Preferred Baseball to Religion
Graham, a country boy turned world evangelist, who prayed with every U.S. president from Harry S. Truman to Barack Obama, was raised on a dairy farm in Charlotte. Back then, “Billy Frank,” as he was called, preferred baseball to religion. “I detested going to church,” he said when recalling his youth.
But in 1934, that changed. At a revival led by traveling evangelist Mordecai Fowler Ham, 15-year-old Graham committed his life to serving Jesus Christ. No one was more surprised than Graham himself.
“I was opposed to evangelism,” he said. “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.”
Several years later, Graham’s “new direction” led him to the Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College of Florida), and later, Wheaton College in suburban Chicago, where he met fellow student Ruth McCue Bell, the daughter of medical missionaries in China. The couple graduated and married in the summer of 1943. Mr. and Mrs. Graham and their five children made their home in the mountains of North Carolina. They were married for 64 years before Ruth’s death in 2007.
After two years of traveling as a speaker for the Youth for Christ organization, Billy Graham held his first official evangelistic Crusade in 1947; but it was his 1949 Los Angeles Crusade that captured the nation’s attention. Originally scheduled to run for three weeks, the “tent meetings” were extended for a total of eight weeks as hundreds of thousands of men, women and children gathered to hear Graham’s messages.
On the heels of this campaign, Graham started the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which was incorporated in 1950. Since 2000, Graham’s son, Franklin, has led the Charlotte-based organization, which employs some 500 people worldwide.
Billy Graham may be best known, however, for his evangelistic missions or “Crusades.” He believed God knew no borders or nationalities. Throughout his career, Graham preached to millions in locations from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Zagorsk, Russia; and from Wellington, New Zealand to the National Cathedral in Washington. In 1973, Graham addressed more than one million people crowded into Yoido Plaza in Seoul, South Korea—the largest live audience of his Crusades.
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