By Joy Allmond
As a fourth-grader in southeastern North Carolina, I took the required state history course. Along with learning about the Wright Brothers and taking field trips to battlefields-turned-state-parks, one of my assignments was to research the life of a famous North Carolinian and write a report.
I chose Billy Graham.
I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because I had seen several of his televised evangelistic crusades. Or it could have been because he reminded me of my grandfather, who was around the same age. Perhaps it was one of my parents’ ideas.
Either way, I knew Billy Graham was a standout. That he was set apart. That he was called to something.
Maybe that’s why I chose him. We all, on some level, want to be called to important things—to make a difference. As I researched his life, I marveled that a simple farm boy from Charlotte, N.C., would be used to change the world.
And I have the faint memory of hoping I would make a difference, too—albeit on a much smaller scale.
My college years would prove formative not just in conventional ways but also in spiritual ways. I surrendered to God’s pursuit of my heart early in my freshman year.
A year later, I carpooled with a dozen or so friends from Wilmington—where I was in college—to Charlotte for a Billy Graham Crusade. God used Billy Graham to spur me on to the next phase in my life: figuring out how I was going to serve Christ.
From the podium, he paraphrased Matthew 6:24: “No man, no woman can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and man.”
As the rain fell, drenching my friends and me in what is now Bank of America Stadium, Billy Graham threw down the gauntlet, speaking with his trademark Southern sway.
“I believe a Christian is three things,” he said. “A person who’s made a choice, a person who’s accepted a challenge, and a person who’s been changed.”
On accepting challenges, Mr. Graham said, “You can’t be neutral… You have to accept the challenge (of following Christ). And it’ll cost you.”
As a 19-year-old sophomore living out my newfound commitment, I didn’t know what costs lay ahead, but I knew I wanted to serve Christ and His church.
Little did I know: In another decade or so, I’d be living in Charlotte, serving God under the banner of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA).
Throughout my nine years at BGEA, I heard story after story of Mr. Graham (that’s what we called him around the office) and his interest in the individual.
Those who had worked there long enough to have moved with the ministry from Minneapolis to Charlotte in the early 2000s would speak of his great care in honoring the janitor as much as the top-level executive.
It was widely told around the office he made a point to know the names of the people in his employ who would never have public recognition (which was most of us). One colleague said he would even ask about employees’ kids by name.
Mr. Graham made an appearance at my first BGEA company picnic in August 2008. His health had been precarious and his immune system was fragile, so we were instructed to not approach him for fear of spreading germs that could gravely infect him.
He was handed a microphone to address us. The first thing he said was not what most leaders would say.
He didn’t tell us what a great job we were doing. He didn’t reflect on the great things done through his ministry. He didn’t even voice a simple greeting.
“I’m sorry I’m not able to shake hands,” he said, his voice shaky with age and the Parkinson’s disease that wracked his body. “In fact, I wish I could hug every single one of you.”
This was a man who counseled world leaders. A man credited with preaching the gospel to more people than anyone else in history. A friend to countless celebrities.
At the same time, this was also a man who loved his unknown co-laborers. A man humble enough to not believe his own hype.
A man who knew he was just a man.
I didn’t know that fourth-grade project would be the first of many writing assignments that pertained to Billy Graham and his ministry.
It’s a privilege to do this one last assignment honoring the man who intrigued the mind of a 9-year-old girl, spoke resolve into a wide-eyed 19-year-old college student, and helped shape the calling of this mid-career writer/editor.
Thank you, Mr. Graham.
- Billy Graham’s Life & Ministry by the Numbers
- Flowers Adorn Billy Graham Statue at Ridgecrest
- Billy Graham Remains Influential Among Churchgoers
JOY ALLMOND (@JoyAllmond) is managing editor of Facts & Trends.