Billy Graham will be remembered for his loving heart and humble spirit. For more than six decades he proclaimed the gospel of Christ with power and perseverance, and for almost 30 years it was my privilege to sing at Pastor Graham’s crusades.
Throughout the years of knowing him, I have marveled at his integrity and his kind and gentle spirit. He was born on a dairy farm in North Carolina. “Billy Frank,” as they called him, grew up surrounded by a loving family and rugged discipline. In his autobiography he said, “I was taught that laziness was one of the worst evils, and that there was dignity and honor in labor.”*
“As a teenager,” he said, “our family Bible reading, praying, psalm-singing, and church going—all these left me restless and resentful. In a word, I was spiritually dead.”
One night after attending evangelistic meetings, Billy gave his heart to the Lord.
As a young Fuller brush salesman, Billy went all over North Carolina knocking on doors, learning the les-sons of hardship and flexibility and the inconveniences of constant travel—and conversation. He said of that summer, “Selling Fuller brushes taught me a lot about myself, about human nature, and about communicating a message to people even if I had to talk my way in and out of all kinds of situations.” Little did he know that God was preparing him to preach to more people than any other evangelist in history.
Over a span of 25 years while I was singing for many functions and crusades for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, I witnessed many thou-sands walking forward and giving their lives to Jesus Christ. For his worldwide outreach, Pastor Graham has been recognized as the most widely heard evangelist in history.
When the Billy Graham Library was built in Charlotte, North Carolina, I was humbled to sing at its opening. The ceremony was attended by three former presidents of the United States. It was also my blessing to host television specials on the life and ministry of Pastor Graham and to travel to the Florida Bible Institute near Tampa, where he would preach to a congregation of cypress stumps.
I have so many precious memories of words I have heard Pastor Graham share. They will stay with me for the rest of my life. As we traveled back from his first crusade in Russia in 1992, he said to me, “Wintley, many people see America as a Christian nation. But more than America was meant to be a Christian nation, it was meant to be a nation of Christians, of Jews, of Muslims, a nation where people could worship God according to the dictates of their conscience.” Christlike diplomacy was something I saw exemplified in the life of Pastor Graham.
He said of America, “We have become a neighborhood without becoming a brotherhood.” His message was one of love, unity, and inclusiveness. To be in the room and listen to Pastor Graham speaking to President Ronald Reagan about the matchless love of God is a privilege I will always cherish.
Some years back, I saw Billy Graham being interviewed. The reporter asked him, “Mr. Graham, when you began your ministry back in the fifties, your vision was to reach the world for Christ. Tell me Mr. Graham, realistically how long did you think it was going to take you?” He thought for a while and then said, “I thought it would take at least a lifetime.” When his death came at almost 100 years, it was clear to all that Billy Graham had given his lifetime in service for Christ. He leaves behind a beautiful legacy: a bright light for Christ in a dark, foreboding world.
* Biographical information in this tribute can be found in Just as I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham (New York: HarperCollins, 1997).