(February 22, 2018) Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service, shares some very personal reminisces…
American evangelist Billy Graham – a confidant to presidents, a guiding light to generations of American Christians and a world-travelling preacher who saw millions give their lives to Christ, died today (Wednesday, February 21), at the age of 99.
Dr Graham, who was known as ‘America’s Pastor’ passed away at his home in Montreat, North Carolina.
‘The skinny preacher with the booming voice evangelised to nearly 215 million people over six decades and prayed with US presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama,’ said CNN. ‘Several presidents, including Lyndon Johnson, George W Bush and Bill Clinton, relied closely on his spiritual counsel.’
A dynamic young Billy Graham preaching
Billy Graham was the reason I got into journalism
But on a personal side, it was 50 years ago in London, England, when I got my first job in journalism. It was with The Christian, an historic British newspaper that the Graham Association had bought and modernised.
I’ll never forget my first day in their Camden Town, London, office, when the editor, Dr J D Douglas, welcomed me on board the paper, and then told me that my first interview would be with Coretta Scott-King, widow of Dr Martin Luther King Jr who was to speak at St. Paul’s Cathedral at his memorial service.
It certainly was an amazing way to start my career in journalism, but sadly, after a year there, the paper was shut down by the BGEA for so-called ‘financial reasons.’ Fortunately, I soon secured another position on a local newspaper in London, and not long after the closure of The Christian, I was reporting on an event in the West End of London, where Billy Graham was to speak to the stars of many of the big shows in Theatre-land there.
When he arrived, Reverend Graham went around the room introducing himself, and when he got to me, the 6 foot 3 inch (1.9 metres) evangelist said, ‘Hi, I’m Billy Graham. What is your name?’ Without thinking, I said, ‘Mr. Graham, my name is Dan Wooding. You may remember that you fired me a few weeks ago.’ There was an embarrassed look on his face, as he tried to explain that it wasn’t his decision to close the paper but that of his board.
Lost personal confidence restored
After that I finished up working in the British tabloids, and I never thought I would every work for Billy Graham again, especially during a period when I had lost my confidence as a journalist, feeling that God couldn’t really use a former tabloid-journalist.
Or so I thought at the time!
I moved to Southern California with my wife Norma and our two sons, Andrew and Peter, and eventually launched ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) as a ministry to help persecuted Christians around the world. As ASSIST began to grow, I had decided to just concentrate on running the ministry. After all, wasn’t that more spiritual than being a journalist?
But it all changed when I received a phone call from Larry Ross, who was then Billy Graham’s press officer, in which he said, ‘Dan, you know that Mr Graham has been going to Russia for years now.’
‘Yes, and we are running a pen pal ministry with new believers there,’ I cut in, thinking that he wanted to know more about our Bridge of Friendship Russia program.
Larry said politely that he thought that was ‘very interesting’ and then added, ‘Mr Graham has been invited to Moscow to hold a crusade there. It will be the first time that he can openly invite people to receive Christ. We’d like you to come and join our media team and use your journalistic skills to report on this historic Mission to Moscow.’
I felt all the air being sucked out of my lungs when he then added, ‘We feel your tabloid skills could be used to portray what is going to happen there. When could you get on a plane to Moscow?’
I stammered my thanks and when I put the receiver down, Norma looked at me in a strange way and asked, ‘What’s up? You have gone as white as milk.’
‘Larry Ross wants me to fly to Moscow to join his media team and use my journalistic skills,’ I said, trying to take in what was being asked of me. I had figured that my tabloid past had been a complete waste of time, and could not be used by the Lord.
Norma smiled and said pointedly, ‘It’s a good thing that Billy Graham doesn’t know that you “can’t write”.’ I smiled weakly in response.
Miracles in Moscow
Within a few days, the tickets and the visa had come through and I drove to Los Angeles International Airport to fly to Moscow.
After checking into the President Hotel, a formerly secret place that had been built for communist leaders, such as North Korea’s Kim Il-sung, visiting Moscow, I went to bed to get a good night’s sleep and prepared for an exciting three weeks.
They were amazing… Billy Graham’s historic Moscow crusade, held in October 1992 in the indoor Olympic Stadium, was quite incredible. I spent those three wonderful weeks meeting with Billy Graham along with Larry Ross, and worked on the various news releases that went out around the world, the first of was called, A Miracle in Moscow.
And it sure was that. What a crusade it was to report on!
- Each night eager Muscovites filled the 38,000-seat stadium to hear Billy.
- On the first evening inquirers coming forward signed 10,641 cards of commitment.
- On the second evening 12,628
- On the closing Sunday afternoon 50,000 persons had jammed into the stadium, and apparently the fire authority didn’t limit them.
- Another 30,000 stood outside in the freezing cold where a huge television screen with audio echoed what was happening inside.
- The number of decision cards signed was 19,417!
A highlight was being able to film the Red Army Choir singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic, which still sends shivers down my spine. Another, which I will never forget, was when, on the final night, Joni Eareckson Tada (left), who had been sitting in the wheelchair section of the stadium, was brought up onto the stage, to share her extraordinary story, and was interpreted by a blind Russian translator.
By the way, Dr Graham was suffering from Parkinson’s disease when he spoke, and it was an illustration to me on how God can use anyone, despite their disabilities, for his glory.
Influenced by Billy Graham to spread good news!
When I got home, I then knew that I had to re-start my journalistic career and so I began the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net ) as a first step.
I had finally realised that God can use even an ex-tabloid journalist to spread the word about what he is doing in his world. I would also work with Dr Graham as a writer at his overseas crusades in Germany and Puerto Rico, and also wrote the cover story on Billy and Franklin Graham for the Saturday Evening Post.
Billy Graham was an extremely humble man who could never understand why God chose him – a boy from a farm in North Carolina – to preach the gospel to the world, yet he was welcomed by many world leaders including Queen Elizabeth and even Kim il-Sung (Left).
As we had both been to North Korea, we would have long chats about whether Kim il-Sung had given his life to Christ after Billy had talked with him. Billy was even planning to go back to go fishing with Kim and told me, ‘I was going to challenge him out on the lake to give his life to Christ, but then he died and I didn’t go.’ So we will never know, this side of heaven, what happened to the North Korea leader who had a Christian mother.
Billy Graham – what a legacy!
Some years ago, Dr Graham showed me around his log-cabin home on the top of a mountain at Montreat and I marveled how simple it was. No palace for this man, who has now left this earth, but is finally in a better place – but what a legacy that he has left behind.
With Billy and Ruth Graham at their home
Billy was devastated when he lost the love of his life, Ruth, in 2007, when she passed away from pneumonia and degenerative osteoarthritis, but now he will has been reunited with her in heaven – and also the millions who found Christ because of his ministry.
Thank you, Billy Graham – America’s Pastor who made Christian principles accessible to millions!
ASSIST News Service founder Dan Wooding is a journalist, an award-winning author (he has written some 45 books including Mary: My Story), and broadcaster with two TV programs and a radio show in Southern California. Link: www.assistnews.net.
UPDATE: February 23…
BILLY GRAHAM TO LIE IN HONOUR, FUNERAL WILL BE UNDER A ‘CANVAS CATHEDRAL ’ INSISTED FOCUS NOT BE ON HIM BUT ON THE GOSPEL!
‘America’s Pastor’ will finish the same way he started – under a large white tent in front of thousands of people.
Reverend Graham’s private funeral service will be held Friday, March 2, at noon in a canvas tent set up near The Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina.
According to CBN News, ‘Before that, Speaker of the US House of Representatives Paul Ryan has announced that on Wednesday, February 28, Dr Graham’s body will be brought to the US Capitol, where he will lie in honour in the Rotunda until Thursday, March 1. Members of the public will be allowed to come and pay their respects to the late reverend while he lies in rest in the Capitol.
The funeral service on March 2 is private and will include family members, friends, and community leaders who were touched by Graham’s ministry. Approximately 2,300 people will be invited to attend the 90-minute service.
Personally approved the planning and details of his funeral arrangements years before his death the evangelist made sure the focus will not be on him, but on the gospel. His son, Franklin Graham will give the funeral message, while his brother and three sisters will speak briefly to honour their father.
Billy Graham’s preaching ministry first gained national prominence in 1949 when he held a crusade in downtown Los Angeles under a large white tent, also known as a ‘canvas cathedral.’
‘His family and team members thought it would be fitting to also conduct his funeral service under a tent as a reminder of how his public ministry was launched,’ Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, said.
The famous evangelist will be buried next to his wife Ruth, who died in 2007, at the foot of the cross walkway at the Billy Graham Library. His casket was hand-made by Angola Prison inmates in 2006, at his request.
CBN went on to say that Graham died at 7:46 am. Wednesday morning. His nurse was the only one present. His personal physician, Dr Lucian Rice, arrived about 20 minutes later and described his passing as ‘peaceful.’
DeMoss said Graham’s last few months were spent in and out of consciousness. Graham had endured cancer, pneumonia and other health problems. DeMoss quoted Rice as saying ‘he just wore out.’
On his 99th birthday back in November, Dr Graham released a video encouraging people to seek God with their whole lives. It turned out to be his final public prayer for the world.
‘I’ve been praying that we might have a spiritual awakening,’ the evangelist said. ‘I think that becomes possible only as individuals surrender their lives afresh and anew to Christ.’ He also shared advice about how people can truly live the Christian life.
The millions around the world, who were impacted by the life and ministry of this great man, will deeply miss him, but he is now at peace in heaven and has been reunited with his beloved wife, Ruth.
Some quotes from the man who became known as America’s Pastor.
- Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.
- Nothing can bring a real sense of security into the home except true love.
- A child who is allowed to be disrespectful to his parents will not have true respect for anyone.
- Each life is made up of mistakes and learning, waiting and growing, practicing patience and being persistent.
- God has given us two hands, one to receive with and the other to give with.
- Believers, look up – take courage. The angels are nearer than you think.
- When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.
- My home is in heaven. I’m just travelling through this world.
- Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.
- God proved his love on the cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you.’
- I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.
- God will prepare everything for our perfect happiness in heaven, and if it takes my dog being there, I believe he’ll be there.
- The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.
Three generations of Grahams – Will, Franklin and Billy.