Longtime Christian preacher Billy Graham, spiritual advisor to multiple U.S. presidents and among the first evangelicals to make his mark with television broadcasts, died Wednesday at his home in North Carolina. He was 99.
“Today, we pray for the soul of the Rev. Billy Graham to the Lord he so dearly loved and offer our condolences to his family,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Billy Graham was a preacher of God’s word not only in his sermons, but also in the very life he lived. His faith and integrity invited countless thousands around the world into a closer relationship with our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for the ministry of Billy Graham.”
In a career spanning more than 60 years, according to CharlotteObserver.com, Graham took his simple Christian message to more than 84 million people in almost 60 countries – including multitudes of spiritually starved believers behind the communist Iron Curtain. Add those who heard him live, via satellite, and the numbers jump to 210 million people in 185 countries.
A Southern Baptist minister, Graham became the unofficial White House chaplain, participating in nine presidential inaugurations between 1965 and 2005 and offering spiritual guidance – and occasionally political advice – to Republican and Democratic presidents.
According to the website BillyGraham.org, he was born Nov. 7, 1918, four days before the Armistice ended World War I. Graham was reared on a dairy farm in Charlotte, N.C. Growing up during the Depression, he learned the value of hard work on the family farm, but he also found time to spend many hours in the hayloft reading books on a wide variety of subjects.
Ordained in 1939 by Peniel Baptist Church in Palatka, Fla. (a church in the Southern Baptist Convention), Mr. Graham received a solid foundation in the Scriptures at Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College of Florida). In 1943 he graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois and married fellow student Ruth McCue Bell, daughter of a missionary surgeon, who spent the first 17 years of her life in China.
After graduating from college, Graham pastored The Village Church of Western Springs (now Western Springs Baptist Church) in Western Springs, Ill., before joining Youth for Christ, an organization founded for ministry to youth and servicemen during World War II. He preached throughout the United States and in Europe in the immediate post war era, emerging as a rising young evangelist, according to the website.
The Los Angeles Crusade in 1949 launched Mr. Graham into international prominence. Scheduled for three weeks, the meetings were extended to more than eight weeks, with overflow crowds filling a tent erected downtown each night.
Many of his subsequent early Crusades were similarly extended, including one in London that lasted 12 weeks, and a New York City Crusade in Madison Square Garden in 1957 that ran nightly for 16 weeks.