Charismatic evangelist Rev. Billy Graham, renowned the world over for his impassioned sermons, passed away this morning (Feb. 21) at his Montreat home in North Carolina, his spokesman Jeremy Blume confirmed in a statement to CNN.
Not only was the evangelist preacher known for his motivational and inspirational sermons across the United States and, indeed, the world over, he was also a spiritual guide to several U.S. presidents, starting all the way back from Harry Truman right down to Barack Obama.
His proximity to Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and George H.W. Bush as a counselor and minister is a well-documented fact and so is his close friendship with Richard Nixon.
According to George W. Bush, Rev. Graham was the man behind consolidating his faith in religion and God and helping him give up his drinking habit in the 1980s.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the pastor was one of the few people who was allowed to visit Ronald Reagan when the former president’s condition had deteriorated as a result of Alzheimer’s disease.
President Donald Trump paid tribute to the “very special man,” writing on Twitter that the “GREAT Billy Graham” was dead.
“There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions,” wrote the 45th President of the United States of America.
The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 21, 2018
Vice President Mike Pence tweeted that he and his wife Karen were “saddened” by his death, calling the pastor “one of the greatest Americans of the century.”
“We send our deepest condolences to the Graham family,” wrote the vice president.
A follow-up tweet from the VP read:
“Billy Graham’s ministry for the gospel of Jesus Christ and his matchless voice changed the lives of millions. We mourn his passing but I know with absolute certainty that today he heard those words, “well done good and faithful servant.” Thank you, Billy Graham. God bless you.”
Billy Graham's ministry for the gospel of Jesus Christ and his matchless voice changed the lives of millions. We mourn his passing but I know with absolute certainty that today he heard those words, "well done good and faithful servant." Thank you Billy Graham. God bless you(2/2)
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) February 21, 2018
Jim McGrath, post-White House spokesman for President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, tweeted a statement on behalf of the former president and first lady which revealed that “Rev. Graham was with the Bushes in the White House residence the night Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait commenced Jan 16, 1991.”
Statement by @GeorgeHWBush on the passing of his dear friend, Billy Graham. Among many special visits, Rev. Graham was with the Bushes in the White House residence the night Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait commenced Jan 16 1991. pic.twitter.com/fS3hYa8n0g
— Jim McGrath (@jgm41) February 21, 2018
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association claims that Rev. Graham was the inspirational and spiritual force behind 3 million conversions to the Christian faith.
He, reportedly, preached to some 215 million people across 185 countries, reaching out to millions more with his messages on radio and television as well as the internet.
“He was probably the dominant religious leader of his era; no more than one or two popes, perhaps one or two other people, could come close to what he achieved,” said William Martin, the author of “A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story,”
Born on November 7, 1918, Rev. Graham grew up on a Charlotte dairy farm in North Carolina, where he spent his early life toiling on the family farm, yet finding time to pore over books covering a wide range of subjects.
In 1934, just a couple of years into his teens, Rev. Graham decided to dedicate his existence to Jesus Christ and within a span of 5 years was ordained by the Peniel Baptist Church in Palatka, Florida, receiving his early education in the Scriptures at the Florida Bible Institute, which is now known as the Trinity College of Florida.
Soon after he graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois, he married fellow student Ruth McCue Bell, the daughter of a missionary surgeon, who not only bore him five children but also became a trusted adviser over the years. She passed away in June 2007.
“When it comes to spiritual things, my wife has had the greatest influence on my ministry,” Graham said.
Following his graduation, Rev. Graham was appointed the pastor of the Village Church of Western Springs in Illinois, now called the Western Springs Baptist Church.
Thereafter, he joined an organization called the Youth for Christ – formed for religious counseling to the youth and servicemen during World War II – soon making a name for himself as a popular young evangelist.
However, international recognition and prominence came in 1949 with the Los Angeles Crusade, which drew crowds in huge numbers to the downtown tent each night. Originally scheduled for just three weeks, the nightly congregation had to be stretched to more than eight weeks.
Such was his rising popularity that the ensuing Crusade in London had to be extended to 12 weeks, while a Madison Square Garden Crusade in New York City lasted for as long as 16 weeks.
Rev. Graham has preached in almost every corner of the earth, from remote villages in the heart of Africa to world capitals, and his disciples ranged from the downtrodden to heads of states.
“Had it not been for the ministry of my good friend Dr. Billy Graham, my work in the Civil Rights Movement would not have been as successful as it has been,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once commented.
Rev. Graham has 33 books to his credit, including his 1997 autobiography “Just As I Am” which has the distinction of simultaneously finding its way on three top best-seller lists in one week – a “triple crown” indeed.
Here are some of Rev. Grahams other works.
1971 – “The Jesus Generation” – sold 200,000 copies in the first two weeks.
1975 – “Angels: God’s Secret Agents” – the book sold one million copies within 90 days
1977 – “How to Be Born Again” – this book recorded the largest first printing in publishing history of the time with 800,000 copies
1983 – “Approaching Hoofbeats: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” – appeared on The New York Times bestseller list for several weeks.
2010 – “Nearing Home”
2011 – “Nearing Home: Life, Faith and Finishing Well” – selected as the Christian Book of the Year (2012) by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association
2012 – “The Heaven Answer Book”
2015 – “Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity, and Our Life Beyond”