It was 1934, and the United States was in the throes of the Great Depression. In the spring of that year, Frank Graham, a successful local dairy farmer with a large farm on the outskirts of Charlotte, North Carolina, met with leaders of a Christian business organization who wanted to hold a series of all-day Bible studies and needed a place to meet. Frank agreed to allow them to meet on his property. At the close of one of those meetings, the group prayed that one day God would raise someone out of Charlotte who would preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. Frank’s oldest son, Billy, was sixteen at the time, and, although he had been raised in the church, was skeptical about church and how the language of the King James Bible could be applied to his life.
"I believe that one of the next great moves of God is going to be through the believers in the workplace."Billy Graham
Later that summer, the city of Charlotte was the next stop for a fiery evangelist named Dr. Mordecai Ham and his traveling evangelism team. Almost circus-like in its aura, the revivals lasted for eleven weeks and were held in a 5,000 seat, wood and metal frame structure with sawdust floors that glowed like gold under the bright lights. His fire and brimstone messages mixed with real-world applications sparked the interest of the conservative locals, and they came by the thousands to hear him speak. Curious about the buzz that the meetings were generating, Billy attended one of the meetings and was struck by the power of Dr. Ham’s message and oratory style. Not only did he attend the rest of the revival meetings, but also answered the call of salvation and gave his life to Jesus Christ. Still unsure of the purpose of his life, he had no way of knowing the influence that he would have on the world and God’s Kingdom.
Billy attended the Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College of Florida) where he experienced God’s calling on his life to spread the Gospel and started developing his skills as a public speaker and preacher. After graduating from Florida Bible Institute, he attended Wheaton College in Illinois. It was there that he met his future wife Ruth. They married the summer after graduation in 1943. Born the daughter of missionary parents in China, Ruth spent her first seventeen years there. She had a passion for helping developing nations and felt called to the mission field as well. Not long after they met, she saw the plan that God had for Billy and was his biggest supporter, advisor and prayer warrior over the sixty-three years of their marriage until her death in 2007.
Evangelist to the Masses
Over the next seven decades, history has proven that nobody has been more effective at spreading the Gospel than Billy Graham. From his humble beginnings to crusading in 186 nations throughout the world and becoming confidante/pastor to the most powerful people on earth, Billy has given his life to fulfilling the great commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – Matthew 28:19.
Billy says, “It has been a privilege to know some of the great men and women of the latter part of this century–people spanning the religious spectrum from Christianity to Buddhism to Judaism to Islam to atheism. Most of my time has been spent with people who will never be in the public eye and yet who are just as important to God (and to us) as a queen or a president.”
“I never go to see important people–or anyone else –without having the deep realization that I am–first and foremost–an ambassador of the King of kings and Lord of lords.
"From the moment I enter the room, I am thinking about how I can get the conversation around to the Gospel."Billy Graham
We may discuss a dozen peripheral things first, but I am always thinking of ways I can share Christ and His message of hope with them. I make every effort to be sensitive to their position and their viewpoint, but I rarely leave without attempting to explain the meaning of the gospel unless God clearly indicates to me that it is not the right time for this person.”
Leaving a Legacy
Billy Graham and the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (BGEA) team had the amazing foresight to meticulously document their outreaches, campaigns and crusades over the years, leaving a treasure of speeches, broadcasts and writings that are timeless in their relevance. Wheaton College is home to the Billy Graham Museum and houses the archives of his life’s work. Much of the material is available on their website and includes audio and video records of numerous ground breaking crusades such as the Christ for Greater Los Angeles campaign in 1949, the Greater London Crusades in 1954, the New York City Crusades in 1957 and the incredible crusade in Seoul, Korea, where over one million people gathered to hear him speak. Throughout his ministry, Billy Graham embraced new technology and was often at the forefront of developing the technology necessary to broadcast sermons to the most remote parts of the world. The BGEA team was one of the first non-governmental organizations to employ satellite technology for such broadcasts.
His messages have been broadcast on the radio, television and Internet across the globe. Early in his ministry he launched a film production company to produce and promote Christian films, launched several Christian magazines, wrote dozens of books and authored countless papers; all to get the message of the Gospel to as many people as humanly possible.
In 1974, Billy Graham organized a conference of international evangelists called The First International Congress on World Evangelization in an effort to pool worldwide resources, outreaches and initiatives. The landmark outcome of that conference became known as the Lausanne Covenant, named for the city in which the conference was held in Switzerland. One of the papers that was produced from the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization entitled, “Marketplace Ministry,” calls for Christian business owners to “bridge the Sunday-Monday, faith-work” gap. The need for marketplace ministry is so great that the fifty-nine page paper goes to great lengths to identify and equip leaders to capitalize on opportunities to integrate faith into the workplace.
Many people in the work force are facing the pressures and struggles of life lacking any kind of spiritual guidance. This is precisely where Christian leaders are called to serve. “Christians at work in the world are the only real spiritual light in the midst of great spiritual darkness,” Billy asserts. Pastors and preachers only have a few hours per week to impact the lives of their congregation. Relationships forged in the workplace offer greater opportunities for evangelism. Billy says, “Evangelism is not a calling reserved exclusively for the clergy. I believe one of the greatest priorities of the Church today is to mobilize the laity to do the work of evangelism.”
Integrating Faith at Work
Many Christian business leaders struggle with how to integrate their faith into their workplace for various reasons, but there are ways to bridge that gap in a sensitive, non-threatening manner. Billy says, “God wants every believer to be a witness for Christ to those who do not know Him. But witnessing for Christ isn’t just a matter of speaking to others about Him—although that is part of it. We also witness for Christ by the way we live—and this often makes a greater impact than our words. After all, we may tell someone that Jesus can change their life—but how do they know it’s true? They will know it’s true when they see it in our lives. They will realize that if Christ can change our lives, He can change theirs as well. Ask God to help you be a witness for Christ right where you are. Ask Him also to help you be faithful to Him by the way you live. Jesus said, ‘Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:16).”
“Do others see Christ in your life? Do they see His love and compassion as you deal with other people? Do they see His patience and peace as you face difficulties and hardships? Ask God to help you tell others about Jesus whenever He opens the door. All around you are people who need Him, and yet are reluctant to admit it.”
“The Bible tells us that God calls some people to serve Him as pastors or teachers or evangelists. But God calls most Christians to serve Him in their daily lives—at home with the family, at school, on the job, in their neighborhood and in their church.”
“The Christians in Thessalonica weren’t pastors or evangelists; for the most part, they were ordinary people who held ordinary jobs. But the Bible says of them that ‘The Lord’s message rang out from you . . . your faith in God has become known everywhere’ (1 Thessalonians 1:8). Christ had changed their lives, and they couldn’t help but tell others about Him.”
“Ask God to help you see what part He wants you to have in reaching the world for Christ. You may not be called to be a missionary–but you can pray, and you can give. Ask Him also to help you reach out to those around you who don’t know Christ. God wants to use you in their lives–and He will, if you are willing.”
Learning from Leaders
Billy Graham has met leaders from all walks of life, including presidents, kings and queens. As powerful and influential as they are, he has found that they share some similarities from which all leaders can learn and apply to their own situations and organizations.
“What have I learned from my contacts with people who are leaders in their respective fields, from politics and entertainment to sports and business? Five things come to mind:
- First. Leadership has its own set of special burdens and pressures. The life of a celebrated star or a powerful politician may seem glamorous and exciting, but in reality, it seldom is.
- Second. Leadership can be very lonely.
- Third. Others often use people in positions of influence for their own selfish ends. As a result, they learn to be on their guard. It happens all the time.
- Fourth. People in the public eye are often looked upon as role models, even when they do not want to be seen in that way.
- Fifth. Many men and women who are leaders in secular fields have given relatively little thought to God. They tend to be preoccupied with this world instead of the next.”
"I’ve had the privilege of preaching the Gospel on every continent...and I have found that when I present the simple message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with authority, quoting from the very Word of God–He takes that message and drives it supernaturally into the human heart."Billy Graham
All leaders face these same dilemmas to some degree. As a Christian business leader, you can have the peace in knowing that you are not alone: God will guide and direct you if you will earnestly seek Him.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” – James 1:5
Billy Graham has lived through the Great Depression, two World Wars and domestic turmoil and tragedies. Rather than succumbing to despair and hopelessness, he still maintains his optimism for our future and the victory that has already been won at the cross. “The wonderful news is that our Lord is a God of mercy, and He responds to repentance,” he explains. “In Jonah’s day, Nineveh was the lone world superpower—wealthy, unconcerned and self-centered. When the Prophet Jonah finally traveled to Nineveh and proclaimed God’s warning, people heard and repented. I believe the same thing can happen once again, this time in our nation.”
"There is hope. There’s hope for the present, because I believe the stage has already been set for a new spirit in our nation."Billy Graham
“One of the things we desperately need is a spiritual renewal in this country. We need a spiritual revival in America. And God has told us in His Word, time after time, that we are to repent of our sins and we’re to turn to Him and He will bless us in a new way. If ever there was a time this country needed the intervention of God, it is now. We can and should pray for America as a whole, but remember that when God sets out to change a nation, He begins by changing people. It starts with individuals.”
“But, there is also hope for the future because of God’s promises. As a Christian, I have hope, not just for this life, but for heaven and the life to come.”
The My Hope initiatives began over ten years ago as a means of spreading the Gospel throughout a designated nation via video broadcasts to small home groups and churches, hosted by thousands of volunteers. Fifty-seven different nations have participated in the My Hope mission. In November, the My Hope America outreach will seek to reach the lost in America.
Billy shares, “The more I pray, the more deeply I feel that My Hope America is the right outreach for this country today.”
“In November, the month I turn 95, we will have a new My Hope America video/TV special available across the country—several wonderful, real-life stories of people whose lives were transformed by Jesus Christ interwoven with a message from my heart about the healing power of the Gospel. I’m already at work on this.”
“Along with all the encouraging visits from grandchildren and great-grandchildren this summer, I’ve had a video camera crew helping me tape, from my home, the things I feel strongly that God is leading me to say to America. Please pray that God will work in the completion of this program and that He will use it in a mighty way.”
“You can invite people you know to watch the program with you in November. Ask God to touch their hearts as they watch. Thousands and thousands of believers in every part of the country are preparing to do that.”
“Who do you know—loved ones, friends, co-workers—who need to understand and experience the life-changing power of the Gospel? Are you praying faithfully for them, right now, specific people you long to see transformed now and for eternity?”
“God longs to see them transformed as well, and He invites you to partner with Him as He seeks to draw them to Himself. If you want to see someone’s heart healed and eternal future secured, you must be praying.”
A Lifetime of Service to the Lord
Billy has dedicated his life to spreading the message that there is hope for anyone and everyone at the cross of Jesus. As age and seventy years of crusading for Christ has taken their toll on him physically, his passion hasn’t wavered. Still on fire for the Lord, he says, “I get up every morning around seven. I have a brief period of prayer and Bible reading with members of my staff or family. We usually read one Psalm and a chapter of Proverbs in the morning or other portions of Scripture. Psalms I think teaches me how to get along with the Lord and Proverbs teaches me how to get along with my fellow man.”
No evangelist in history has directly impacted more people to the ends of the earth than the evangelist raised out of Charlotte, North Carolina. For all of the awards, honors and accolades that he has received, and they are extensive, he is always quick to deflect any praise away from himself and direct it to Jesus Christ.
In the July/August 2013 issue of, Christianity Today (which he founded), there is an article about the late Dallas Willard in which he defines glorifying God:
“To glorify God means to think and act in such a way that the goodness, greatness, and beauty of God are constantly obvious to ourselves and all those around us. It means to live in such a way that when people see us they think, Thank God for God, if God would create such a life.”
Billy Graham lives to glorify God, and we can all thank God for him.