man that dedicated his life to the Lord and never looked back."

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