On Friday, many who attended Mr. Graham’s funeral took a step back from the magnitude of the occasion to talk about his effect on them personally.
From Focus on the Family founder James Dobson to Pat McCrory into Ricky Skaggs, all were there to honor a man who never sought such acclaim. In true Billy Graham style, the funeral was based on Christ, with news cameras rolling as one person after another lifted up His name.
With so many hearing the Gospel through the previous week’s memorial events, Dobson commented, “He might have spoken to more people beyond the grave than he ever did cumulatively.”
Here are 20 reflections and personal stories from Mr. Graham’s funeral service:
Kathie Lee Gifford, NBC Today
“Whatever I was doing, wherever I had been in the entire world, I would have been here. Because he meant everything to me. … He preached to millions, but he had been kind to me, only one woman.
“Any time something could happen in my life that was in the tabloids or in the newspapers in a horrible, horrible manner, the first phone call I would find each and every time could be Billy. And sometimes he was not even in the usa. And he would call, I don’t even know how he found out, and he would say, ‘Kathie, hi honey, this is Billy. Can I pray with you?’ And he would pray for me. The public Billy wasn’t any different from the personal one. The guy lived his faith. I will have eternal life since Billy was faithful to his calling.
“He left home a lot of times to spread the Gospel. Each time I fly into Asheville [near where he lived], I look at the stunning land down there and think, ‘How would Billy feel, coming home from all his excursions from around the world? It must’ve made his heart soar to know he would see Ruth and his children.’ Talk about sacrificing your life for the benefit of the Gospel. He did it. We can not even put in words what he forfeited in relation to his own health, and possibly even his own happiness to be faithful to the call of God. He was the finest man I ever knew.”
Steven Curtis Chapman, singer-songwriter
Steven Curtis Chapman thinks back to the way Mr. Graham used many different musical artists–from Johnny Cash, “The Man in Black,” to a young Chapman with a “long, flowing mullet.”
“He was always searching for that opportunity. How can I reach people finally to present the message to them?”
After engaging in a Crusade in the early ’90s, Steven Curtis Chapman overheard Billy Graham saying he could’ve been clearer on his sermon points. “Even to the end, he had been purposeful and passionate and concerned–deeply concerned that his message was being communicated clearly. I love that about him.”
Pastor Rick Warren, Saddleback Church, California
Rick Warren told the story of being asked to pray at former President Barack Obama’s inauguration. The hat he had bought for the event was stolen, and if Billy Graham discovered, he sent Warren his own hat, worn at nine inaugurations prior. Their friendship had begun decades earlier.
“He took me under his wing, which started a 40-year mentoring long before I started Saddleback Church. When I was in my 20s, he taught me the way to preach. But in my 30s, when I started Saddleback Church, it was about learning from his personality. A 60-year ministry with no significant scandal, that is an achievement of amazing proportions. Billy put into place, early, some parameters such as in the Modesto Manifesto [a four-point declaration of Biblical ethics], which in Saddleback, we just copied. We just took that manifesto and made it for Saddleback, and it has protected us now for almost 40 years.”
Pastor Amos Brown, California
In 1952, 13-year-old Amos Brown attended a Billy Graham Crusade in Jackson, Mississippi, where ropes segregated the crowd by skin color.
“I saw with my own eyes, Rev. Graham left the podium, came down to the audience and pulled those ropes down,” Brown said. “He went back up to the podium and said, ‘Before Jesus, there is no segregation.’
“This was my first memory of Dr. Graham. … He dared to do something courageous in the Deep South.”
Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor
“Our family got saved in the ’70s because my mother was watching the Billy Graham Crusades on TV. She came to the Lord and she brought the rest of the family along. So he means the world and eternity to me. His simple message transcended generations, politics, denominational divides. There’s no one like him.”
Rev. Billy Kim, interpreter for Billy Graham in Korea
Rev. Billy Kim served as Billy Graham’s interpreter for his largest-ever Crusade in Seoul, South Korea, attended by over 3 million people over five days. The final day of the Crusade alone drew more than 1 million people.
“During the Seoul Crusade, my family went every evening. At the final meeting, with an estimated 1.1 million people in attendance, all of my children dedicated their life to serve the Lord. The church I pastored at the time was a mere 300. Now, following your Crusade, it’s more than 20,000 members. We have more churches and missionaries in our area, all because you came to preach the Word to our people.”
Beth Moore, Bible teacher and writer
“He’s a life that’s so overwhelming to celebrate. … He’s such a huge example of how to run the race and finish well.
Bill Newman, Australian evangelist
“It kind of chokes you up now when you think of the tremendous life he has lived and the inspiration to evangelists throughout the world. As we look around us now, we see people coming from so many places because they love Billy Graham. They love him because of his ethics, his quality of life, but the fact he just preaches the simple basis of the Gospel, and that’s why we’ve been able to attract so many nations together, so many churches together. He’s been faithful to the Gospel all these years. He’s been that example to us of ethics. He’s been a excellent example of what we should be as evangelists.”
Joni Eareckson Tada, founder of Joni and Friends International Disability Center
“This guy was all about sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, not just in his lifetime, but even now, now in his death.”
Larnelle and Cynthia Harris
Larnelle Harris of Kentucky sang in a number of Billy Graham’s Crusades.
“A real friend will tell you the truth whatever your reaction is to it and they will love you anyway,” Larnelle stated. “So the world then has lost a true friend”
Larnelle’s wife, Cynthia, added: “So many people out there can say Billy Graham led me to Christ, and that’s awesome. … I think that’s what he is going to be known for–his impactful reputation. He’s sat with the poor. He’s sat with the wealthy. It made no difference because all he wanted to do was make sure their hearts were on God, on Jesus.”
Ravi Zacharias, apologist
Ravi Zacharias was one of thousands who attended the 1983 International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam. Billy Graham’s vision was to bring these evangelists together to study, exchange ideas and support each other.
“It opened up the planet to me. … He changed my life. In actuality, my own ministry that we now have was birthed in Amsterdam in ’83 after I saw what could be achieved if you honor God as a proclaimer of Christ.”
Ricky Skaggs, country and bluegrass singer
Ricky Skaggs talked about his final trip with Billy Graham, who, instead of requesting Skaggs to sing, requested him to read Scripture. Mr. Graham lit up when Skaggs started to read and said, “Praise the Lord.”
Skaggs also remembered the first Billy Graham Crusade he played at decades ago on a baseball field as sheets of rain drenched the crowd. “I thought, ‘Ain’t nobody gonna stay out here for this,'” he said, but kept singing. After a time, a golf cart brought Mr. Graham onto the field with an umbrella over his head. “It stopped raining,” Skaggs said. “Before he got into the stage, there were no longer drops of rain. And I said then, ‘This guy has favor. This is a man of God.'”
Rev. Sami Dagher, church planter in the Middle East
“When we talk about Billy Graham in the Middle East, we explain him like this: He’s a faithful man. He’s faithful for the Word of God. He has never preached his own opinion or his ideas or philosophy. But he preached the Word of God.”
Pastor Skip Heitzig, Calvary Church, New Mexico
“For me, it means a complete circle. I came to faith in 1983 by watching Billy Graham on television. The guy who had been instrumental in giving me life has stepped into the highest form of life, eternal life and his reward in heaven. I feel like it is a passing of a baton. Even though he has passed [the baton] long ago, I feel almost a higher responsibility to be as faithful to the message and to the ministry of the Gospel as he had been.”
Aileen Coleman, Australian missionary to Jordan
“It is so wonderful to see how he develops his each message around the cross. And we all know without the cross, we’ve got nothing to offer people.”
Coleman shared a story from when she and Eleanor Soltau, her partner in missions, visited Billy and Ruth Graham’s home years ago.
“We were at breakfast one morning, and he explained to his wife, ‘Ruth, you fix a fantastic breakfast for these women.’ And he went to the kitchen to help fix a special breakfast for us. He didn’t need to do that. Here we were in the home of a man probably used more than any other person in the world that I know of, bringing people to Christ, and here he was making breakfast for us. And I thought, that’s grace.”
Peggy Anderson is a friend of Gigi Graham, Billy Graham’s oldest daughter. She spent many Thanksgivings with the Graham family.
“God has blessed this faithful one. I think of those five kids and the way they shared their daddy with the world. Here now, they’re sharing his death, which the public wants. They’ve been so gracious.”
Rev. Gerald Durley
Rev. Gerald Durley served as Crusade director for a 1994 Billy Graham Crusade in Atlanta. He spoke about how Mr. Graham helped bridge the racial divide in his community and the way he called to beg for Durley’s daughter the day of her wedding.
“If you had to summarize Billy Graham from [the African American] community, it would be honesty, openness, transparency and humility. I think his legacy needs to be focusing on the power of Jesus Christ and not about political persuasion, not about gender, not about race, not about whether you are an immigrant or a non-immigrant, but knowing Christ loves us.
“A lot of people come to your city and think they have the answer for you. He listened. He listened, and he asked, ‘Well what would I do? Is this the best way to do it?’ While he’d been in tens of thousands of places and met countless people, he listened and he took it and he fed it back. That’s what a real leader is about. He did not try to have the answer because each community is different. It was not about Billy Graham. It was always about Jesus Christ working through Billy Graham.”
Pat McCrory, former N.C. governor and Charlotte mayor
“There’s no doubt that Billy Graham was the most influential individual to ever come from our state–not only to people in our nation but to people across the world. And I think he appealed to people throughout the world since he never spoke down to us, he spoke to us. And he treated everybody the same, whether you are a king or a queen, a president or a governor, it did not make any difference to him. He spoke to the common man and woman the same way he spoke to the kings and queens and presidents. He’d be embarrassed about this attention that’s focused on him now. I know he would tell me that.”
Pastor A.R. Bernard, Christian Cultural Center, New York
A.R. Bernard served as chairman of Billy Graham’s last Crusade in New York in 2005. Today he serves on the Commission of Religious Leaders in his state.
Following the funeral, Bernard commented: “It was an amazing tribute to an incredible person. He’ll be deeply missed.”
Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family
“He’d hold up his Bible and say, ‘The Bible says’ That’s where the power came from.
“The first time I met him, I spoke at one of his rallies in Calgary, Canada. And I got there before he did, and I had been sitting on this side of the stage. He came up the stairs and instead of sitting down, he went and [said], ‘We have not met.’ I said, ‘Dr. Graham, I am so glad to meet you.’ He said, ‘You can call me Billy.’ I couldn’t do it, but that’s the way he saw himself.”
Dobson added that no matter what Mr. Graham was requested over the years, he always brought it back to the cross, to Jesus’ love for us and sacrifice for our sins.