William Franklin Graham was born on November 7 in 1918, in North Carolina.
Born four days before the end of World War I, Billy was reared on a dairy farm in Charlotte, North Carolina. During his childhood he helped on the family farm and spent many hours reading a wide variety of books in the hayloft.
In the fall of 1934 Graham yielded to the claims of Christ through a series of revival meetings under Mordecai Ham, a traveling evangelist. In March, 1938, “on the eighteenth green of a golf course”, he promised the Lord he would devote himself to preaching the gospel.
The next year he was ordained by a church in the Southern Baptist Convention. His theological training came from Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College in Florida) and Wheaton College in Illinois. He married fellow student and daughter of a missionary, Ruth McCue Bell, who had grown up on the mission-field of China.
Graham pastored the First Baptist Church in Western Springs, Illinois, then became an evangelist for Youth for Christ, which was founded to reach youth and servicemen during the second world war. In this capacity he preached across the US and also in Europe in the post war years, coming to attention as a young evangelist.
He became a nationally known figure with his 1949 Los Angeles CrU.S.A.de. That Crusade was initially scheduled for three weeks but ran for over eight, in a huge tent erected in downtown LA.
In 1950 The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was born, and since that time he has “preached the gospel to more people than any evangelist in the history of the church, reaching nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories. Hundreds of millions more have been reached through radio, television, video, film, and webcasts throughout the world.
Many of his crusades were extended, including London which lasted 12 weeks, and a New York City crusade in Madison Square Garden in 1957 which ran nightly for 16 weeks.
It is estimated that two million individuals have responded to the invitation given at the close of his sermons.
Whilst he has his critics, some saying he is too ecumenical and others that he is too Arminian, many have found the Saviour as a result of his clear-cut gospel presentation.
Billy Graham’s ministry has been augmented by his weekly “Hour of Decision” radio program which has run for more than 50 years, “Decision” Magazine with more than half a million subscribers, and World Wide Pictures which has become one of the foremost producers of evangelistic films in the world.
Many of the 25 books written by Graham have been best-sellers. He has been sought out by presidents and leaders and given many honours. Since 1948 he is the most frequently included person in the Gallop organisation’s Ten Most Admired Men in the World.
CF personal note: My parents found Christ when Billy Graham preached in Sydney in the late 1950’s. I remember attending a tiny wooden Methodist church in West Wyalong where we heard Graham by landline from the Sydney Cricket Ground. I also remember asking a man, “Where are my mummy and daddy?” He replied, “They’ve gone to the front to talk to someone about Jesus.” My parents were transformed, their marriage saved and they went on to plant churches.
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.