America’s Pastor

Billy Graham is one of the most influential people in the history of the United States. As an evangelical priest, he served as the spiritual adviser to several former U.S. Presidents. He enkindled countless people to Christianity. Likewise, he was one of the first persons to break the segregation barriers declaring that racial prejudice is a sin.

Published Categorized as Biography
Billy Graham delivering a speech animatedly
"Racial prejudice, anti-Semitism, or hatred of anyone with different beliefs has no place in the human mind or heart." - Billy Graham

A Billy Graham biography

Billy Graham (1918 – 2018) – Evangelist

William Franklin “Billy” Graham, Jr. was born on November 7, 1918, to Morrow Coffey and William Franklin, Sr. in Charlotte, North Carolina. Billy along with his two younger sisters and a brother grew up at their family-owned dairy farm. He spent hours tending to the goats and milking cows.

Billy tried hard to balance his dairy farm routine and school along with his love for reading and baseball. After that, he would often be too worn out to concentrate on his classes, which contributed to his low grades in his elementary and high school. As a typical teenager, he even had several girlfriends at a time. He was a bit of a show-off who wanted to win and please friends.

One day, one of his father’s farmhands mentioned to him that their local Christian club had invited Dr. Mordecai Ham, a minister who had a vast knowledge of the Bible and managed to persuade Billy’s father to listen to him preaching. Billy’s parents listened to Dr. Ham’s teachings and enthusiastically reported to Billy that they now viewed the Gospel in a different light. Reluctantly, Billy decided to go to the tabernacle to listen to his sermons.

He became fascinated by Dr. Ham’s sermon about the Sabbath, God’s mercy and greatness. He decided to accept Jesus Christ into his life during one of Dr. Ham’s preaching sessions, just a few days shy of his sixteenth birthday. Billy often asked the Lord for guidance because he doubted his capability to become an evangelist.

He even stopped his relationship with his girlfriend who did not share the same faith. However, he wasn’t thrilled when his classmates and teachers learned of his conversion and received a lot of criticisms. Yet he graciously accepted everything thrown his way. He understood that being a follower of Jesus Christ meant that there would be some persecution from time to time.

In September 1936, he enrolled in `Bob Jones College’ in Cleveland, Tennessee, a non-denominational school. He was unhappy about the school’s rigorous instructions. The students’ ideas and questions were discouraged and frowned upon. He transferred to Florida Bible Institute, located east of Tampa where he felt more at ease. They studied the Scriptures. At the same time, their queries and opinions were welcomed. The school was housed within the country club. This empowered students to do chores around campus to earn their keep. Through this arrangement, Billy met many famous preachers from almost all denominations, who had significant influences on his Christian life.

Billy’s school dean, Reverend John Minder, always guided Billy in his studies and encouraged him to preach in small churches. The opportunity came when Reverend Minder declined Cecil Underwood’s (a lay minister) invitation to preach to a small Baptist chapel and designated Billy instead. Around the spring of 1937, Billy had his first preaching session at Bostwick Baptist Church, a short session that lasted less than ten minutes.

Billy committed his life to the service of the Lord in 1938. He was invited by several Methodist and Baptist churches in the Tampa area to deliver bible lessons and eventually became a regular minister in some of them. Likewise, he started to preach over the radio and the scriptures reached many people.

At one time, Mr. Underwood asked Billy to preach at East Palatka Baptist Church and he eagerly accepted, this time preparing for a lengthier message. More than a hundred attended his church services and most of them committed their lives to Christian teachings. Furthermore, to continue preaching in Southern Baptist churches, he had to first be baptized under their tradition (for he came from a Presbyterian background).

So, although he was already baptized twice, Billy allowed Mr. Underwood to baptize him by immersion in late 1938. Although he knew that no amount of human activity could change his faith in his god, Billy still went ahead with his third baptism to avoid making an issue with the deacons.

Billy Graham standing and speaks to the crowd
Billy Graham in Oslo, Norway

After his ordination in 1939, came a lot of opportunities to share the gospel with neighboring Roman Catholics who responded graciously. Before graduating from Florida Bible Institute in May 1940, two attendees of Billy’s preaching suggested that he enroll at Wheaton College in Chicago, Illinois, to get more training. Billy did so and got accepted in September 1940. He stayed with Dr. Mortimer B. Lane, a professor who taught at the college.

From then on, Billy Graham practiced his sermons whenever he had free time and preached at several local churches. On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese troops bombed Pearl Harbor, he decided to become a volunteer chaplain in the war area, but the Army officers told him to finish his seminary course first.

During his stay at Wheaton College, Johnny Streatorli (a friend of Billy’s) introduced him to Ruth McCue Bell. She was the daughter of medical missionaries assigned in the eastern Chinese province of Northern Kiangsu. She was a charming woman and Billy was attracted to her. They both belonged to different denominations. She was a Presbyterian while he was a converted Baptist. They had many discussions regarding their beliefs which tested their relationship, but they eventually made it work.

Billy Graham clenching his fist
“I just want to lobby for God.” – Billy Graham

In January 1943, Billy accepted Bob Van Kampen of the National Gideon Association to become a regular pastor of the Western Spring Baptist Church. Ruth helped Billy with his ministry until they graduated from Wheaton College in June 1943. Shortly after, they got married on August 13, with Dr. John Minder officiating their marriage at Montreat Presbyterian Church in North Carolina. They had five children together: Virginia Leftwich, born in 1945; Anne Morrow, born in 1948; Ruth, born in 1950; William Franklin III, born in 1952 and Nelson Edman, born in 1958.

After his pastoral work at Western Spring Baptist Church from 1943 to 1945, Torrey Johnson, a radio evangelist, invited Billy Graham to preach at the Chicagoland Youth for Christ. Billy became a regular evangelist for the Youth for Christ until Torrey asked him if he would become an overall organizer for the ministry throughout the state and eventually across the globe. He accepted the position in 1945 and began his travel across the world to deliver the Gospel’s message.

While he was with the Youth for Christ, Dr. W. B. Riley, then president of the Northwestern Schools in Minneapolis, asked Billy Graham to become his replacement once he retired. Billy was quite hesitant since he was worried that the added responsibility might hinder his ministry with the Youth for Christ. It was only at Dr. Riley’s funeral in December 1945 that he accepted the position just until the board of directors could find someone to replace him

Billy Graham in Vietnam, 23 December 1968. Dr. Graham said he brought only one message for the men in Vietnam and that was to wish them a Merry Christmas from the people of the United States
Evangelist Billy Graham greets servicemen of I Corps after speaking to more than 1,500 gathered at the Freedom Hill Amphitheater, Vietnam, Dec. 23 1968.

Even after his work with the Youth for Christ International, Billy continued preaching the Gospel all over the world. Thousands of people were converted and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. He led a series of Crusade meetings in Los Angeles in 1949. On July 14, 1950, Billy Graham, along with fellow ministers, Jerry Beavan, Cliff Barrows, and Grady Wilson, visited President Harry Truman at the White House to share the gospel and pray with him.

However, Truman started disliking Billy after the latter divulged some details to the press, which were meant to be confidential. At this time, the first weekly radio program, “The Hour of Decision,” broadcasted live preaching from Atlanta.

In the same year, Billy founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1950, a non-profit Christian organization that promoted multimedia evangelism. This paved the way for spreading Christian beliefs through his ministry using print and electronic media.

Though Billy Graham constantly communicated with people from all walks of life, he was always careful that his audience would not mistake him for being the one who can transform their lives but emphasized that he was only an instrument used by God to spread his profound message. He also held a crusade in Chattanooga in 1953, where he began his integrated rallies, ending segregation by color.

George HW Bush speaks with Billy Graham, the White House is in background
President George H. W. Bush speaks with Rev. Billy Graham on the South Lawn of the White House following attending the National Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton Hotel. 31 Jan 1991

Billy had a big impact on former President George W. Bush’s life. Bush had been drinking too much since his teens. He had a record for disorderly conduct and drink-driving due to his alcoholism. He carried this drinking problem even after he married former First Lady Laura Bush. But as Laura Bush noted, George Bush lessened his alcohol intake until eventually, he quit the habit in 1986 because of the meeting and regularly attending Billy Graham’s Bible study.

Former President Ronald Reagan was another political figure whom Billy Graham kept a close relationship with, having met in 1953. They respected each other and spoke very highly of each other. They maintained their friendship even when Billy declined Ronald Reagan’s request to put in a good word for him in his campaign for the presidency!

2/5/1981 President Reagan Nancy Reagan and Billy Graham at the National Prayer Breakfast held at the Washington Hilton Hotel
President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan greet Billy Graham at the National Prayer Breakfast held at the Hilton Washington. 1981

The former president publicly acknowledged Billy’s efforts for making a huge impact on humanity and dedication for America by awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom on February 23, 1983. Both Billy and Reagan’s names were included in Gallup’s annual poll of the most admired people in the United States.

Billy Graham continued his evangelistic mission, even reaching Europe and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1980s, and North Korea in 1992. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association launched its website in 1996, making it easier to record millions of activities, including visits to different countries.

Billy Graham, along with his wife, Ruth, received the highest service award from Congress in 1996. President Bill Clinton presented the award to the couple. Their efforts conveyed their commitment to God. This helped mend the crime and violence that plagued the United States at the time. The former president thanked Billy Graham for being a blessing not only to the people of the United States but to people across the globe.

Graham, who began his ministry nearly 50 years ago in Florida, said he's prayed that the 8-day crusade beginning Sunday in Florida's capital city will bring Christ to the unsaved and unify Christians in Florida and South Florida.
Christian crusade evangelist Rev. Billy Graham gestures during a Wednesday news conference as he fielded questions. Florida 1986

Other awards received by Billy Graham were the Philip Award given by the Association of United Methodist Evangelists in 1976, Jabotinsky Centennial Medal from the State of Israel in 1980, Templeton Foundation Prize for Progress in Religion presented by Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace in 1982, and National Religious Broadcasters Award of Merit in 1986. Billy Graham was also awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in 2001.

The globe-trotting evangelist always presented God’s word in a simple yet profound way, which is one of the reasons why his audience related to the message. He maintained a sense of humility and integrity whilst being acknowledged as one of the most admired people in the world.

An old Billy Graham delivering Prayer
Reverend Billy Graham Delivering The Prayer At the Inauguration of William Jefferson Clinton as President. 20 Jan 1993

Billy’s fame did not change his perspective of life. He remained steadfast in his faith in Jesus Christ and instilled the same faith in his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. His family noted that after the cameras and crowd were gone, Billy became the loving husband, father, and grandfather to the family. He ensured creative fruitfulness within the family and encouraged his children to look out for themselves and not depend on him.

Billy Graham wanted to retire because he was suffering from hydrocephalus in 1992. He only had rare public appearances after that because of his failing health. He died on February 21, 2018, of natural causes at the age of 99.

Even on his deathbed, Billy Graham believed that anybody can be Christ’s ambassador as long as their faith in the Lord remains. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is still working to spread the Gospel and continues to touch the lives of a great number of people.

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