The life & legacy of Rev. Billy Graham

Photo credit: BGEA

Not just in the mountains but people around the world mourn Rev. Billy Graham's passing.

Through the years, 12 U.S. Presidents sought his counsel.

Former News 13 Reporter, Sherrill Barber covered the Evangelist for decades, traveling with Billy Graham to his crusades in Russia, Hong Kong, California, Florida, Texas and South Carolina.

The Reverend Graham grew up on his family's farm in Charlotte milking cows and turned into one of the world's most beloved and respected preachers.

“Whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever social standing or realm you might be in... Tonight, God warns there is a judgment to come,” said Rev. Graham at his first crusade.

Billy Graham's fiery delivery at his 1949 crusade in Los Angeles launched his career as a national preacher capable of drawing large crowds.

Graham grew up on his father's dairy farm in Charlotte, just about five miles from what's now home of the Carolina Panthers, the Bank of America stadium.

He developed his powerful speaking style based on tent revival preachers he heard in the southeast.

“My main priority is exactly the same as it was when I started. And that is preaching the gospel of Christ, and asking people to receive Christ as their Lord and Savior.”

Graham became the first preacher to reach millions with a new electronic pulpit, “every person here tonight can have everlasting life.”

Most crusades, including one in Asheville in 1977, were filmed and videotaped for national broadcasts.

Graham softened his delivery over the years, but never changed his view of the gospel's message, “I believe there is a hell, to which people are going if they reject Christ. But at the same time, I believe the overwhelming message is the grace and the love and the mercy of God, and that's what I emphasize, a lot more than what I did in the earlier years.”

Graham struggled with his fame and the question of whether people came to his crusades to hear the gospel or to hear Billy Graham.

He avoided titles such as "reverend" or "pastor".

His humility reflected his belief that Christians show their faith best when they serve and when they pray.

At the close of many services, he said what he told a sea of new believers in Moscow in 1992, “you've come tonight to Christ, not to Billy Graham. I have no supernatural power to do anything, I'm just a man like you are. I'm only a messenger and my message is that God loves you.”

Graham left his impression on history through his contact with U.S. Presidents, from Truman to Obama, and heads of state around the world. He became an ambassador of faith and his country, “I think the church is one of the ways we get to know each other better.

Health problems would eventually limit his international ministry.

In the early 90's he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

He collapsed during a speaking engagement in Toronto in 1995. After that, he returned to Asheville after months of treatment at the Mayo Clinic.

In the fall of 2000, Graham preached at this crusade in Jacksonville, saying he will preach as long as he has the strength.

In the new millennium, Graham's team cut his crusades to two a year.

He often looked feeble as his son Franklin assisted him in walking to the podium. He openly doubted whether he could attract enough people to fill a large stadium.

But in 2002, the 83-year-old evangelist broke attendance records at a Dallas stadium and preached sermons with a vigor that amazed the crowds.

His final crusade was held in New York in 2005 where he told a crowd of nearly 70,000 he does not fear death and is looking forward to heaven, “Jesus said it's possible to start life all over again."

After that he participated in festivals with his son Franklin, including a trip to hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, "that there's much more to life than material things, there's a moral and spiritual strength that is needed not only in New Orleans and the 9th ward but it's needed everywhere."

His inspired energy amazed those around him, including his wife Ruth, “she's exactly with me. She believes I should go as long as I have the strength, and that's what I hope to do.”

The internationally famous couple never shied away from expressing their love for each other, and firmly believed it was a marriage made in Heaven, “it gets better as you get older, and the secret of it of course I think is the Lord, and Christ, if you have him in the center of your lives.”

In 2007, his beloved wife Ruth died.

Thousands came to Montreat to show their respects to the woman who played such an important role in supporting Graham's ministry.

While age limited his travel at the end of his life, Graham's conviction about the certainty of God's forgiveness never wavered.

His faith allowed him to speak boldly and comfortably about life after death.

“It's been a wonderful experience to be an old man and look back, and look forward, I'm looking forward to Heaven, in fact, every day I think about it.”

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