Graham’s impact transformed America’s religious life and reached around the world. He eventually became a counselor to presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history.
Spokesman Mark DeMoss says Graham, who long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, died at his home in North Carolina on Wednesday morning.
William Franklin Graham was born November 7,1918, four days before the end of World War I.
Raised on a dairy farm during the Great Depression, he developed a strong work ethic, a work ethic that was clearly evident through six decades of ministry.
Rev. Graham shared the gospel of Jesus Christ to nearly 215 million people in live audiences in more than 185 countries and territories.
Hundreds of millions more have been reached through radio, television, film, books and the internet.
Billy Graham gave his heart to Jesus Christ at 16. His profound conversion happened under the ministry of traveling evangelist Mordecai Ham.
Answering God’s call to the ministry, he was ordained in 1939 by a church in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Four years later, he graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois, where he met and married his wife, Ruth.
“All I remember is going back home and kneeling down that night and saying, Lord, if you’d let me spend the rest of my life with that man, I would consider it the greatest privilege,” Ruth Graham once said. “And fortunately, I didn’t know what I was praying. If I’d know what lay ahead, I wouldn’t have had the nerve to pray a prayer like that.”
Billy Graham gained his primary evangelistic experience on radio, and then through Youth for Christ, an organization founded to minister to young people and servicemen during World War II.
Following the war, Graham preached throughout the United States and Europe.
His ministry with Youth for Christ opened doors for a series of interdenominational city-wide campaigns in the late 40s.
Graham’s Los Angeles Crusade in 1949 brought international recognition. Originally scheduled for three weeks, the meetings were extended to more than eight weeks.
“In the city of Los Angeles, the largest tent ever erected for a revival meeting is now complete,” the news media reported at the time.
The tent seated 6,500 people, and several thousand more stood around the sides.
Graham’s team established prayer chains throughout the city to intercede for the crusade.
One prayer warrior, known as Mrs. Edwards, felt a supernatural compulsion to call the legendary newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst and tell him about Billy Graham.
From that call, Hearst issued the now famous command, “puff Graham,” which means highly promote this man.
The Los Angeles crusade became front page news. That led to overflow crowds and extended runs for many of the crusades that followed.
One in London lasted 12 weeks, and a crusade in New York City ran for 16 weeks.
“Now I’m going to ask you to get up out of your seat, hundreds of you, men, women, young people,” Graham preached in his powerful, familiar voice in that New York outreach.
Even gang members turned in their weapons at the New York crusade.
Billy Graham was not afraid to confront the evils of society. He joined with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to battle racism.
“Don’t ever say it’s a white man’s religion or a black man’s religion,” he said. “Christ belongs to all people. He belongs to the whole world.”
Graham also took on apartheid, refusing to hold a crusade in South Africa until the meetings were integrated.
Despite sharp criticism from many in the religious community, Billy Graham also took the message of salvation behind the “Iron Curtain” to communist eastern Europe.
Billy Graham’s ministry partner Cliff Barrows said, “They had packed the materials in little cellophane bags with a pencil and a decision card and a Gospel so that they would have the Scriptures, and we just passed them out. We threw them out to the people, and they were reaching up and grabbing them. They were so hungry to hear the Word and to receive it.”
He even went into North Korea, one of the world’s most secretive regimes to talk about Christ with its leader, the late Kim Il Sung.
Evangelist Luis Palau said, “Billy Graham really opened up more countries to the Gospel, inspired more young preachers to have faith to believe that nations could be opened up, has given credibility to Biblical Christianity like no one except maybe the Apostle Paul in history.”
Like the apostle Paul, Billy Graham was not ashamed to share the gospel with people in power.
Franklin Graham said, “He has stayed focused on telling men and women about Jesus Christ. His ministry, his life, every speaking engagement, every opportunity with a president or a king or whoever, he would always get the conversation right around to the Gospel.”
He was known as the pastor to the presidents, a friend of 11 commanders in chief, Democrats and Republicans alike.
President Jimmy Carter said, “He has reached out equally for opportunities to serve God, to all people.”
“When he prays with you, you feel that he is praying for you, not the president,” President Bill Clinton said.
“The humble farmer’s son who helped change the world is a spiritual gift to all of us,” President George H.W. Bush said with tears in his eyes.
The evangelist helped change the world, and the world noticed.
Since 1955, Billy Graham was listed a record 54 times, by the Gallup organization, as one of the “10 most admired men in the world,” including 48 times consecutively – more than any other person in history.
But in spite of the acclaim, Billy Graham walked in humility, a life yielded to Christ. He made this clear at the dedication of his library.
“My whole life has been to please the LORD and to honor Jesus, not to see me, not to think of me,” Graham said.
During his 1957 New York City Crusade, Graham preached what became his signature gospel invitation, “You come now, quickly. While every head is bowed in prayer and the choir sings softly ‘Just As I Am.’ Hundreds are already coming from everywhere, you come with them.”
Turning to the camera, he offered the gospel to viewers at home as well, saying, “You out there tonight can give your life to Christ. Just bow your head and say yes to Christ right now.”