Evangelist Billy Graham — the most influential preacher of the 20th Century — passes to his reward

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 By Dan Wooding — 
American evangelist Billy Graham — a confidant to presidents, a guiding light to generations of American Christians and a world-traveling preacher who saw millions give their lives to Christ, died today (Wednesday, February 21, 2018), at the age of 99.

 

Graham, who was known as “America’s Pastor,” passed away at his home in Montreat, North Carolina.

“The skinny preacher with the booming voice evangelized to nearly 215 million people over six decades and prayed with US presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama,” said CNN.

“Several presidents, including Lyndon Johnson, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, relied closely on his spiritual counsel.”

He was the reason I got into journalism

But on a personal side, it was 50 years ago in London, England, when I got my first job in journalism. It was with The Christian, an historic British newspaper that the Graham Association had bought and modernized.

will franklin billy graham smallerIt certainly was an amazing way to start my career in journalism, but sadly, after a year there, the paper was shut down by the BGEA for financial reasons and we were all out on the streets.

Fortunately, I soon secured another position on a local newspaper in London, and not long after the closure of The Christian, I was reporting on an event in the West End of London, where Billy Graham was to speak to the stars of many of the big shows in Theatre-land there.

When he arrived, Mr. Graham went around the room introducing himself, and when he got to me, the 6 foot 3 inch evangelist said, “Hi, I’m Billy Graham. What is your name?” Without thinking, I said, “Mr. Graham, my name is Dan Wooding. You may remember that you fired me a few weeks ago.” There was an embarressed look on Billy Graham’s face, as he explained that it wasn’t his decision to close the paper, but that of his board.

Not long after that, I received a phone call from A. Larry Ross, who was then Billy Graham’s press officer, in which he said, “Dan, you know that Mr. Graham has been going to Russia for years now. He has been invited to Moscow to hold a crusade there. It will be the first time that he can openly invite people to receive Christ.”

He paused for a moment, and then said, “We’d like you to come and join our media team and use your journalistic skills to report on this historic mission to Moscow.”

Within a few days, the tickets and the visa had come through and I drove to Los Angeles International Airport to fly to Moscow, via Frankfurt, Germany.

After checking into the President Hotel, a formerly secret place that had been built for communist leaders visiting Moscow like North Korea’s Kim Il-sung, I went to bed to get a good night’s sleep and prepared for an exciting three weeks.

Dan Wooding with Billy and Ruth Graham use smaller
Dan Wooding with Billy and Ruth Graham

It was amazing as Billy Graham’s historic Moscow crusade, held in October 1992 in the indoor Olympic Stadium which, twelve years earlier, had been the site of the Moscow Olympic Games that the United States had boycotted, was quite incredible.

I spent three wonderful weeks meeting with Billy Graham along with Larry Ross, and worked on the various news releases that went out around the world, the first of was called, “A Miracle in Moscow.”

And it sure was that. What a crusade it was to report on! Each night eager Muscovites filled the 38,000-seat stadium to hear Billy. On the first evening inquirers coming forward signed 10,641 cards of commitment; on the second evening 12,628 signed. On the closing Sunday afternoon 50,000 persons had jammed into the stadium, and apparently the fire authority didn’t limit them. Another 30,000 stood outside in the freezing cold where a huge television screen with audio echoed what was happening inside. The number of decision cards signed was 19,417.

A highlight was being able to film the Red Army Choir singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which still sends shivers down my spine. Another, which I will never forget, was when, on the final night, Joni Eareckson Tada, who had been sitting in the wheelchair section of the stadium, was brought up onto the stage, to share her extraordinary story, and was interpreted by a blind Russian translator. By the way, Mr. Graham was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease when he spoke, and it was illustration to me on how God can use anyone, despite their disabilities, for His Glory.

Billy Graham was an extremely humble man who could never understand why God chose him, —  a boy from a farm in North Carolina — to preach the Gospel to the world, yet he was weclomed by many world leaders including Queen Elizabeth and even Kim il-Sung. . As we had both been to North Korea, we would have long chats about whether Kim il-Sung had given his life to Christ after Billy had talked with him. Billy was even planning to go back to go fishing with Kim and told me, “I was going to challenge him out on the lake to give his life to Christ, but then he died and I didn’t go.” So we will never know, this side of heaven, what happened to the North Korea leader who had a Christian mother.

Some years ago, he showed me around his log-cabin home on the top of a mountain at Montreat, North Carolina, and I marveled how simple it was. No palace for this man, who has now left this earth, but is finally in a better place, but what a legacy that he has left behind.

Billy was devastated when he lost the love of his life, Ruth, in 2007, when passed away from pneumonia and degenerative osteoarthritis, but now he will has been reunited with her in heaven, and also the millions who found Christ because of his ministry.