Billy Graham: Interesting Things You Might Not Know About the Famous Preacher

Updated on March 1, 2018
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Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher and online writer. She loves to share her teachings online.

Billy Graham 1918-2018

Billy Graham, whose birth name was William Franklin Graham Jr., was born on November 7, 1918 in Charlotte, North Carolina and died at the age of 99 on February 21, 2018 of prostate cancer and Parkinson's disease.

He was married to Ruth Bell Graham for 64 until her death on June 14, 2007. They were parents to five children. All the children have ministries of their own as well as some Graham's 19 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

  • Virginia Leftwich (Gigi) Graham (born 1945), an inspirational speaker and author
  • Anne Graham Lotz (born 1948), runs AnGeL ministries
  • Ruth Graham (born 1950), founder and president of Ruth Graham & Friends, leads conferences throughout the United States and Canada
  • Franklin Graham (born 1952), serves as president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and as president and CEO of international relief organization, Samaritan's Purse
  • Nelson Edman Graham (born 1958), pastor of East Gates Ministries International, which distributes Christian literature in China

Billy Graham's Humble Beginnings

Graham was turned down for membership in a local youth group when he was 16 years old because officials thought he was too worldly. He said he became "born again" after hearing an evangelist at a tent meeting in 1934. After high school, he enrolled in the conservative Christian school Bob Jones College.

After one semester, he found it too legalistic in both coursework and rules. He was almost expelled, but Bob Jones Sr. warned him not to throw his life away. Jones told him all he could amount to would to become a poor country Baptist preacher somewhere out in the sticks. Jones concluded that Graham had a voice that pulls, and God could use that voice.

Graham then transferred to the Florida Bible Institute. He was ordained a Southern Baptist minister in 1939.

Preached More Than 100 Consecutive Nights

The evangelist preached seven nights a week for 16 consecutive weeks to packed crowds in 1967. That came to a total of 112 nights of preaching in Madison Square Garden in New York. His crusade was scheduled for only six weeks, but it went on ten weeks longer.

That total amounts to more times than some pastors preach in a year. Even then, some of them complain about preaching once on Sundays. Sometimes, they copy a sermon from the internet to preach once a week.

Former President Barack Obama and the Rev. Billy Graham in April 2010

Presidents' Pastor

Graham met with and prayed with 13 United States Presidents from Harry Truman to Donald Trump. He was a registered Democrat, but it did not matter what their political views were or which party they belonged to or what religion they embraced For example, in 2012, Graham met with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney who is a Mormon.

He attended the inaugurations of six presidents and delivered the invocations for two of them, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

It is no secret that he helped former President George W. Bush stop drinking. Bush said in his 2010 book Decision Points that he was actually drunk when he first met Graham in 1985 at his parents' house in Maine. His encounter with the pastor changed his life.

The evangelist presided over the graveside services for President Lyndon Johnson in 1973. He was particularly close to Richard Nixon, and he and spoke at his funeral in 1994. He was also close to Eisenhower, who asked for Graham when he was on his deathbed.

Harry S. Truman was the only president who didn't like Graham. He called him a counterfeit and denied being his friend.

Heard in 185 of the world's 195 countries

There are 195 countries in the entire world, and Billy Graham's preaching has been heard in more than 185 countries and territories on six continents. That amounts to at least 215 million people who heard him preach.

The exact number is unknown, but at least 3.2 million people converted to evangelical Christianity as a result of his preaching, according to William Martin's book, A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story.

He was one of the first Christian preachers to use television and radio to reach more people. In the 1950s, Graham began a weekly Sunday night radio program, The Hour of Decision.

Preached to More Than a Million People on a Single Day

More than 1.1 million people attended the last day of a five-day crusade in Seoul, South Korea on June 3, 1973.

It was the largest single turnout to see and hear Billy Graham. More than 3.2 million people attended the entire crusade. That was the largest gathering Graham ever had.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Billy Graham

Civil Rights

Graham embraced the concept of civil rights. He preached that racial segregation was unbiblical. In 1952, he removed the ropes that separated blacks and whites in his audience at a tent revival in Jackson, Mississippi.

He became a friend of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and he asked to deliver a prayer at a Madison Square Garden crusade in New York in 1957 where 2.3 million gathered.

In 1963, Graham posted bail for King to be released from jail during the civil rights protests in Birmingham.

Crusades

Graham was often referred to as the "Protestant Pope" because he attracted large crowds no matter wherever he preached. Over his six-decade career from 1947 until his retirement in 2005, the preacher held more than 400 crusades and preached to more than 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories over six continents.

He called his tent revivals crusades after the Christian military forces who conquered Jerusalem. Graham and his staff rented stadiums, parks, streets and other large venues. His format included having a choir of up to 5,000 people. The choir would sing and he would preach the gospel. Then as the signature altar call song, Just Are I Am, was sung the pastor invited people to come forward to give their lives to the Lord. Those who went forward were called inquirers. They spoke one-on-one with a counselor who answered their questions and prayed with them. They were given a copy of the Gospel of John or a Bible study booklet to take home

  • The first Billy Graham Crusade was held on September 13-21, 1947 in the Civic Auditorium in Grand Rapids, Michigan and was attended by 6,000 people. Graham was only 28 years old at the time.
  • In 1949, he held crusades in tents in downtown Los Angeles that were originally scheduled for three weeks. The event drew 350,000 people and was widely covered by the media.
  • In 1954, he led crusades in London that lasted twelve weeks that drew huge crowds.
  • In 1957, Graham's crusade at New York's Madison Square Garden ran nightly for 16 weeks, and he preached every night of those weeks. Like many other crusades, this one was extended. It was scheduled for only 6 weeks, but it continued for 16 weeks.
  • In 1960, Graham explained the Bible to Waarusha warriors in Tanzania.
  • Graham spoke to more than 5,000 United States troops in Vietnam in 1966.
  • Graham addressed the congregation at the opening of a 32-day London crusade in 1966. That crusade lasted 12 weeks and drew huge crowds.
  • In 1974, he drew a crowd of 18,000 on the closing night of the Southern Baptist Convention.
  • Graham preached in New York's Central Park on September 22, 1991. It was his largest event in the United States with a crowd of about 250,000.
  • In Moscow, in 1992, one-quarter of the 155,000 people at Graham's crusade went forward during his altar call.
  • From June 24-26, 2005, Graham held his last crusade at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in New York. He preached to more than 230,000 people.

Graham was offered a five-year $1 million contract from NBC to appear on television, but he turned down the offer in order to continue his crusades.

Met with Important People

Graham had a friendly relationship with people from all walks of life. He met with singer Johnny Cash. He and Dr. Robert S. Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral were friends. In fact, it was Graham who convinced Schuller to start his ministry.

He was often invited by Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family to special events. Pope John Paul II met with Graham at the Vatican in 1993.

Billy Graham After Preaching at Sandringham Parish Church..

Billy Graham and wife Ruth with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 1984.
Billy Graham and wife Ruth with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 1984.

Honors and Awards

Graham deliberately refrained from talking about his celebrity status. Instead, he wanted to shine the light on his Christian beliefs. Even so, he was honored on many occasions.

  • He was the 1,000th person to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
  • Graham has been listed by Gallup as one of the "Ten Most Admired Men in the World" 57 times and 49 of them were consecutive.
  • In 1999, he was the first non-musician to be inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
  • He received an honorary knighthood by Sir Christopher Meyer at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., in 2001.

Funeral and Burial

The funeral will be in a tent on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina on Friday, March 2. The service will be private and by invitation only. Among the 2,300 invitations that were sent out included one to President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and the five former living presidents.

Rev. Graham had his own pastor, Dr. Don Wilton, senior pastor at First Baptist in Spartanburg who will be one of the pastors presiding over the funeral. Billy Graham's son, the Rev. Franklin Graham, will give the eulogy. Graham's other four children will speak.

  • The body of Rev. Bill Graham was taken on Saturday, February 24 from Asheville to Charlotte, North Carolina to the Billy Graham Library. A 10-car motorcade accompanied by a police escort passed thousands of admirers who lined the street with signs that said, "Thank you."
  • The casket carrying the body of the late Billy Graham was carried inside the library where it will be until Wednesday. A private service was held.
  • The body will lie in the US Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, February 28 and Thursday, March 2 to be viewed by Congress and the public.

Graham will be buried in a prison handmade plywood coffin. It is lined with a mattress pad with a cross on top. It cost only $200 for the inmates to make it at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola in 2006.

Rev. Franklin Graham requested that the inmates make the simple caskets for his parents. His father will be buried on the library grounds next to his wife, Ruth, who died in 2007 and was buried in an identical coffin.

Graham's children said their father wanted to be remembered as a preacher and wanted only one word on his tombstone: "Preacher."

Billy Graham's Casket

Death and Heaven

The Rev. Billy Graham was not afraid of dying. In fact, he welcomed it so he could be with Jesus. He wrote the book, Facing Death to express his views based on what the Bible says about what will happen when we leave this world.

He anticipated questions people might have about heaven. He answered those questions in The Heaven Answer Book that was published in 2012. He said, "My home is in heaven. I'm just traveling through this world."

Comments

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    • revmjm profile imageAUTHOR

      Margaret Minnicks 

      6 months ago from Richmond, VA

      Tony, that's so true!

    • Tony Muse profile image

      Tony Muse 

      6 months ago from Texas, USA

      Billy Graham preached Christ and Christ crucified, and he did it with passion and vigor. Nothing more needs to be said about this man of God.

    • revmjm profile imageAUTHOR

      Margaret Minnicks 

      6 months ago from Richmond, VA

      Thanks for your comment, Louise. I admired Billy Graham and have known about him for years.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      6 months ago from Norfolk, England

      I've always admired Billy Graham. He will be sadly missed. He was a very well respected man.

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