Renowned Christian evangelist Reverend Bill Graham has died at the age of 99, a family spokesperson confirmed Wednesday morning.
Graham passed away at his home in Montreat, North Carolina. For more than 60 years, he was one of the most well-known evangelists in the world. In recent years, though, he had battled illnesses including prostate cancer, hydrocephalus and Parkinson’s Disease.
But that didn’t stop him from once again making Gallup’s most admired man list in 2017, a particularly impressive accomplishment given that he had been out of the public eye for the past decade.
Graham held the last of his trademark crusades in New York City in 2005, which followed one the previous year in Los Angeles, wrapping up a career that included over 400 such events worldwide.
According to The Christian Post, approximately 215 million people have heard Graham preach the salvation message in person in over 185 countries, with millions more reached through television, films and webcasts.
Graham became a Baptist pastor in Illinois in the mid-1940s while attending Wheaton College.
In 1949, he was invited to speak at the Los Angeles Crusade tent meeting, which was initially scheduled for three weeks, but ended up running for two months due to the large crowds that came to hear Graham preach.
Media mogul William Randolph Hearst was so impressed with the young evangelist he directed his papers to “puff Graham,” which made him a nationwide celebrity, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Among the noteworthy people who attended Graham’s first crusade was former Olympian and World War II veteran Louis Zamperini, subject of the 2010 New York Times bestselling book, “Unbroken.
Zamperini reported that after attending two of the meetings, he gave his life to Christ when Graham made an altar call.
By the former Army Air Corps bomber crewman and prisoner of war’s account, Jesus immediately delivered him from alcoholism and what is known today as post traumatic stress disorder.
Graham met, and in some cases became close friends, with every president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. Additionally, Donald Trump was on hand in 2013 to help Graham celebrate his 95th birthday, though due to the preacher’s declining health, he had not been able to meet with him as president.
Former President Ronald Reagan observed, “Rev. Billy Graham’s untiring evangelism has spread the Word of God to every corner of the globe and made him one of the most influential spiritual leaders of the 20th Century.”
“I think it’s through him that I found myself praying even more than a daily basis to give me the wisdom to make decisions that would serve God and be pleasing to Him,” he added.
Graham engaged in the fight for racial equality in the 1950s and 60s in the United States, working with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to oppose segregation in the South. On one occasion in 1962, Graham posted the bail money to have King released from a Georgia jail for protesting segregation laws.
Graham insisted his meetings be integrated when in southern states, and did the same when he traveled to South Africa to hold a crusade in the early 1970s.
“The ground at the foot of the cross is level, and it touches my heart when I see whites standing shoulder to shoulder with blacks at the cross,” he said.
Franklin stated that his father had been asked over the years to run for political office, but he always declined, saying it was not his calling.
Besides, he felt it would be a step down from serving as an ambassador to the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the son said.
In a video released by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association last year to celebrate its founder’s 99th birthday, Billy explained the three key to the Christian life.
First, “We do everything we can to walk in the steps of Jesus,” he said. “The Holy Spirit is the one that helps us live that new lifestyle, which is one of love, gentleness, and patience, all the things that are the fruit of the Spirit.
Second, read God’s Word, the Bible, everyday. He recommended starting with the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament and the book of Genesis in the Old.
Finally, “Go to your knees and pray until you and God have become intimate friends. I cannot describe to you the joy and the peace that He gives you as a result of that daily routine that you have in prayer.”
A focus of Graham’s prayers had been for revival to break out.
“I’ve been praying that we might have a spiritual awakening,” he said, “but I think that becomes possible only as individuals surrender their lives afresh and anew to Christ, and live the Christian life wherever you are.”
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