Faithfully Yours - My tribute to a giant


Neil Strohschein
Neepawa Banner & Press 

The Christian community lost a spiritual giant just over a month ago. On February 21, after a long battle with Parkinson’s and other ailments, Rev. Billy Graham passed away. He was 99. His body was laid to rest on March 2 on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina; next to the body of his wife who predeceased him in 2007. But his words will live on, thanks to audio tapes of his radio sermons, video tapes of sermons given at crusades and the many books he wrote during his lifetime.

Graham was affectionately called “America’s Pastor.” He was the one from whom Americans sought words of comfort and hope in the face of some monumental disasters. Presidents, kings and political leaders of all persuasions visited with him and spoke candidly about issues they were facing in their countries. So did religious leaders of all faith traditions. Their discussions were frank and cordial and while they “agreed to disagree” on some issues they found enough common ground to be able to engage in meaningful and productive discussions.

I never met Mr. Graham (as he was often called by those who worked with him) personally. But his weekly radio program (The Hour of Decision) was required listening in my childhood home and I was one of several hundred ministers who worked as a Counselors’ Supervisor for the crusade he held in Edmonton, Alberta. Based on this and other exposure to his ministry, I have developed a deep respect for the man himself, for the life he lived and for the work he did.

There were, in my view, two things that made Graham’s ministry so successful.

First, he stuck to the basics. He was a preacher of the gospel—the good news of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of all humanity. That was the theme of every message he delivered. Phrases like: “We’re all sinners; Christ died for us all” and “I invite you to come to Christ tonight” were repeated again and again to make sure that people heard and understood his message and knew what he was asking them to do.

He stressed the need for a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. He would often say that “baptism doesn’t save us, church membership doesn’t save us, observing the sacraments, doing good deeds, even holding positions of church leadership doesn’t save us. We are saved when we repent of our sins and believe in Christ for our salvation.” Those words resonated with everyone and hundreds of people responded each night to that message.

Second, Graham’s crusades brought people of all faith traditions together for eight days of meetings. But every person who made a commitment to Christ was referred to a local church for follow-up visits and additional guidance. His goal was always to complement the work of the local church; not to compete with it; which is why he ended every crusade service by saying: “Please, go to church this Sunday.”

Like all preachers, Graham had his critics. But he had an even deeper sense of who he was, what he had been called to be and what he had been called to do. And he remained faithful to that calling until he died. For that, he deserves our admiration and respect.

In his life and ministry, Billy Graham brought God to the people in an extraordinary way. May he now rest in peace. May God be with him and with us until we meet again.