NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Billy Graham granted his first interview
in several years Dec. 20, telling Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren that if he could
do it over again, he would spend less time traveling and more time in
meditation and prayer.
The renowned evangelist, now 92, spoke to Van Susteren just before meeting
President George W. Bush and his wife Laura, along with Franklin and Jane
Graham, for lunch in Charlotte. The Bushes were at the Billy Graham Library to
sign copies of their autobiographies.
Van Susteren asked Graham if he has hope, and Graham said he has a tremendous
amount of hope because he is a believer in Jesus Christ, who was raised from
the dead and “is alive right now.”
“My wife is already in heaven. I look forward to seeing her definitely in the
near future because I’m 92 now and I know that my time is limited on this
earth,” Graham said. “But I have tremendous hope in the fact I’ll be in the
future life. And I’ll be there because of what Jesus Christ did for me on the
cross and by the resurrection. And this gives me a great deal of hope.”
If Graham had the opportunity to live his life over again, he said there are
things he would do differently.
“I would study more. I would pray more, travel less, take less speaking
engagements. I took too many of them in too many places around the world,” he
said. “If I had it to do over again, I’d spend more time in meditation and
prayer and just telling the Lord how much I love Him and adore Him and (am)
looking forward the time we’re going to spend together for eternity.”
Van Susteren inquired about what age Graham realized he wanted to be a
preacher, and he said it was around age 18 or 19 when he was a student at a
Bible school near Tampa.
“I used to walk the streets in this area that had completely disintegrated
because of the Depression at that time. And I would pray and I would ask God
for a direction for my life and for the genuine purpose of my life. What am I
here for?” Graham recounted.
One night at a nearby golf course, as he was lying on the 18th green amid the
palm trees, he heard God’s call.
“The Lord seemed to call me and say that I was to preach the gospel. And from
that time on, I began to prepare,” Graham said. “By preparation, I mean I began
to read books which contributed to what I would say in the years to come. And
then I began to realize that my job was to try to win over people to Christ,
which I did privately and publicly, which became eventually my sermons that we
Over the years, as he spoke to millions, he was surprised by the numbers who
gathered to hear his message, Graham said. He noted a particular engagement in
Seoul, Korea, the largest audience he ever had.
“They were just spread out as far as you could see, in a great plaza along the
river,” he said.
Graham passed along some advice to young preachers.
“Spend more time in study and prayer. That’s the secret of successful
evangelism,” he said. “If you neglect that, you’ve neglected the very heart of God’s
call to you.”
Graham said the Christmas holiday always meant “a great deal” to him, and his
wife “always made a big thing of Christmas for the children.”
“We all looked forward to it. We would get up on Christmas morning and have our
prayers, and then we would sit under the tree and open our presents, usually on
Christmas morning, sometimes on Christmas Eve,” Graham said.
“But when I looked into the crib or the manger and saw that little baby who was
going to rise to become the greatest teacher that ever lived, to die on the
cross for my sins, to know that I’ll be forgiven because of what He was doing,
it absolutely transformed Christmas for me,” he said.
“And all the shopping and the gifts and all the things we celebrated (at)
Christmas, it’s a spiritual time. It’s a time that strengthens my faith and
gives me courage for the future. And I don’t expect to live that much longer,
but I do remember that every Christmas strengthened my faith as I came along.”
Also in the interview, Van Susteren asked about Graham’s relationship with the
Bush family, and Graham recalled that he first met Bush’s grandfather, Prescott
Bush, in Florida and then was invited by Bush’s grandmother to answer biblical
questions and pray with a group of neighbors in her home.
“She was one of the sweetest women I think I ever met, a very deep Christian.
And she became a wonderful friend to me. And through her, I began to meet the
rest of the family,” Graham said of Dorothy Walker Bush.
President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara “became very close friends to
Ruth and me,” Graham said, and it was during a visit to their retreat in
Kennebunkport, Maine, in 1985 that he met their son George. Graham had been
asked to conduct a Bible study for the family, and Bush stood up to ask questions.
Later the evangelist and the future president went on walks and played tennis
“I remember he was very interested in spiritual things and he asked a lot of
very deep questions about the Bible and about the Christian faith. And I tried
to answer as best I could,” Graham told Van Susteren.
After lunch with Graham, Bush sat down with Van Susteren to elaborate on what
he wrote about Graham’s influence on his life in his book Decision Points.
“He’s a gentle soul. I mean, here’s one of the most famous people in the world,
and in his presence, you realize how humble he is,” Bush said. “And his
humility, and obviously, his love for God and Christ can overwhelm the cynic.
And I was a cynical person at the time, and his spirit overwhelmed me.”
Graham, at Kennebunkport, was able to lead Bush from being a man full of
questions to one with some peace about God.
“I mean, one way, from a kind of biblical analogy, he was — started to help me
plant seeds. And the ground was — the ground was pretty hard,” Bush said. “But
after meeting Billy, the ground became more fertile for the seed, is one way to
put it. No, he helped change my life. He truly did. And I was a questioning
person. I was drinking a lot. And religion was — you know, I used to — I put in
the book ‘I would listen but never hear.’ And Billy Graham helped me understand
the redemptive power of a risen Lord.”
More than 1,000 people lined up outside the Billy Graham Library in December to
meet the Bushes, and Graham joined them briefly to receive the first signed
copies of their books that day. Franklin Graham gave the former president and
first lady a private tour of the library and later said his father’s mind is as
strong as it has been in the past few years.
“His mind is sharper today than it was five years ago,” Franklin Graham said.
“I don’t know what it is. He is getting better. He is getting stronger.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Roach is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
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