The world experienced a tremendous loss last week in the passing of Billy Graham. Whether you grew up watching him preach on television, saw him live at a crusade, or just know of his extensive ministry, you have a sense of just how mightily God used this man to change our world through his simple yet powerful proclamation of the gospel. Billy Graham preached to more people in person than anyone else in history (over 215 million people). As much as we may rightly stand in awe of all God did through the life of this humble man, we will never know the full extent of his life’s impact until we ourselves meet Jesus in glory.
Many articles have been written recounting his life—achievements and ministries he helped launch. Those are absolutely appropriate. Others have written critiques of Graham’s life. Billy Graham himself would be the first to admit that he had his faults and blind spots. In fact, it is to his credit that he shared some of his regrets later in his life. But, it’s hard for me to read critiques that are unfounded and utterly lack charity. I think part of the problem is that in talking about the vastness of Graham’s ministry, the millions of people, the dozens of books, the influence he had across the political spectrum, it’s actually easy to forget that his greatest impact was in connecting with individual people.
Billy Graham preached to large audiences, but if you ever heard him preach, it sounded like he was preaching right to you. That was part of his God-given gift in preaching. We must never forget that when we talk about the millions who “made decisions” for Christ in response to his preaching, we are talking about individual souls. These are men and women, made in the image of God, whose lives would be forever changed. And today, I want to share that my dad was one of them.
Billy Graham preached all over the world, including in Egypt. In talking with my mother, she recounted how Graham visited and preached in Egypt in the early 1960’s. There were many gathered in the audience that night. One of them was my dad, Monir Tanious. My dad had grown up in a Christian home and was exposed to the gospel. My dad went to hear Graham preach that night. I don’t know what passage of Scripture Graham preached on that night. I can’t even find a picture on the internet. But even though I know very little of that night, there are some things of which I am certain. I am certain Graham proclaimed the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ’ perfect life, death, and resurrection. I am certain that he called for people to repent of their sin and trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord.
I am also certain that God took the power of the gospel and touched my dad’s heart that night. I’m still not clear whether that was when my dad first trusted in Jesus as Savior, or whether it solidified his understanding of the gospel. It doesn’t really matter. What I know is that my dad was never the same. He would soon get married to my mom and then made the sacrificial decision to leave his country, his culture, and his family to begin a new life in America.
It’s hard to overstate the influence that Billy Graham had on my family. I grew up hearing the gospel taught and modeled by my parents. As Graham shared the gospel in all its simplicity and beauty, so my dad shared the gospel with me as a boy. And just like my dad, I was drawn by the power and grace of God to repent of my sin and trust in Jesus. I had no idea back then that just a few years later, I would be have to say good-bye to my dad as he departed from this life to the next. My dad helped me understand that Jesus is our only hope in life and in death. And he modeled that hope to his last breath on earth.
The gospel that Billy Graham preached is the gospel that my dad preached to me—Jesus Christ came to rescue people from sin and death through faith in him. My dad not only taught me the gospel of Christ, but he modeled for me what it looks like to be a follower of Christ. My dad has been with the Lord for many years. And last week, my dad got to welcome home another faithful servant, the one who helped lead him to the Lord. I’m sure there were many who wanted to thank Graham for his faithfulness to preaching the gospel.
But more than that, I bet there was a huge celebration for Jesus, the one who continues to rescue people, like Billy Graham and Monir Tanious, from the grip of death and usher them into everlasting joy and peace in heaven. I am filled with gratitude today for the life and ministry of Billy Graham. And that gratitude leads to even deeper gratitude for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.