Reverend Billy Graham Passes Away at 99

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Evangelist Billy Graham passed away Wednesday morning in his home at the age of 99.

Reports indicated that Graham passed due to natural causes. He was at his home in Montreat, North Carolina.

Graham helped spread the gospel to some 215 million people who attended his more than 400 Crusades, simulcasts and evangelistic rallies in more than 185 countries and territories.

The Reverend also provided spiritual counsel to various presidents, praying with everyone from Truman to Obama. He also championed desegregation and was a voice of hope for many in times of trouble. One such instance was in 2001, following the terror attacks on September 11th, where provided a word of comfort at the National Cathedral in Washington.

Rev. Billy Graham and President Truman

During the week of his 93rd birthday, Graham delivered his final message over more than 480 television stations. Over 26,000 churches participated in the event, titled the “My Hope Project,” making the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s largest evangelistic outreach ever in North America.

However, Graham was not always a religious individual. “I detested going to church,” stated the Reverend when recalling his youth. It would eventually be a traveling evangelist named Mordecai Fowler Ham who would light the young man’s flame.

“I was opposed to evangelism,” said Graham. “But finally, I was persuaded by a friend to go to a meeting and the spirit of God began to speak to me as I went back night after night. One night, when the invitation was given to accept Jesus, I just said, “Lord, I’m going.’ I knew I was headed in a new direction.”

That “new direction” eventually led Graham to the Florida Bible Institue, now called Trinity College fo Florida, and later, Wheaton College in Chicago. It was there Graham would meet his future wife Ruth McCue Bell. The two married in the summer of 1943 and eventually moved their family to the mountains of North Carolina. The couple remained married for 64 years until Ruth’s death in 2007.

Rev. Billy Graham and wife Ruth

Graham’s first Crusade would come in 1947; however, it was his 1949 Crusade in Los Angeles that would put him on the national stage.  Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children gathered to hear Graham’s messages over the course of eight weeks.

Bojangles’ Coliseum, in Charlotte, hosted Graham several times and posted this on their Twitter account after hearing of his passing:

In 1950, Graham started the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The Charlotte-based organization has been led by Graham’s son, Franklin, since 2000.

Franklin sent this message on Twitter earlier today:

However, Graham’s outreach extended far beyond the United States. Millions heard the Reverend’s message in countries such as Ethiopia, Russia, and New Zealand. Graham’s largest live audience would be at the Yoido Plaza in Seoul, South Korea.

That willingness to preach around the world came as a part of Graham’s belief that those of all ethinicities, creeds, and backgrounds were welcome to his sermons. Earlier in his career, he denounced racism at a time when desegregation was not popular. Graham held desegregated Crusades even before the Supreme Court banned discrimination on a racial base.

For nearly 20 years, Graham declined invitations to speak in South Africa, choosing to wait until the meetings could be integrated. It was not until 1973 that he eventually made the trip.

In 1996, both Graham and his wife, Ruth, received the Congressional Gold medal, the highest award Congress can bestow on a private citizen. Other honors included being listed by Gallup as one of the “Ten Most Admired Men” 61 times and being cited by the George Washington Carver Memorial Institute for his contributions to race relations.

“There were a few times when I thought I was dying, and I saw my whole life come before me…,” stated Graham at 2002 Crusade. “I didn’t say to the Lord, ‘I’m a preacher, and I’ve preached to many people.’ I said ‘Oh Lord, I’m a sinner, and I still need your forgiveness. I still need the cross.’ And I asked the Lord to give me peace in my heart, and he did – a wonderful peace that hasn’t left me.”

Ultimately, it will be Graham’s calling for which he is most remembered, captured in the inscription to be put on his grave marker: Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.