The Man and His message: How Billy Graham Influenced My Life
One Preacher Boy’s Story
It was 1954 at the Southern Baptist Evangelism Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, when I first heard Billy Graham speak. I was 17 years old, a senior in high school, and a brand new Christian. My pastor invited me to go with him, and I was thrilled at the opportunity. But my school’s six-week final was at the same time!
When I asked my principal if I could miss the test to attend the conference, she was pleasantly surprised. You see, before I became a Christian, I had a reputation for being a real “hell-raiser” in school. Fortunately for me, she agreed, and I was exempt from taking the final.
Hearing Billy Graham preach the simple gospel message of God’s love through the death of His Son on the cross moved me in ways I had never experienced. I remember driving home that night, praying for my school, and asking God to make a way for my classmates to hear this message of God’s forgiveness.
Days later, some of my classmates began to talk about a youth-led revival meeting, and they asked me to preach. I accepted the invitation and began to prepare sermons for the following Friday through Sunday. The first night, I looked out at all my friends and prayed, “Lord, you must do something; I have never preached before!” I shared the same life-changing message I had heard Billy Graham preach, and God worked in a wonderful way that weekend. My pastor later told me that there were more than 100 students who made first-time professions of faith and many more who said they wanted to fully follow Christ. That weekend affected our entire school. I remember well one student asking to give his testimony during first period class. Even the football team was moved!
I was definitely a rookie preacher back then, but because of Billy Graham, I was inspired and used by God to reach a high school and a town for Christ. Later, as a student at Baylor University, I noticed many of the young “preacher boys,” including myself, copying Graham’s style, as well as his message. He was our mentor and our role model. Many surrendered to preach under Graham’s ministry. I was one of the many.
Decades of Inspiration
My ministry took me from Texas to Washington State, to California, and back to Texas. And for the past six decades, I have been continuously impacted by Rev. Graham’s life.
In my opinion, one of the many things that sets him apart from other pastors was his humility. Wherever he preached or whoever he shared with, he called on the Lord for strength and guidance. Billy Graham never drew attention to himself but always focused on the people on his team. His ministry was never about himself.
He led a team of great men of integrity, and, as a team, they agreed to keep several boundaries for themselves. They agreed they would never inflate statistics related to their crusades, they would not handle the money brought in by their crusades, and each man committed to never being alone with a woman other than his wife under any circumstance. As a result, Billy Graham and his team were never part of any moral discrepancy, controversy, or gossip.
I was always in awe of Rev. Graham’s ability to speak with all kinds of people. He once spoke to a crowd of 1.1 million people in South Korea; and in Central Park, he drew a crowd of 250,000. He also spoke one-on-one with individuals, no matter their culture or social status. He shared with presidents, Hollywood celebrities, the rich, and the poor. He saw everyone as valuable and in need of the gospel. Without judgment, he preached the gospel and let it stand for itself.
Harry Truman was the first of the U.S. presidents to meet with Billy Graham. And from what I have read, Truman wanted to avoid any serious discussions, being hesitant to talk about the gospel. Graham, true to his nature, was careful and considerate when he shared Jesus with President Truman, who was the first of many presidents Graham would later meet with and counsel.
Often, in times of crisis, Billy Graham was the people’s choice to speak. For example, after the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Graham was asked to speak at the memorial. As always, he shared a message of hope by preaching the simple but powerful gospel of Jesus Christ.
In addition to my first experience in high school, I attended three Billy Graham Crusades: one in Seattle, Washington; one in Oakland, California; and one in San Antonio, Texas. I was asked to be a counselor at the San Antonio crusade and spent two weeks in training. The first thing we were trained to do was share 1 John 5:13 (LEB): “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.”
I’ll never forget the experience. I was standing very near the stage and remember looking out at the crowd, hearing people singing and listening to testimonies. And then, when the invitation time came, seeing so many people coming forward—it really did take my breath away.
During the invitation, I was able to talk with three men who made deep, genuine commitments to Christ. We talked about the importance of discipleship and finding a church. The Billy Graham team followed up with those men and even forwarded their names to nearby churches.
Remembering a Life
Years ago, my son, knowing how much I respected and admired Billy Graham, gave me a pictorial book of his life and ministry. That book is displayed on my coffee table as a reminder of what God can do with a life. Today, I am 81 years old, and as I have watched and listened to people around the world remember Billy Graham at the occasion of his passing on to his heavenly home, I am grateful for the impact he made on millions of lives, including my own. God’s hand was on Billy Graham, and I’m thankful He chose to use him in great and mighty ways.