I’m old enough to not only know who Billy was but also to have been to a few of his crusades. But I had a realization a few weeks ago when a friend mentioned a documentary on Netflix about the late evangelist. I realized although I was very familiar with Graham and even had played and led worship at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina, my children didn’t even know who he was.
Now, that might not be so significant to some people, but it was significant to me for a few reasons.
First of all, I’ve introduced my children to a lot of pop culture, maybe more than I should have. It’s really a result of my own sheltered upbringing. We’ve been to Graceland. We’ve been to the Johnny Cash museum. We’ve seen Lynyrd Skynyrd. We’ve seen a few other groups as well. So, it seemed odd that the view of the world that I was presenting to my children wouldn’t have a sufficient balance to it.
Unlike my own upbringing, my kids aren’t being raised on only Christian music, movies, and books (but that’s a whole other blog post). I’m doing my best to raise my kids to know quality music and art. Sometimes we hit on the not so quality zone, but I do my best to steer them towards tasteful and good.
But the second reason for introducing my kids to Billy Graham is more significant. Billy Graham had his start in the late 1940s. In 1957, Billy Graham brought his crusade to New York City. For sixteen weeks, Billy Graham preached the gospel message to New Yorkers who came to hear. And that Spring, a 14 year old boy came and felt the call of God on his life to become a pastor. That boy was my father.
My dad would often tell the story of being called into ministry at a Billy Graham crusade, but I don’t think I thought much of it. He was always a big supporter of Billy Graham and his ministry. He seemed excited when I was in Asheville and he found out that I would be doing music over at The Cove. When he got more into counseling, he volunteered at crusades that were close by and also offered his services at a local call center that would receive calls from people who had seen the crusade on television.
Since I lost my dad nearly six years ago, there have been things that have helped me to feel more connected to his legacy. Some of those things were expected, while others were not.
I actually hadn’t thought about my father and his connection to Billy Graham. In fact, I think that I had even forgotten about the connection to the Madison Square Garden crusade until a few weeks ago when I watched the Billy Graham documentary on Netflix. As soon as I watched the short film, I realized that I was heading to Charlotte in a few weeks and I would have the opportunity to go to the Billy Graham Library.
Now, my kids are at an age where it can be hit or miss as to whether or not they like an idea that my wife or I throw out to them about an activity we are planning to do as a family. I’ve done my best to lower my expectations so that I won’t be disappointed when they don’t take to an idea that I’ve come up with for an activity. It’s been a journey and has taught me selflessness better than anything else.
I set my sights low and mentioned the idea to my wife and subsequently, to my children. No one seemed to balk at the idea initially but I knew that a five hour drive followed by a visit to a museum could easily be just a good idea on paper rather than a reality.
The Billy Graham Library is fairly inconspicuous. There are no huge signs pointing visitors to the property. If I hadn’t had GPS, I would probably have driven right past it. In much the same way that Billy Graham wasn’t flashy or showy, the library telling of his life and ministry wasn’t either.
But not flashy or showy doesn’t mean boring by any stretch of the imagination. It was a testimony to his ministry and the One whom he had served for his entire life. It was well done and engaging, not only for my wife and I, but also for our 12, 10, and 7 year old children.
As we walked through, I came upon a picture of Madison Square Garden from the dates in 1957 when he was there. A light bulb went off in my head and I remembered hearing my dad tell me those stories of being there, of being called into ministry, and of the change in direction of his life. I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten about it.
A flood of emotion came over me as my eyes began to tear up. I proudly pointed out the picture to my sons and told them about their grandfather. Whether they know it or not, they are part of this legacy too. They didn’t know my dad very well as they were only four and six when he died, but he is still making an impact on them, because he made an impact on me.
As I look at the legacy of faith in my family and in my wife’s family, I am struck by just how many people God has called to be in full-time ministry. Uncles. Great uncles. Brother-in-laws. Cousins. God’s fingerprints are all over our family and we are grateful to be part of the legacy as we hope and pray that we also might be purveyors of that same faith.
Trying to make a point about the importance of the smallest work, I recall pastors and Bible teachers tell me in the past that although we know the name of Billy Graham, most of us don’t know the name of Billy Graham’s Sunday school teacher or others who made significant impacts in his life.
I don’t think my name will ever be anything great, and I’m completely fine with that. My only hope is that I can make the name of Jesus great as I continue to follow his leading, hopefully making an impact in my three children, but also others whose path I cross along the way.