It is fitting that North Carolina Baptists’ news journal, the Biblical Recorder, dedicated the March 10 print edition to the most famous Southern Baptist in history. Billy Graham was a North Carolina native, a life-long resident and an ordained Baptist minister. Several of his children and grandchildren are Baptists. The two pastors that ministered through the memorial events, David Bruce and Don Wilton, are leading Baptists.
We owe a great debt to this faithful man of God. Our tribute is very small when compared to such a spiritual giant.
Billy Graham Evangelistic Association photo by Kathy Kmonicek/The Associated Press
The hearse carrying the body of Billy Graham passes under an American flag as it drives toward the Billy Graham Library Feb. 24.
How do you sum up the days from the morning Billy Graham died in his Montreat, N.C., home to the afternoon 10 days later when his body was interred on the property of the library that carries his name in his hometown of Charlotte? How do we summarize the 35,465-plus days of this man’s incredible life – especially the time after his salvation experience, a few days before his 16th birthday?
I am certain that the most noble attempts of family, friends, media, biographers and historians will fall short of painting the complete portrait of the rare person we called Billy Graham and his equally rare wife, Ruth Bell Graham. However, the media attention and public response has been nothing short of phenomenal. The focus has been on the simple gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ alone.
Three days after Graham passed away, an escorted motorcade carried his body on a 130-mile journey from The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove near Asheville to the headquarters of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) in Charlotte.
“My father made me promise long ago that we would take him back to Charlotte after he died,” Franklin Graham said, “and that’s what we’re in the process of doing right now.”
The procession rolled through Black Mountain, where Graham often shopped. It proceeded down Interstate 40, turning on U.S. 321 toward Interstate 85. Media in the motorcade said they expected a crowd in the famed evangelist’s small hometown, but admitted they were not prepared for the overwhelming response of the public along the remaining route. Neither was the Graham family.
Standing beside highways, on bridges and overpasses, people of every walk of life paused by the thousands to pay tribute to Graham. Emergency vehicles were draped with large American flags while pedestrians held high a copy of the Bible or signs that read, “Well Done” and other supportive slogans.
The 321 interchange near Hickory added to their surprise.
Thousands stood along the busy roadside to see the hearse bearing one who impacted their families, their churches, their nation, but most importantly, their personal walk with God.
Two days later, Graham’s simple pine casket that was crafted in 2006 by inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, sat quietly inside his boyhood home on BGEA property as presidents, dignitaries and grassroots supporters filed by.
Billy Graham Evangelistic Association photo
Jean Graham Ford, Billy Graham’s sister, once talked about the 14-year age difference between her and her older brother. “It was sort of like having a second parent,” she recalled. “I’ve always just adored him.”
For two additional days, the same pine casket rested in the stately Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., as more mourners honored the world’s most famous evangelist and arguably one of the nation’s most respected sons.
On the 10th day after Graham died, family members, friends and religious leaders of many faiths assembled to honor a man who took the Christian gospel to millions around the world. More than 2,300 people gathered in front of the Billy Graham Library in a tent that illustrated the “Canvas Cathedral” in Los Angeles nearly 70 years earlier where the evangelist was catapulted into public prominence.
Franklin Graham, who now leads his father’s worldwide organization, said, “Today he is in heaven. His journey is complete.”
Representative family members and guest speakers underscored Graham’s intense commitment to the Bible.
“He loved the Bible. It governed how he lived, and it governed how he died,” Donald Wilton said. Wilton is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C., where Graham was a member.
Jean Graham Ford said, “My brother Billy, my sister Catherine, my brother Melvin and I grew up here in this house. We learned hard work. We learned to love the Lord. We learned to pray. We learned to love the scriptures.”
Anne Graham Lotz said when she visited her father, he always asked her to read the Bible and discuss its meaning. “I want to make a pledge to my daddy,” she said. “I pledge to you, Daddy, in front of all of these witnesses, I will preach the Word. I will do the work of an evangelist. I will share the gospel.”
Billy and Ruth Graham have a large family including five children and a surviving sister who spoke at the memorial service.
Additional grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces, nephews and others comprise the extended kin.
I do not know most of the Graham family, but I know Jane and Franklin Graham, their three sons and a daughter because they attended the church I pastored in Boone for more than 16 years. All four of their children are faithfully serving God in various ministry roles. I’m thrilled to observe the deep commitment to the gospel in the lives of each one.
All participated in the memorial events, but two sons were more visible in the media through the 10 days of mourning – Edward and Roy.
Captain Edward Graham is the stately uniformed officer you saw in the media leading President Donald Trump and the family at events in Washington, D.C. and Charlotte.
The Army Ranger and West Point graduate was wounded in Iraq through several tours of duty. He is a man of solid Christian character who depicts the character of his grandfather.
If you viewed the live stream video of visitation periods, you saw Roy Graham graciously greeting every guest, all day long. He is director of donor ministries for BGEA. Roy Graham stood for many hours greeting more than 10,000 people, thanking them for visiting the family. The kindness and appreciation he extended to each visitor is commendable. He is an example of his grandfather’s genuine love for all people.
At the close of the memorial service on Fri., March 3, I asked several Baptist leaders in attendance to reflect on the celebration of Graham’s life and ministry.
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, said, “I think the service was absolutely appropriate to the man Billy Graham was.
“He was honored, the gospel was lifted up, Jesus was magnified and it was a most appropriate service for who he was and all that he did.”
James Merritt, former president of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), and pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga., said, “If anybody had the kind of service that they deserved, Dr. Graham had the service he deserved today. It was all about Jesus and the gospel. How many times was Jesus and the gospel mentioned? … I know I speak for Danny [Akin] and I when I say this was one of the greatest honors of our life for us to be here today.”
Frank Page, CEO of the SBC said, “I think it was a great experience of hearing the gospel preached once again. I pray that it’s gone out to millions of people. I thought every part of it was classy and powerful. I so appreciate the words of Franklin, the daughters and all the family. I met Billy Graham some years ago, and I’m thankful for what he did in my life. I’m so glad to be here today to honor him and represent Southern Baptists.”
Steve Gaines, SBC president and pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., said, “I thought it was a fantastic service. It honored the Lord Jesus Christ, and it also really showed you that the Graham family genuinely loved the Lord Jesus – not just Billy and his sweet wife, but their children. I thank the Lord for every aspect of the service pointing to Jesus.”
Mark Harris, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte and a candidate for the U.S. Congress said, “The service was Billy Graham. It was what I could imagine he would have hoped for. … Franklin did a great job of presenting the simple gospel message. His family certainly demonstrated the legacy that we’ve been talking about. The way that each of them had their own personality, yet you could see the impact of this man as a dad, as a preacher, as a leader throughout the world – it was very powerful. I think this last week has been his greatest crusade.”
Now, life on earth goes on for all of us. We can be certain that the influence of Billy Graham and a multitude of other godly people surrounds us every day. Their legacy shaped the world we know. Now we carry the torch of God’s Word today and every day until God calls us home.
The Father will use us to the extent that we stay centered on the Bible.
To God be the glory for sending Billy Graham our way. May his legacy and the message he proclaimed remain strong.