Like no other person in history, Billy Graham’s life and his dedication to the great commission allowed billions to hear the good news. During his lifetime, Dr Graham preached to live audiences of nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries around the world. An estimated two billion people have heard his messages through television, video, film and the internet.
He once said: “My one purpose in life is to help people find a personal relationship with God, which I believe comes through knowing Christ.” It is this passionate sense of calling which was his conviction throughout his life, and which enabled him to lead many people to know Jesus.
Like no other person in history, Billy Graham’s life and his dedication to the great commission allowed billions to hear the good news.
Dr Graham himself made a personal commitment to Jesus in 1934 at the age of 16 after hearing travelling evangelist Mordecai Ham speak in his home town of Charlotte, North Carolina.
His was a life never out of the spotlight. Soon after marrying Ruth McCue Bell, he was travelling and gathering thousands of people, eager to hear him speak. The first of the mass evangelistic rallies that were to form an integral part of his ministry over the decades was a crusade in Los Angeles in 1949. At first, around 6,000 were gathering each night to what was initially supposed to be a three-week campaign. But with amazing conversion stories spilling out from the crusade, a few weeks later an estimated 40,000 gathered to hear him speak at Boston Common. At this point, he was just 31 years old.
Many of his subsequent crusades around the world also had to be extended, including the Greater London Crusade (the “Harringay Crusade”), which ended up lasting 12 weeks. Aggregate attendance at Harringay arena in 1954 was two million – including 120,000 at Wembley stadium on the last day of the crusade. Demand was so high that the Evangelical Alliance had to organise an overflow rally for 55,000 at White City.
He once said: “My one purpose in life is to help people find a personal relationship with God, which I believe comes through knowing Christ.”
Billy Graham’s technique of using an appeal for a response at the end of the message, then linking responders with a counsellor, was new to the UK. Following Harringay it became standard practice at evangelistic events in the UK.
Dr Graham’s counsel was frequently sought by presidents and monarchs. Within a short time of starting his ministry, he was meeting with presidents at the White House, the Queen at Buckingham Palace and movie stars and millionaires. He was regularly listed by the Gallup organisation as one of the ‘Ten Most Admired Men in the World’, in which he appeared 54 times from 1948 onwards. And in December 2001, he was presented with an honorary knighthood from the Queen for his international contribution to civic and religious life over six decades.
And through all this he remained a man of God, dedicated to doing His will, and frequently citing the Bible as the only source of truth.
Demand was so high that the Evangelical Alliance had to organise an overflow rally for 55,000 at White City.
Billy Graham will be remembered for many generations to come as one of the greatest men that ever lived. His legacy includes humanitarian work, counselling heads of state, befriending the rich and famous, and being named on countless ‘most influential’ lists – but he will forever be remembered as a man who wanted to do the will of God, and who led countless thousands of people into relationship with Jesus Christ.
As we mourn the loss of this great man, we must also remember his words: “My home is in heaven. I’m just travelling through this world.”