In Later Years, the Evangelist Leaned on a “Walker for His Soul”
By A. Larry Ross, Exclusive to ASSIST News Service
CHARLOTTE, NC (ANS – March 3, 2018) — Evangelist Billy Graham, 99, was laid to rest on Friday, March 2, 2018, next to his wife Ruth at the Library bearing his name. In the final years of his public ministry spanning more than six decades, he was a young man in an old man’s body, with a burden for the next generation and passion for renewal in the church and revival across America burning in his spirit.
In the Old Testament, we read, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out,” (Proverbs 20:5, NIV). Billy Graham’s profound spiritual discernment was evident on many occasions. The man who began his ministry prostrate on the 18th green of a golf course, later confessing on a stump in the woods that he would take the Bible on faith, remained a man of prayer seeking out the heart of God throughout his ministry.
For nearly a decade after his last public crusade in 2005, Mr. Graham maintained his influence and impact, writing several books, demonstrating that “the lion still had a roar.” On the milestone of his 95th birthday, he taped an Easter sermon from his home for a broadcast that would reach the next generation, codifying the message he faithfully preached through more than 400 crusades around the world. As his strength would allow, the seasoned evangelist and senior statesman for the Christian faith would also meet and mentor pastors and leaders who will carry the baton of evangelism into the future.
For more than 33 years — over half of his public ministry — I was privileged to work closely with Mr. Graham as his spokesperson and media representative. During this time, one of the remarkable things I observed was that this progressive and aggressive, forward-thinking evangelist was a life-long learner who never stopped developing — both spiritually and culturally.
King David had his counselors, his mighty men, who enabled him to win many battles. Sadly, at the time of his passing, many of Billy Graham’s trusted counselors were already gone – through death, retirement or other factors. Mr. Graham was looking for individuals he could trust to lean on; he had a walker for his body, but he needed a “walker for his soul.”
Don Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church Spartanburg (SC), where Mr. Graham moved his membership in 2009, was ever-present in his sunset years to provide that support. “Mr. Graham never stopped growing, he never stopped learning; he was always searching for deeper spiritual meaning and significance,” he said. “He had a very clear understanding of the significance of salvation from a biblical standard — that it’s the work of God alone.
“Secondly, it’s the working out of that salvation, continuing in the present tense,” Wilton added. “Mr. Graham taught us that salvation is never an end; it’s just a means to an end. In his own life, he worked on his own salvation throughout his life, and never considered himself to have ‘arrived.’”
Former crusade director Rick Marshall echoed the evangelist’s capacity for ongoing relevance. “I believe a great distinctive of Billy Graham was his capacity to re-learn,” he said. “He was literally a student of not only the culture, but of the application of the Gospel to preach to that culture. He was constantly looking for philosophies and politics; and words and phrases; stories and people; and illustrations that he could use to open a window into the human heart in light of the way modern culture reshaped values.”
In his latter years of reflection at his mountaintop home, Mr. Graham considered various repositories to seamlessly maintain his personal legacy. He inquired about institutions with thoughtful scholarship to maintain his sermon manuscripts from more than 400 crusades and countless other speaking engagements, which were donated to the archives at the Center bearing his name on the campus of Wheaton College.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), now based in Charlotte, continues under the capable leadership of Billy Graham’s son, Franklin. The ministry headquarters includes the Billy Graham Library, which provides a wonderful memorial to the founder of the evangelist’s unique life and influence for audiences who loved Mr. Graham, who see him as a spiritual leader or who tie their Christian experience to a faith commitment under his ministry.
The Library also serves as a vital interactive ongoing evangelistic crusade that introduces visitors to the transformative Gospel message and provides opportunity for response, with significant results. Further, it serves to transfer intergenerational support from Mr. Graham’s leadership to the Franklin era and is a destination to springboard future ministry, including holiday outreaches and events throughout the year.
As global evangelist to the world, no single organization, city or country can lay sole claim to Billy Graham’s legacy, which continues on through ministers he has trained and influenced and in the hearts and lives of individuals in 185 countries and territories of the world who have been transformed by his faithfulness to God’s calling on his life. For many years into the future, scholars, historians, theologians and media will be studying his life, philosophy of ministry and inventory of sermons and statements — as they have and other great evangelists who have gone on before.
My own personal involvement in Mr. Graham’s ministry reflected that continuum, progressing from initial media liaison to reputation management in the latter years to a more recent focus on capturing and crafting the long-term legacy of his unique influence and ministry over more than six decades.
At his request, we developed an informative website for media and general public available at www.BillyGrahamLegacy.info.
It has been said that the world will not see another like Mr. Graham in our generation. In fact, his influence has been so broad, and his impact so far-reaching, we won’t know its extent this side of heaven, no matter how clearly defined.
Photo captions: 2) Billy Graham preaching. 2) Billy Graham, then 93, is seen here leaving Mission Hospital in Asheville, N.C., with his son, Franklin, where he had been treated for a lung problem. Behind him are former presidents, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. 3) Franklin Graham speaking at the service for his late father. 4) The casket of the Rev. Billy Graham is moved on Friday during the funeral service at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C. 4) A. Larry Ross.
About the Writer: Larry Rossis president of A. Larry Ross Communications, a Dallas-based media/public relations agency founded in 1994 to provide cross-over media liaison at the intersection of faith and culture. For more than 33 years, he served as personal media spokesperson for evangelist Billy Graham, and is responsible for the website, http://www.billygrahamlegacy.info and curator of the video streaming channel, http://bit.ly/BillyGrahamLegacyYouTube.
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