Just as I was prepared to turn in for the night, a text notification popped up on my phone screen. It was a web link to an article titled: “US Preacher Billy Graham dies”.
That was the first of a string of other text messages I received last night from friends who had read the news that the world’s best-known modern evangelist had passed away at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, USA. He was 99.
Truth be told, I was surprised . . . that he had still been alive all this while (to all Graham fans, please pardon my ignorance). All I knew was that he was a really old and renowned television evangelist and I had heard my pastor mention his name a couple of times on the pulpit.
Who is Billy Graham?
Not wanting to look ignorant or miss out on what seemed to be the passing of one of the most influential men of the 20th century, I decided to do some research.
Needless to say, every report I read pointed to one thing: Billy Graham was no ordinary man.
He’s been called the world’s most important evangelist since the Apostle Paul, a counselor to American presidents, and a great uniter. He’s preached to millions of people all over the world, including North Korea, the Soviet Union, and some of the poorest Third World villages.
As I pored over the tributes and obituaries, it’s evident that this man had made a great impact for the gospel in his 99 years of life. In fact, one of my friends just told me that his father had become a Christian after attending an evangelistic rally by Graham held in Singapore 40 years ago.
So, if like me, you’re wondering who this guy is and what’s the big deal about his death, here are some key facts about the man:
- Graham was born in 1918 and brought up on his family’s dairy farm in North Carolina, USA.
- After hearing a travelling evangelist, Mordecai Ham, he became a committed Christian at the age of 16.
- He became a full-time evangelist with Youth For Christ, a Christian youth organization that reached out to young people and service personnel.
- Over six decades, he preached to 215 million people in 185 countries.
- Through radio and television, he’s reached hundreds of millions.
- He preached his final revival meeting in New York in 2005 at the age of 86.
Though Graham—like every other person—was not perfect, what struck me as I read through all the reports of his life and death, was how he managed to keep his life untainted amid financial and sexual scandals that plagued other church ministers, leaders, and TV evangelists. Graham exemplified what true religion was: he kept a tight rein of his tongue, went out of his way to reach the orphans and widows, and kept his life unpolluted by the world (James 1:26-27).
And the other aspect of his life that intrigued me was how he kept his life and ministry sharply focused on one thing: proclaiming Christ. Yet he never made a big deal out of the influence and reach that he had, recognizing that salvation is only by God’s grace alone.
“I am not going to Heaven because I have preached to great crowds or read the Bible many times. I’m going to Heaven just like the thief on the cross who said in that last moment: ‘Lord, remember me’,” he once said.
What a beautiful reminder. As we celebrate his life and mourn his passing, may we all aspire to echo his words at the end of our lives as well.