This week we learned of the home-going of the Rev. Billy Graham at the age of 99.  He changed the eternal destiny of millions of people through his crusades and will be fondly remembered as an evangelist who lifted high the truth that “Jesus loves you, and wants to forgive your sin.”

Billy Graham’s legacy also includes his “ability to present the gospel in the idiom of the culture. He did this brilliantly, making innovative use of emerging technologies—radio, television, magazines, books, a newspaper column, motion pictures, satellite broadcasts, Internet—to spread his message.”

“In addition, he helped launch numerous influential organizations, including Youth for Christ (he was the first full-time staff member of this entrepreneurial and innovative organization), the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Christianity Today. The ripple effect of his shaping influence extends to such schools as Wheaton College in Illinois, Gordon-Conwell Divinity School in Massachusetts, Northwestern College in Minnesota, and Fuller Seminary in California. His encouragement and support helped develop the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, Greater Europe Mission, TransWorld Radio, World Vision, World Relief, and the National Association of Evangelicals.”

“He brought the global Christian community together through international conventions: a 1966 Congress on World Evangelism in Berlin, the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, and three huge conferences in Amsterdam for itinerant evangelists in 1983, 1986, and 2000, which drew nearly 24,000 working evangelists from 200 countries.”
– Christianity Today

My life was shaped by Billy Graham in two very specific ways.  First, I graduated from Northwestern College, of which he was president (1948 – 1952).  (NO, I was not a student at the time he was president!)  But he had maintained a relationship with the college that was still intact two decades after he resigned as president (to fulfill his true calling as an evangelist).  The shadow of his ministry and character was present, especially through a long-tenured Bible professor who taught Bible during the days in which Billy was president.

The second way in which Billy shaped my life occurred in 1974 in Lausanne, Switzerland.  As a college student, I was privileged to participate in the first Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization.  2700 Christian world leaders were invited to the Congress, including 25 college and university students from the US.  Because of Billy Graham’s association with Northwestern College, one student at Northwestern would be invited to participate.  I remember one day being called into the Dean’s office, and with another college administrator present, being told that I had been selected to attend the Congress – all expenses paid!   I would travel with a theology professor to the Congress where we would join these 2700 world leaders for two weeks of messages; prayer gatherings; and plotting strategy to reach the world with the Gospel message.

It was one of the first days of the Congress, that my professor and I arrived early enough for the evening session that we were able to sit in the second row of the auditorium.  (The first row was reserved for the dignitaries who weren’t on the platform that particular plenary session.)  They filed in, many wearing the festive garb of their country.  Billy Graham was in this group, and he sat down almost directly in from of me.  I had a great vantage point – looking over his left shoulder to see what he would do during the plenary talks.  After a time of worship and prayer, the teaching began, and I watched Billy pull out a legal pad and with his pen, write page after page of notes. 

That moment is etched deeply into my memory.  Here was a world Christian leader – at the top of his game, so to speak – not content with his vast knowledge or wisdom, demonstrating that he was a humble student, eager to learn from others. 

His example was a profound lesson to me as a young follower of Jesus Christ. Today, I cannot listen to a sermon, or participate in a group prayer time, without a pen and paper!  I realize that my best learning occurs when I follow his example: pen and paper in hand, humble attitude of heart.  It is a powerful combination for being a life-time learner of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Thank you Billy, for being such an inspiration and example to millions of people – including me.

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