Billy Graham: Prophet To The Masses
He has preached the Christian gospel to more people than anybody in history--a total of about 80 million have heard him in person. He had a more modest beginning as a preacher, however.
He once preached with little results to patrons in front of saloons. When a nervous Billy Graham was asked to preach his first sermon, he preached four sermons, each intended to last about 30 minutes, in only 8 minutes. He had only intended to preach one but found it was too short.
From humble beginnings, Graham, now 81 and fighting Parkinson's Disease, has preached the Christian gospel to more people than anyone in history (a total of more than 80 million in person in more than 70 countries). More than 3 million people have responded to the invitation at the end of his sermons to give their lives to Christ. Counting sermons on radio, television, and movies produced by his own company, more than 210 million people in 185 countries have heard his message.
Graham said on WAFF television in Huntsville, Alabama, that his message has never changed.
"Man's heart is the same as it was 50 years ago," Graham explained. "Nothing has changed. People still do the same old things. I plan to keep preaching as long as I have the strength to do it."
"My one purpose in life is to help people find a relationship with God, which I believe comes through Jesus Christ," Graham, who was converted himself at 17, said on his Web site for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Born near Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1918, Graham first attended Bob Jones University. He then attended Florida Bible Institute, began preaching, and changed his denominational affiliation from Associate Reformed Presbyterian to Southern Baptist. (His crusades have always been for all people, however.) He completed his education at Wheaton College in Illinois, where he met and married Ruth Bell, the daughter of a medical missionary, who had planned on being a missionary herself.
After preaching the four sermons in 8 minutes, Graham began to receive invitations to participate in revivals in country churches. When 32 people came forward during one invitation, he began for the first time to have "an inkling" he could be used by God in evangelism. He preached on such topics as "Who's Who in Hell."
He earned enough money to buy a small car to drive to the revivals. He had earned $50-$75 a week for college as a Fuller Brush salesman.
While young, Graham briefly served as a youth director at a church. Graham also briefly served as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Western Springs, Illinois. His ultimate desire was evangelism, however. At 29, he briefly served as the youngest college president in America.
The groundwork for his crusades was laid when Graham became the field representative for Youth For Christ International. Then, as now, Graham had a heart for young people. In his role, he toured America and much of Great Britain and Europe. He taught people how to organize youth rallies. Friendships formed with Christian leaders would help in revivals.
Crusades in major cities began in Los Angeles, Boston, and others. His "Hour of Decision" radio broadcast began in 1950. Revivals that lasted for months were held in London in 1954 and New York in 1950. He had other successful revivals in North America and the Far East.
The founding of "Christianity Today" magazine in 1956 and nationwide telecasts of his revivals helped establish Graham. He also had a friendship with President Dwight Eishenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon.
Graham has been a fixture on numerous most admired men in America and the world lists. Graham has been the friend of the queen of England, the pope and several British prime ministers; he has received both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.
Graham has been a friend of every president since Eisenhower and has offered spiritual advice to the leaders. When the country has needed someone to offer a prayer at the innaguration or burial of a president or offer comfort in the time of crisis, such as the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, it has turned to him.
Some fundamentalists were critical of Graham for cooperating with less fundamental churches after a crusade at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
"I intend to go anywhere, sponsored by anybody, to preach the gospel of Christ, if there are no strings attached to my message," Graham responded. "The only question is: are you committed to Christ?"
Whether he preaches about loneliness caused by not having God in a person's life, hell, drugs, alcohol, or family breakdown, Graham always offers hope.
"God does love them (the world) and will forgive all of their sins because of Christ on the cross," Graham said on WAFF television.
Graham is still preaching at 81 even if his health slows him down. He preached in June in Nashville in the 50,000-seat stadium that is home to the Tennessee Titans football team. His message of faith and repentance has never changed. Many have said their lives were changed forever after hearing Billy Graham.
Graham has written several books, including "Peace With God," published in 1953; "The Secret of Happiness," published in 1955; and his autobiography, "Just As I Am," published in 1997.