After the death of Billy Graham on February 21st, many articles appeared in various newspapers and online, and one evening, we also watched a documentary on television about his crusades.
At his funeral, his son, Franklin Graham, said that his father always said that he did not understand everything in the Bible, but he believed it all.
The publicity about Billy Graham's life caused me to look up about his crusades. Wikipedia says that he preached the gospel to more people in person than anyone in the history of Christianity. More than 3.2 million people responded to his invitation to accept Jesus Christ as their personal saviour. Between 1947 and 2005, he conducted 417 crusades in 185 countries and territories on six continents. I also noticed that there were several in the same countries over the years — but there was only one in Vienna, Austria, and I remember that vividly, because we were there.
We were attending the Vienna Community Church while we lived in Vienna for four years. Early in August 1969, at the church, we got word that Billy Graham was going to be there on August 10th. Cliff Barrows and a team came ahead to prepare the different venues. As I was an active elder, our minister, the Rev. James Griffith, suggested that he and I attend a workshop on how to tell the congregation and others about the upcoming event.
On Sunday afternoon, August 10th, my wife and I, with our three children aged 10, 8, and 5, went to the Stadthalle, the big ice hockey arena in Vienna. There were thousands of people there: military folk stationed in Germany, expatriates from local congregations, as well as Austrians.
Part of Mr. Graham's message was that there was an opportunity to challenge the churches of eastern Europe. This was a big challenge at that time, because the Iron Curtain was still there, and travel to any of the countries behind it was officially discouraged, if not denied, even though it was only 40 kilometres away. We did have some representatives from different denominations who lived in Vienna and attended our church, and we learned from them how difficult and dangerous it was to go there to preach the gospel and to encourage the people, even though there were many Christians in all those countries, in many cases worshipping in secret. Under the circumstances, the ministers did the best they could.
In all his messages, regardless of where he was preaching, Billy Graham always brought the true gospel in an easy-to-understand, meaningful, and relevant way. He emphasized that God loves us and that He sent His Son to die for our sins:
John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (NKJV)
Despite Billy Graham's faithful preaching, there are still millions who have never heard the gospel message, and many of them are right around us every day. Although we may not be evangelistic preachers ourselves, we still have opportunities in personal discussions to share our relationship with Jesus in a simple, winsome way. Let us also pray that God will raise up respected preachers who can successfully contend for the faith in an increasingly secular world.
Prayer: Our Father in heaven, we thank You for all the pastors and preachers who have brought the good news of Jesus to millions of people. We pray that each of us in our own way will be able to continue to do Your work, wherever we are. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
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Listen while you read: "Blessed Assurance" (Lyrics)