Part 4 of series: The Inaugural Prayers of Billy Graham
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As I wrap up this short series on the inaugural prayers of Billy Graham, I thought I might share a couple of personal stories.
In the late summer of 1963, Billy Graham preached at a crusade in Los Angeles, California. It was the third of seven Graham crusades in the greater Los Angeles area (1949; 1958; 1963; 1969 in Anaheim; 1974; 1985 in Anaheim; 2004). This crusade spanned many days, and, even though the weather was quite hot, hundreds of thousands of people flocked to hear Billy Graham. (Photo: The headline of the Los Angeles Times, September 9, 1963).
Among them was my family: my mom and dad, my grandparents, and me. I’m not sure how many nights we went to the crusade, but I do remember that we took picnic suppers, that Rev. Graham wore a raincoat after he finished preaching even though it wasn’t raining, and that after one of his sermons, I went forward to become a Christian. There I met my “counselor,” a very nice man who reminded me of Crazy Guggenheim from the Jackie Gleason Show. He used John 3:16 to help me invite Jesus into my heart. Even though I was just six years old, I meant what I prayed that night . . . and still do, forty-five years later.
Fairly recently I learned that my father, who had escorted me to the field, also gave his life to Christ that night. I had always thought that he came forward just to help me. It was special to learn that my dad became a Christian on the same field and the same night as I did.
As you can well imagine, ever since that time I’ve had a deep fondness for Billy Graham. Thus I have followed his life and ministry with interest and pride. There’s just about nobody in the world for whom I have more respect and appreciation than Billy Graham.
In 1985 I was working as the college director at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, under the leadership of Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie. “Hollywood Pres” was a wild place in those days. On Sundays in church you might see one of the leading stars in Hollywood. During the weekdays, however, the church campus was visited by hundreds of homeless people looking for food and clothing. A few of those folks were dangerous, and had threatened people who worked at the church. Thus, by 1985, the church receptionist, Daisy, sat behind bars, rather like ones you’ll find in some old post offices. I called the receptionist’s desk “Daisy’s cage.”
One afternoon I was talking to Daisy through her cage bars, when all of a sudden her eyes grew large with surprise. I heard some noise behind me, and, given the look on Daisy’s face, knew that I was about to confront some very scary homeless man. I turned around warily, ready for just about anything. There, standing three feet away from me, stood Billy Graham.
Now I was prepared to deal with some strange street person, but not my all-time hero. I opened my mouth to say something polite, but all that came out of it was: AAAAAHHHHHH! From his response to me, I expect Rev. Graham had heard that before. Without missing a beat, he said, “Hello, I’m Billy Graham. Nice to meet you, young man.” Like he needed to introduce himself! I finally gathered my wits about me and said, “Nice to meet you too, Rev. Graham!”
He explained that he was at the church for a meeting with Lloyd Ogilive as part of the planning for the 1985 crusade in Anaheim. I said that I would be honored to escort him to Dr. Ogilvie’s office, which I did. Along the way I explained that I became a Christian during his 1963 crusade, and how grateful I was for his ministry. He received this story graciously. I wondered at the time how many such stories he had heard over the years. Surely tens of thousands.
As I walked Rev. Graham to Dr. Ogilvie’s office, I noticed that he looked tired. Afterwards, I wondered how much longer he’d be able to do crusades. I figured the pace of his ministry must have been exhausting. Plus, by 1985 Billy Graham was 67 years old. As it turns out, he continued to preach at crusades for 20 more years.
I did not attend the Billy Graham crusade in Anaheim in 1985, but my father did. In fact, he worked at this crusade as a “counselor” for children. When young people came forward to receive Christ, as I had done 22 years earlier, my dad used John 3:16 to introduce them to Christ. He loved this ministry! It turned out to be the last ministry my dad ever did. Soon after the crusade his cancer worsened, and he had to pull back from his church involvement as an elder and Sunday School teacher. He died a year later. There is something wonderful about the way my dad ended his ministry, much as he had begun his relationship with Christ, on the field of a Billy Graham crusade.
I never had the opportunity to team up in ministry with Billy Graham. But I am blessed to be a partner with one of Billy Graham’s lifelong friends and fellow evangelists, Howard E. Butt, Jr. Before Howard founded Laity Lodge, he teamed up with Billy Graham in a number of evangelistic crusades. They worked together to encourage lay people in their ministry, and were close partners in the founding of Christianity Today. What a privilege to know and share life with people of such incredible faith and vision!