LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – The impact of Billy Graham’s evangelistic ministry reached into the heart of Kentucky, sparking revival fires that led to countless new believers, many of whom became gospel preachers themselves.
Graham died Wednesday at age 99.
“Kentucky Baptists and Southern Baptists thank God for the life and legacy of Billy Graham,” said Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director Paul Chitwood. “I was blessed to hear him speak in person on several occasions and am thankful to hold my doctoral degree from the only graduate school to bear the famed evangelist’s name, the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at Southern Seminary. God used him mightily to reach the lost and inspire the church toward evangelism. Heaven is surely celebrating his arrival.”
Through Graham, God answered the prayers of a gathering of businessmen on his family’s dairy farm, that God would raise up someone from Charlotte to spread the gospel worldwide. A year later, in 1934, Graham dedicated his life to Jesus after hearing traveling evangelist Mordecai Ham. By the time he graduated high school, the young Billy Graham wrote in his yearbook, “My hopes and plans for the future is to serve God and do His will as a minister of the Gospel.”
Eighty-year-old Gerald Womack, a resident of Greenup in northeastern Kentucky, recalled Wednesday, watching one of Graham's televised crusades in 1965.
Womack, 28 at the time, said Graham’s message brought him to his knees – literally – and into a life that he has never regretted.
“When I went to bed that night I was under great conviction, dreaming about stacks of Bibles,” he said. “I got out of bed on my knees and asked Christ to save me.”
Womacks wife, Frenda, and three of his three daughters, followed his lead.
"The passing of Billy Graham marks the end of an era in American Christianity,” said Adam Greenway, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “He was incredibly passionate for evangelism and he influenced every level of American life. He was also passionate about theological education and the training of the next generation of evangelists and evangelistic pastors. That's personified by his support for the creation of the Billy Graham School at Southern Seminary — the only graduate school ever allowed to carry his name. I think his greatest legacy would not only be those whom he personally impacted through his evangelistic ministry, but the scores of pastors and evangelists who have been trained to preach the same gospel that he so faithfully proclaimed."
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler Jr. said an “epic era” has come to an end with the passing of Graham.
“Billy Graham was not only a titanic figure in evangelicalism, but in world history and perhaps represents the last of a kind. He dominated 20th century American evangelicalism and remained a major figure on the world stage throughout most of the 20th century in a way that we can envision no evangelical leader in our times. He was a man of deep conviction whose passionate heartbeat was for the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Graham had a humble attitude about his preaching, giving God all the credit for his accomplishments.
“I am not a great preacher, and I don’t claim to be a great preacher,” he once said. “I’m an ordinary preacher, just communicating the gospel in the best way I know how.”
Graham became a spiritual counselor to U.S. presidents and was the most widely heard Christian evangelist of all time. He preached in more than 185 countries and territories. He began his ministry to presidents with Dwight Eisenhower and continued through George W. Bush.
He had been dealing with cancer, pneumonia and other ailments.
President Ronald Reagan awarded Graham America’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Besides the well-known crusades, Graham’s reach was bolstered through television, radio, daily newspaper columns, and Christ-honoring videos.
By the time Graham preached his final crusade in 2005 , Graham was estimated to have personally preached to more than 210 million people around the world.
Graham met Ruth Bell, who would become his wife, while they were students at Wheaton College in Illinois. The two married in 1943.
It was a Los Angeles revival in 1949 that gave Graham the boost he needed to enter the world stage. That event drew press coverage that propelled him to fame. In the following decade, his had become a household name.
State Sen. Robin Webb of Grayson grew up watching the evangelist's crusades on television with her grandparents.
"He was the center of our family faith," she said. "It was a highlight of my life hearing him preach in person.
Webb said responded to Graham's invitation during a Louisville crusuade and rededicated her life to Christ.
"The nation has lost a jewel, it's a compass really, and we need one now more than ever," Webb said. "I don't know anybody who can fill his void in human form."
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he and wife, Elaine, marked Graham's passing with great sadness.
"His kindly manner and unpretentious nature made him a trusted confidant to 12 U.S. presidents, reassuring generations of Americans that their leaders could count on this humble man of God for counsel and support," McConnell said. "By standing right in the middle, Billy Graham could reach everyone."