Three brushes with Billy Graham

“Let’s go hear Billy Graham at Mile High Stadium,” my father said. It was July 1987, and the world-renowned evangelist who died this week was bringing his crusade to Denver for ten days.

As members of the biggest Christian Science church in Colorado, raised to believe we were not sinners in need of a savior and Jesus was not God incarnate — just the opposite of Graham’s message — Dad and I weren’t the likeliest souls for Rev. Graham to preach to that night. But while neither of us went forward for the altar call, we found ourselves riveted by the logic of what he said and the urgency with which he said it.

For me, it was a link in the chain that led to my renouncing Christian Science and being baptized in an Anglican church in 1993. (See the full story in my booklet Jesus in Pursuit.) For my dad, it was one more close encounter with the living Lord he was more and more irresistibly drawn to in the final years of his life; a pastor he confided in feels sure he had accepted Christ before we lost him in 1998.

That summer night at the stadium was the second of three brushes I had with Billy Graham over the course of  25 years. Back in 1972, as a young speechwriter in the White House, it fell to me to request from Graham a suitable Bible verse we could work into drafts of the acceptance speech President Nixon would give when renominated at the Republican National Convention in Miami.

  Dick: "I'm the big dog." Billy:         "Well, I'm the handsome dog"

Dick: "I'm the big dog." Billy:         "Well, I'm the handsome dog"

He suggested some, and we ended up choosing Micah 4:3 about beating swords into plowshares, to emphasize Nixon’s cherished goal of “a full generation of peace.” But no scriptural quote was used in the final version the President gave, as I recall. 

A similar moment came in 1997, when I was on staff at Greater Europe Mission in Colorado Springs. GEM’s founder, Bob Evans, had been a college friend of Billy Graham, and when the mission’s fifty-year anniversary volume, Light for the Night in Europe by Robert Campbell, was being prepared for publication, I was drafted for editorial assistance, including the “big get” of a foreword we hoped Billy would write for the book.

  Bob Evans in a GEM recording studio with Graham, back when men wore hats

Bob Evans in a GEM recording studio with Graham, back when men wore hats

After a bit of drama as we navigated through gatekeepers in his organization, the great man came through. His essay lauding GEM for “sharing Christ with the spiritually impoverished millions in Europe” across half a century of widening influence, ringingly opens the book, which is still right here on my shelf.

No one knew more about sharing Christ with millions and millions of hungry hearts than Billy Graham. He touched so many lives in eternal ways  he was never aware of.  As we salute him now and imagine the fanfare of his welcome in heaven, I am grateful my life was one of those.