I first saw him and heard him speak in Boise, Idaho when I was in elementary school. I can't remember what age I was. I just remember our small church had decided to take people downtown in a school bus to hear him preach. I don't have any recollection of where he spoke to us nor much about his message. But I did remember one thing Billy Graham said:
"Why are we always using the word...hell? Why can't we start talking about heaven?"
That was my takeaway as a young girl sitting through a very long sermon.
Afterwards, the bus-full of church people stopped at a local restaurant for dinner. A few other kids and myself asked our parents if we could go play and run around in the bus parked in the parking lot. We were granted permission.
As we were immersed in our imagination and play, we were surprised by two teenage boys who pushed opened the door of the bus and hollered, "Hey! What the hell are you doing?"
It startled us, and because no adults were around I felt scared. I looked at the others and found strength in Billy Graham's words and hollered back, "Why do you have to use the word hell? Why can't you say - what the heaven?"
If cell phones had existed back then, I would have captured their stunned facial expressions. They were a bit dumbfounded and didn't know what to say. Probably never had that response before! Quickly the "hell-talker" said to his companion, "Let's get out of here." And they were gone.
I felt powerful. I experienced the power of words. I felt like Mr. Graham's protege.
Fast forward to the age of 43, my mom invited me to take a trip with her to the Noah's Ark replica in Kentucky, and then she tagged on an extra day trip to Charlotte, NC to see the Billy Graham Library. I knew nothing about the library, and to be honest I was not very excited about the idea. However, I would not pass up a trip to North Carolina.
We drove back into the Carolina woods to find not what I thought a library would look like, but a quaint southern brick home and a beautiful barn with windows in the shape of a cross. I was instantly intrigued. There was history here, and I love history.
When I walked in, it was not the library I had envisioned...
It was a journey through Billy's life of faith, an interactive walk through time. Mechanical dairy cows introduced visitors to the beginnings of little "Billy Franks" life on the dairy farm, and then directed us to the next area, where we sat on wooden benches and watched a short film of Billy Graham's call into ministry.
I thought to myself, "Oh my, how am I going to get through this if I can barely hold it together at the start of the tour?"
Still wiping my tears and trying to hold it together, we walked into the next room designed to look like a tent Billy preached in many times during the mid 1900's. One tent revival meeting was scheduled for four weeks, but ended up going for EIGHT weeks!
Would Christians today even go to a 1-week revival meeting?
God even opened up opportunities with government officials, Presidents, celebrities, and diplomats.
His influence over the course of almost 10 decades is the true evidence of what God can do through a man or woman who gives his/her life completely over to God.
At the end of the tour, every visitor is invited to accept Jesus and the gospel message into their lives. Even though I have already made that decision long ago, I was still ready and open to make that decision all over again. Instead my old faith was revived to a new bolder one. The journey had awakened my spirit and nurtured the roots of my soul. All I could think was, "This place has to be covered in prayer!"
My mom and I didn't say too much to each other throughout the tour. We simply took it all in. We decided to have lunch in the cafe in the library, and when we sat down to eat I asked my mom to pray because I knew I would not get through even a simple meal prayer. As my mom began to pray, I realized she too had been deeply moved by our experience. Her emotions could not be held in either.
I've written in my journal many words and sayings from Billy Graham since my visit to the library. Words if were said without the Holy Spirit would only be words, nothing extraordinary. But because Billy Graham lived so closely with God, his words powerfully passed through the walls of people's hearts and transformed the lives of people all over the world.
"People do not come to hear what I have to say -
they want to know what God has to say."
When I heard that Billy Graham had died this morning, I couldn't hold back the tears once again. His words had given me the courage once as a young girl and again as a grown woman. He was a part of my faith journey as thousands of others all over the world could possibly say the same thing.
We don't know our own influence; how powerful our words can be when we allow God to use them for His purpose. But little "Billy Frank's" life is a beautiful example of God's incredible work in the lives of those who courageously live out their faith boldly, obediently, and freely.
He will be missed, but his words live on in all of us. And joy fills my heart when I think of the words Billy got to hear this morning from the One he served so faithfully for so many years, "Well done, good and faithful servant."