It was 1961 when I first met Rev. Billy Graham. My father was a Southern Baptist Deacon in our church and a counselor and usher for the Greater Miami Billy Graham Crusade held at the Miami Beach Convention Center. As was customary in those early days, Rev. Graham would come down from the platform at the end of the meeting and personally greet each volunteer and their families (and there were hundreds).
I remember the excitement of everyone as I stood next to my father waiting his turn to shake Billy Graham’s hand. As Rev. Graham shook my father’s hand, he seemed to me almost a giant and my father himself was not a small man standing well over six feet tall. As a ten year old boy, I was certain this giant of a man would simply pass me by but instead, he leaned over, shook my hand and said, “Do you love Jesus”? I was a pretty shy kid back then so all I did was nod my head and he replied, “Well that’s good because Jesus loves you too”. That stuck with me and my father. In fact, up to the day he died, my Dad would joke with me about how Billy Graham said more to me than anyone else on that memorable day.
I had no idea at that time I would later be called to preach and enter ministry myself and blessed with many opportunities of working with the Billy Graham organization.
I helped launch several projects in South Florida for the Billy Graham organization including a very popular program written by Dr. Leighton Ford of the Billy Graham team titled, “Good News is for Sharing”. Dr. Ford is the son-in-law of Billy Graham and served for 31 years on the Graham team. Good News is for Sharing was like many Billy Graham programs, they were innovative in their methods; in this case, it was the utilization of VHS tapes and television.
I was also privileged to work on the preparation team which brought the 1985 Billy Graham Crusade to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and work as a counselor for the team for new believers.
It was also because of my involvement with the Billy Graham organization that I would become one of the first Pastors and Christian Psychologist in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area to begin working with HIV/AIDS patients and their families; which in those days meant you were helping people deal with and prepare for death.
I also began working with the Billy Graham organization in the 1990 effort to bring Billy Graham back to Jacksonville, Florida for another crusade but my time was cut short on that project as I had been called to pastor another church and returned to South Florida.
I was blessed yet again to have been mentored by my College President and Preaching professor Dr. Jess Moody, who had worked with Billy Graham during his involvement with Youth for Christ. As such, Dr. Moody often shared stories from his time working with Dr. Graham.
The truth is, for most pastors from the 1950’s through the 1990’s it was almost impossible not to be impacted in some way by Rev. Billy Graham and his organization and if you wanted to get involved, there was always an opportunity.
Reverend Billy Graham had received many honorary Doctorates over the years and as an ordained minister he was always respected with the title of Reverend but as I heard him say on many occasions, “Billy is alright, just plain Billy, all I want to be known as is a preacher, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ”.
Although I never knew Billy Graham on a personal level, having met him personally many times, I can say he was everything he preached. He was kind, gentle, loving and a definite ambassador for Christ.
A late pastor friend of mine once said of Billy Graham, “He’s one of a kind, he’s the conscious of America and when he dies, America’s conscious dies with him”.
With all that’s currently going on in America, let’s hope my friend was wrong.
Thank you Reverend Billy Graham, you touched my heart and taught me much. You will be sorely missed.
© 2018 The Outlaw Observer and Opinion