By Josh Simpkins
Special to the Sun
Friends and neighbors, a large portion of the world is in mourning at the moment. Some are truly grief-stricken, while others are simply shocked. It is with a heavy heart that I report our nation’s best-known Christian evangelist Rev. Billy Graham passed away in his sleep on February 21, 2018, at his home in Montreat, North Carolina. His death has been confirmed by Jeremy Blume, a spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Rev. Graham was 99.
William Franklin Graham Jr. was born on November 7, 1918, in Charlotte, North Carolina, and raised on a dairy farm in nearby Montreat. The eldest of four children, Rev. Graham spread his influence across the country and around the world through a combination of religious conviction, commanding stage presence and shrewd use of radio, television and advanced communication technologies. Known as “America’s Pastor,” Rev. Graham was a key figure in the revival of the U.S. evangelical Christian movement. The preacher began holding revival meetings in the 1940s and went on to become an adviser to several U.S. presidents. He was especially close to Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and both Bushes. Bill Clinton turned to him after his much-publicized sex scandal, and George W. Bush credited Rev. Graham with helping him to quit drinking alcohol.
Rev. Graham took the role of evangelist to a new level, lifting it from the sawdust floors of canvas tents in small-town America to the podiums of packed stadiums in the world’s major metropolitan cities. He wrote some 30 books—his first “Peace with God,” published in 1953; his last “Nearing Home,” in 2011—and was among the first to use new communication technologies for religious purposes. At times, Rev. Graham seemed to fill the role of national clergyman. He read from Scripture at President Richard M. Nixon’s funeral in California in 1994, offered prayers at a service in the National Cathedral for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and, despite his failing health, traveled to New Orleans in 2006 to preach to survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
Rev. Graham also broke ground by going to places where religious activity was officially restricted, including China and North Korea. The evangelist brought his “Billy Graham Crusades” around the world, preaching to more than 210 million people in 185 countries and territories. His largest such gathering drew 1 million people in Seoul, South Korea, in the 1970s. During his “Global Crusade” from Puerto Rico in 1995, his sermons were translated simultaneously into 48 languages and transmitted to 185 countries.
After Franklin Graham took over as chief executive officer of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the elder Graham continued to serve as chairman of the board. Franklin Graham also ran his own ministry, the Samaritan’s Purse international relief organization. The other four Graham children also got into the family business, either through their own ministries or evangelical speaking. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association continues to organize crusades. It also produced Rev. Graham’s “Hour of Decision” global radio program and prime-time television specials, trains thousands of evangelists and missionaries, maintains a rapid-response team deploys chaplains to disaster areas, and publishes Decision magazine.
Rev. Graham lived on a 200-acre mountain retreat in Montreat, N.C. His wife, Ruth Bell Graham, died in 2007. Rev. Graham is survived by his sons, the Rev. William Franklin III and the Rev. Nelson Graham; three daughters, Gigi, Anne, and Ruth; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. All thoughts and prayers go out to the Graham family during this difficult time. Rest in Paradise, Rev. William Franklin Graham Jr.