How does one say goodbye to a legend who literally changed the world – not for himself – but for God. If that man is Billy Graham, you do so humbly and graciously.
And due to a lifetime of accomplishments for God’s Kingdom, you also do so grandly.
So on a crisp March Charlotte morning, dignitaries and media from around the world gathered – and shivered – under a massive tent, and they remembered this great, humble man. The tent was chosen as a symbol of the “canvas cathedral” in which Graham conducted his 1949 Los Angeles Crusade that lasted eight weeks and propelled him to national prominence.
And they were joined, of course, by the President of the United States, the Vice President, and their wives.
It’s an amazing story of a man who started out as a son of a dairy farmer less than 4 miles down the road in Charlotte. Just as God has called Inspiration Ministries to take the Gospel to the nations through the media, He called Billy Graham to the nations through Gospel Crusades, radio, television, and film. Over the decades Billy Graham preached the Gospel message to nearly 215 million people across six continents.
He was laid to rest in a simple plywood casket, matching the one his wife was buried in, both made by an inmate serving life terms at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. Next to Graham’s grave is the resting place of his beloved wife, Ruth. She chose the message on her grave marker from a construction sign she saw on the side of the road: “End of Construction – Thank you for your patience.”
As the family was seated, a stirring string rendition of “Just As I Am” – with a distinctive Carolina mountain flair – was played.
Rev. Graham’s pastor, Donald Wilton of First Baptist Church of Spartanburg, SC, read the Scripture from Ephesians chapter 2 that Billy chose to open the service – concluding with the famous verses, “…for by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
After a time of congregational singing, Billy Graham’s sister, Jean Ford rose to give her tribute. She was followed by Graham’s children, Virginia “Gigi” Graham, Anne Graham Lotz, Ruth Graham, and Nelson “Ned” Graham.
Anne Graham Lotz stirred the congregations when she declared, “I pledge to you, Daddy, that in view of His appearing, and in front of all these witnesses, I will preach the Word! I will do the work of an evangelist and I will share the Gospel and I will run my race and live my life so that five minutes before I see Jesus I have no regrets. I will live my life to glorify and exalt the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This brought rousing applause.
Then her sister, Ruth Graham stood and said, tongue in cheek, “I have followed her all my life.”
The funeral was attended by ministry leaders from the four corners of the globe. Offering tributes from the nations were Sami Dagher, a pastor and church planter in the Middle East. “When we talk about Dr. Graham in the Middle East, we say he taught by example. He spoke about holiness and then he lived a holy life. He spoke of humility, and he lived a humble life.”
Billy Kim, president of the Far East Broadcasting Company said, “On behalf of people around the world who heard the Gospel through you, I say thank you.”
At this time, Franklin Graham, Billy’s son and the president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, rose to bring the message. “The Billy Graham that the world saw was the same man we saw at home. Through his testimony of God’s love, all of us children came to see heaven through my father’s eyes.”
“The last few years he became very quiet, and I believe his mind was thinking of heaven. If he could speak to you today, he would ask, ‘Will you be making this journey to heaven?’”
Listening to Franklin preaching his father’s eulogy – peppering it with Scriptures about salvation through Jesus Christ, and using so many of the same phrases and mannerism – I thought, “How wonderful – Billy Graham is still with us. But more importantly – Jesus is with us!”
After the closing prayer, the service concluded with a moving rendition of “Amazing Grace” on the Bagpipes.
After the crowds drifted away, family and close friends gathered at the prayer garden next to the Billy Graham Library for the private internment service. Following this intimate service, and after the family said their final goodbyes, Graham’s grave marker, made of North Carolina stone, was set in place. The Scripture chosen by Rev. Graham on the marker was central to Graham’s preaching ministry, and often referred to throughout his life:
“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” (John 14:6, NKJV)
As we say goodbye to this great evangelist, let’s join Anne Graham Lotz in taking up the mantle to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ until “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)
Dr. Craig von Buseck is Digital Editor of Inspiration.org.