This is Lee Habib, and this is Our American Stories. And we tell stories about everything here on this show, from the arts to sports, and from business to history and everything in between, including your story.
Send them to OurAmericanStories.com. They're some of our favorites. Eleven presidents, the Pope and dozens of world leaders have shared their stories. They share their personal thoughts about matters of faith with him. We would like to give a wholehearted thank you to the folks at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for granting us permission to use the footage you're about to hear from their exceptional film, Billy Graham, An Extraordinary Journey. Here's Greg Hengler with the story of Billy Graham.
Billy Graham was born on a dairy farm in Charlotte, North Carolina, on November 7th, 1918. As a boy, he spent his time following baseball, reading Tarzan, and perfecting his techniques swinging from vines in the nearby woods. Here's Billy's mother, Morrow Graham, his sister Jean, his brother Melvin, and Billy himself. Every afternoon as Billy came through the door, Mother!
Those were his first words, and I knew Billy was on the premises. He read every Tarzan book, and then he would go down in the woods and he would try to act out, so it didn't work too well. He and Melvin worked on the dairy farm. Melvin loved the hard work.
Billy Frank really didn't like to do physical work. Never did. My brother was interested primarily in two things. That would be baseball and girls.
I'm not sure which order. I was just a carefree kid having a big time doing everything else that every other high school kid was doing. I didn't care anything about God or religion or hell or the devil or anything else. Billy was brought up in a devout Christian household, but he had no interest in religious things. But when he was 15, a friend informed him that some of the high school students in Charlotte were going to picket the very popular traveling evangelist, Mordecai Ham, declaring, There's no business telling us how to live our lives this day and age. Billy went to see the standoff, but when the students failed to show up, he decided to go in and hear for himself what this preacher had to say.
Here's Billy, the voice of Mordecai Ham and Billy's mother and brother. When Mordecai Ham came to Charlotte, I thought it was some sort of big circus or a big emotional event, and I didn't have any thoughts about ever going. I'd never seen such a large crowd attending a religious meeting, I think three or four thousand people.
And it made a great impression on me, and I decided I wanted to go back the next night and then the next and then the next. You cannot be justified by your own filthy rags and your own works. It's what Christ has done for you and will do in you and all others. By that time, I was coming under conviction that I was a sinner, that I needed redemption myself, that I needed Christ in my heart. I was a church member, but I still knew that something was lacking. I knew that I didn't have that personal relationship with Christ. One night when the invitation was given, I just said, Lord, I'm going. And it was on the last verse of the last song that they sang, and about 400 people went forward the night I did. And when I stood there, I thought to myself, what a fool I'm making myself in front of all my friends here. I went up to my room that night, didn't feel any different. And I remember kneeling down as a full moonlight night, and I'd never knelt before. I never prayed like that before. And I said, Lord, I don't know what's happened.
I don't know what this means, but whatever it means, I would appreciate your help. There was a definite turn in his life. We knew then that the Lord had really gotten a hold of him. His emphasis became more on what the preacher had been preaching and wanting to know where he could go and learn something about the Bible.
In 1937, Billy enrolled in the Florida Bible Institute. It was here where he experienced a calling he couldn't deny. I just felt God was speaking to me, and he said, I want to use you.
And I put up all the arguments I could that I was not capable, didn't have the proper education. But God was calling me, and I knew that. So I got on my knees right there, and I said, Lord, I'll go where you want me to go, and I'll be what you want me to be.
And I said, I'm yours. My first sermon in a sort of big church was the First Baptist Church of Venice. I preached on a Sunday morning, and the church was filled not to hear me.
They didn't know me from Adam. I gave an invitation at the end of my talk for people to come forward, and I'd never done that before. And eleven people came. I'll never forget that. And I was so moved in my own heart that I said, Lord, maybe you have given me a gift that I didn't know that I can give an invitation, and people will come to Christ.
And I began to give invitations after that. In 1945, Billy joined the Youth for Christ as a traveling evangelist, flying over one million miles during the next four years. But he soon faced a dilemma that threatened to derail his emerging ministry. Here's Billy's son, Franklin Graham. There was this debate going on within his friends that began to question scripture, and were questioning why my father believed in the Bible to be the holy, inspired Word of God. The arguments were that you couldn't really trust the scriptures, and that only the old-fashioned fundamentalists could trust the scriptures. And I began to think, well, perhaps they're right.
Maybe this Bible isn't as authoritative as I thought it was. And I remember how disturbed I was with that, because I'd always believed in the Bible. Billy Graham was at a crossroads.
The summer of 1949 would bring him to a watershed moment. And you've been listening to the life story of Billy Graham, as important a person as there was in the 20th century, and I don't mean just a pastor. And when we come back, we'll continue this remarkable story, Billy Graham's story, here on Our American Stories. Here at Our American Stories, we bring you inspiring stories of history, sports, business, faith, and love, stories from a great and beautiful country that need to be told.
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Simply go to Geico.com or contact your local agent today. And we continue now with the story of Billy Graham's life. And Greg Hengler is always doing a great job on the piece. Let's get back to Billy Graham. I remember many years ago I went through a terrible struggle intellectually about the Bible. And I was concerned and worried and battling with myself. And I remember going out in the moonlight, out in the forest, and I took this Bible. And I said, Lord, I don't understand all about this Bible.
There are many things I cannot explain. And I remember laying the Bible out on a stump. And I said, Lord, this is your book. I'm going to accept it by faith. Like I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ by faith. And he saved me and changed me and transformed me. I'm accepting this as your word by faith. I remember I used to prepare my sermons by getting a little outline and then tearing up a Bible and pasting them under those different points. And I just kept quoting the scriptures and saying the Bible says, and it had its own built-in power, and God honored it. The Bible says, I am the Lord.
I change not. Evidence of his new confidence presented itself in Los Angeles. Here's Billy Graham's biographer, William Martin and nephew Mel. When we started in those meetings in the tent at Washington and Hill Street, I had this tremendous experience in which I had experienced the authority of the scriptures. And I went there and quoted the scriptures.
I believe this sincerely from the depths of my heart. The meetings began to gather a little momentum during those first three weeks. And then one night in what is one of the pivotal events in Billy Graham's career, he showed up at the tent and the place was overflowing with newspaper reporters. I said, what has happened?
Why are you all here? And one of them said, you've just been kissed by William Randolph Hearst. And he showed him a piece of paper that looked like it had been torn off of a wire service machine and there were two famous words on it, Huff Graham. You know, I never met Mr. Hearst.
I never had any correspondence with him in my whole life, whatever the reason. It certainly started a chain of events that I never dreamed. And then that followed by Associated Press, United Press, International News Service, soon afterwards stories in Time, Life, Newsweek, and Billy Graham became nationally known.
After that, the tent was expanded, people standing outside, and the revival went on another four weeks, which placed something of a burden on Billy Graham. One night, at the encouragement of his wife and her Christian friends, Louis Zamperini reluctantly joined the crowd. He gained fame as an Olympic track star in 1936, and then while on a search and rescue mission during World War II, mechanical difficulties forced Zamperini's plane to crash into the ocean. After drifting at sea for 47 days, he was taken to a Japanese prison camp where he was tortured. Though he returned home a hero, he was filled with bitter rage towards his Japanese captor, known as The Bird, and had turned to alcohol to drown his pain.
Here's Louis Zamperini. Billy Graham just happened to quote the right scriptures, and he said the right things that really stabbed me in the heart, and I realized what I had to do. And the question in that day will be, what did you do with Jesus?
Have you trusted Christ Jesus as Savior? It all hit me at one time before I got to the main aisle, and there I made my decision. I knew when I turned to the right, I knew it was all over.
And it was. I got back here, accepted Christ, and my life was completely changed, and it's been changed ever since. After what became an eight-week-long revival, nothing would ever be the same for Billy Graham and his wife, Ruth Graham. Here's Billy's son, Ned. There would never have been a Billy Graham without a Ruth Graham. In 1940, at nearly 22 years of age, Billy was six feet and two inches tall, weighed about 160 pounds, and spoke with a strong southern drawl. It was at this time where Billy met Ruth Bell while continuing his studies at Wheaton College near Chicago. The daughter of medical missionaries in China, she was known for her deep and disciplined Christian faith and mischievous fun. Here's Billy and his mother.
I was working on a furniture truck in the afternoons for 50 cents an hour. This man that ran the furniture truck began to tell me about this girl from China. He said, she's the girl for you.
Well, I had my eyes already on another girl. But when I came out and saw her standing there, he said, that is Ruth Bell. At that moment, I was in love, and not only in love, something told me inside she'll be your wife.
Hey, hey, hey, hey, it's just a sunny day. He was so impressed by her, he wrote home and says, that is the girl I'm going to marry. I was frightened to death to ever ask her for a date. But I finally worked up enough courage to ask her to go at Christmas time to the Messiah. And so I took her to the Messiah, and she was everything that I had heard about her.
Here's Ruth. I remember when I was praying that night. Mind you, I didn't even know the man. I'd just been with him for that one date. But I just prayed and I said, Lord, if you will let me share his life, I will consider it the greatest honor possible. And fortunately, I didn't know what lay ahead.
I wouldn't have had the nerve to pray a prayer like that. Here's Franklin and Ned. My mother loved my father, and my father loved and adored her. And it was a partnership.
They were called together as a team. Mother was the tether to Dad's balloon. Can you imagine saying goodbye to my father knowing that he's going to be gone not just for a week, but for two months, four months, six months? I don't know how she did it. A lot of times I would go down this driveway here with tears in my eyes. I didn't want to go because I knew it would be several weeks or months before I'd see her. Here's daughter Gigi. There were times when she would go and take a jacket out of his closet and sleep with it so she could smell the smell.
And for a young woman, that's tough. Ruth's commitment enabled Billy to remain faithful to God's call as opportunities to reach people with the gospel grew beyond anything they could have ever imagined. A journey that would last almost six decades.
Here's former news anchor Charles Gibson, Franklin Graham, and Billy's music and program director, Cliff Barrows. There has always been a hunger for faith in this country and for answers. He really brought that basic yearning and longing in people to the forefront. He had a burden and a call on his life to take the gospel message to as many people as he possibly could. He preached to more people face to face than any other person in history.
You never hear Jesus saying, I think or perhaps this is the way. He always said, this is the way, the truth and the life. Bill said, I will go anywhere at any time at any cost to preach the gospel. God took him at his word and Bill took God at his word. Not only was Billy Graham willing to go anywhere, he was also willing to use every effective communication tool available. On June 1st, 1957, Americans witnessed the first live telecast of a Billy Graham crusade.
Here's Kathie Lee Gifford, Tom Brokaw, and Brit Hume. No matter what your race, whatever color the skin, God loves you. He knew how valuable media was. He knew how important it was to get his crusades on television.
Then millions and millions exponentially people would see it. Dr. Graham had all the qualities, handsome as a movie star. He spoke in language everybody could understand. Television was a perfect medium for him. I'm asking you tonight to make a clear shot. He had a spark in his eyes that was visible.
You kind of couldn't take your eyes off. And you're listening to the life story of Billy Graham. And my goodness, what a story it is indeed. A burden and calling on his life. His son described taking the gospel to the world. He preached to more people than anyone in world history. And that is indeed why we're covering this story, because there's never been one like him.
There may never be one like him. I'll go anywhere at any time at any cost to spread the gospel. And my goodness, Billy Graham did just that. When we come back, the great Billy Graham, his life story continues here on Our American Stories. And we continue with the life story of Billy Graham here on Our American Stories.
Let's pick up where we last left off. No matter the audience or medium, Billy was always faithful to the message. Here he is with Jack Parr, Johnny Carson, Phil Donahue, and Larry King. Are you criticized for coming on the show by the more devout? There are a few people that criticize me, but I always tell them that Christ went among the publicans and sinners.
And I can come with Jack Parr. The Ten Commandments can be broken in your heart by thought and intent. And that's the reason the Bible says that everybody's a sinner. Even Ed is a sinner.
It comes as quite a surprise. Jesus said if you look on a woman to lust after in your heart, you've already committed adultery. I really have trouble with that one. No, I'll tell you why. The Bible says all have sinned. And that's the reason we need the forgiveness of God, and that's why Christ died on the cross.
Okay, I don't want to belabor you. Bill, you know, you're really blushed. Daddy would accept to go on these secular programs because he felt like this was just one more way that the gospel of Jesus Christ could be preached. And whether he was on Larry King Live or Meet the Press or any show he did that was non-religious in any way, he never got off message.
What is your purpose? He said go into the whole world and proclaim this message that God loves people, that he's interested in people, he wants to help them in their present situation, and he wants to save their souls. That's the reason it's so important to know the Word of God.
You always knew with Graham that it was about the message and not about the man. Many of you tonight desperately need Jesus Christ. Who is this unique person that comes across the pages of history? The Bible from Genesis to Revelation points to Christ. He was the Son of God. He was the only one in the universe that could bear all of our sins. The human heart's the same the world over, and the gospel is the same.
It hasn't changed at all. And people respond to it. I believe you are here by divine appointment. I believe this is your night with Almighty God.
Here's NFL coach Tony Dungy. I just loved it. He didn't try to overwhelm you with big words. It was so point blank, he knew exactly what he meant.
I know that in the audience, that almost everybody there has experienced loneliness, they've experienced sin that they're sorry for, and there are people there that are afraid, and there are people there that are hungry for something to believe in now. And from the cross, God is saying to the whole world, I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.
I love you. Billy Graham fought against racism his whole life, and especially during its peak in the 1960s. Some people are predicting the possibility of a race war. It's not a problem in Alabama alone. It's a world problem, wherever you have two races living. Is there an answer? Yes, there is an answer.
The answer is in the cross of Jesus Christ, and there is a possibility of spiritual brotherhood in Christ alone. I have some very sad news for all of you. Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight. Graham, I believe you've just been informed of the tragic death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Yes, and I was just informed about five minutes ago, and it comes as one of the greatest shocks of my entire life. There is no excuse ever for hatred. There is no excuse ever for bigotry and intolerance and prejudice.
We are to love as God loves us. Here's Bernice King. I think both Dr. Graham and my father were trying to make the world a better place.
Here's Reverend Howard Jones. Billy and Martin were friends, and a lot of whites damned Billy for that. We demanded integration almost from the beginning of our meetings in the South.
Now today, it's almost impossible for the present generation to understand what things were in those days and what it took to be that way, how many threatening letters we got, and how many threats against my family as a result of the stand that we took at that time. Billy's public acts against racial segregation took place at his crusades in the South during the early 1950s. He walked into the crusade, and they had ropes up.
Billy saw them. Blacks were supposed to sit back on that, and the whites would sit in front. I was appalled at it and decided that I had to speak out on it and had to do something about it. I said, no more of this, and I went to the head usher and asked him if he would remove the ropes, and he said no, he wouldn't. Billy got up from the platform, and he walked down past the ushers and took the ropes down himself.
And I remember that the head usher resigned, and there was quite a little flack about that. His approach was more of trying to get people into the relationship with Christ, that that would transform their mindset and the way in which they lived, so they would see people differently and thus treat people differently. In New York, Mr. Billy Graham makes a dramatic denunciation. There's something wrong with human nature.
What is it in the nature of men that causes men to have intolerance and racial intolerance? The problem of the world tonight is sin. Here's President Bill Clinton. Almost 50 years ago, my Sunday school teacher took me to Little Rock to hear Billy Graham's crusade.
The schools were closed because of the Little Rock Central High School integration crisis. The White Citizens Council in Little Rock tried to convince even to pressure Billy Graham and all of his people to preach to a segregated audience, and he told them that if they insisted on that, he would cancel the crusade and tell the whole world why. And when he issued the call at the end of the message, thousands came down holding hands, arm in arm, crying.
It was the beginning of the end of the Old South in my home state. But the fruit of the Spirit is loved. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples and that you have loved one to another.
That is a supernatural love given to you by God when you receive Christ. Christianity is not a white man's religion, and don't let anybody ever tell you that it's white or black. Christ belongs to all people. He belongs to the whole world. His gospel is for everyone. Billy's love for people, regardless of race, nationality, or worldview, was tested when he made a trip inside the Iron Curtain in 1982. He was fearless, he was bold, he was always willing to take a risk when it was for the right reason. Let us call the nations of the world to repentance.
To be honest, I don't think the communists knew what to do with. Here's Billy's daughter, Ruth. He was criticized severely, even by evangelicals, but my father knew that God had called him to this, God had given him a burden for this, and he was not going to be dissuaded. I looked on them as human beings in need of the forgiveness of God and in need of a relationship with Christ. And that's how I preached to them, that's how I spoke to them, and that's how I witnessed to them. You could see that there was a revolution that was going to come, because the people were wanting to be free, free to worship God. The streets were just lined with people, people were standing on everything they could stand on, rooftops everywhere, and my uncle simply held up the Bible, just held up the Bible. And you're listening to the story of Billy Graham and the love of God facing down totalitarians, and when we come back, more of this remarkable story here on Our American Stories. And we continue with Our American Stories. We just heard the story of Billy Graham's role in the Cold War, and in the segregated South.
Here's Greg Hengler with the final chapter of his story. Here's President George H.W. Bush. Here's President George H.W. Bush. He tipped the balance in the Cold War in freedom's favor. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
I don't care what ideologies arise in the future, the ultimate winner is going to be the kingdom of God. And then, there was September 11th. Here's President George W. Bush and Tom Brokaw. This is a nation that was in shock over unbelievable attacks. We got unmoored, as it were, as a country. We didn't know what to believe in anymore. I think people were in search of something. I knew that we needed to help the nation recover.
Here's Karl Rove and Pastor Rick Warren. The president wanted Reverend Graham to participate in the service at the National Cathedral, and the big problem was that there was no commercial air traffic. In fact, there were no civilian aircraft allowed to fly.
We worked with the Defense Department and the FAA to get special permission to fly. On the morning of the service, there was literally one civilian aircraft above the nation, bringing Billy Graham to Washington. September 11 will go down in our history as a day to remember. No matter how hard we try, words simply cannot express the horror, the shock, and the revulsion we all feel over what took place in this nation on Tuesday morning.
This is three days after a vicious attack. Just being in his presence gave you a sense of calm, and the nation needed calm. We come together today to affirm our conviction that God cares for us. The Bible says that He's the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles. I sat there watching on television with millions of other people.
Tears were streaming down my face. We see all around us. He was a voice of reason. He was the pastoral voice to the entire nation. The cross tells us that God understands our suffering, for He took upon Himself in the person of Jesus Christ our sins and our suffering. And from the cross, God declares, I love you. The story does not end with the cross, for Christ has conquered evil and death and hell.
Yes, there's hope. Over the years, beginning with President Harry Truman and extending through the presidency of George W. Bush, Graham served as their pastor, preacher, chaplain, and counselor. Here's Britt Hume, Larry King, and Charles Gibson. I think presidents reached out to him because they wanted what he had.
I think his relationship was a comforter, a role of advisor. None of us were in on those one-on-one sessions that he may have had with Bill Clinton when he was in trouble or with Lyndon Johnson when he despaired over the war or with George Bush when he was about to send kids to war. While we weren't in on those sessions, it's obvious that all of those presidents said very openly, I can take such comfort from talking to Billy Graham. Here's President George H.W.
Bush. Billy Graham, the man, the preacher, the humble farmer's son who helped change the world is a spiritual gift to all of us. Here's the founder of Prison Fellowship, Chuck Colson. One of my favorite stories about Billy Graham is out of the Memphis prison. They set up almost like a stadium inside the big prison yard and brought in the people from all the surrounding prisons. But when it was over, I went up and said, Billy, whenever I preach in the prisons, I always go into the segregation unit because those who are in isolation can't come out. And all the aides were trying to pull Dr. Graham away from the crowds. And he said, no, I want to follow Chuck.
And so we went into the segregation unit, walked through from cell to cell, and the only way you could talk to them was through a little hole where you passed food through in this cold, dank prison concrete floor. Billy Graham sat there and spent about ten minutes leading that man to Christ. It was a lot longer without men on death row that day than he had taken almost to speak.
Here again is Cliff Barrows. He would be visiting the battlefields and oftentimes the hospitals. I remember one time there was a soldier they'd brought in.
He was in a striker frame. He'd been severely injured on the battlefield. And the only way Bill could see him was to get down on his back and slide under that hospital bed and look at him.
And as the fellow looked and saw Mr. Graham on his back and Billy looking at him and saying, God bless you, buddy, let me pray for you, the tears coming down the soldier's eyes, falling on Bill. Here's Billy Graham at a press conference for his final crusade. I've been asked so many times lately, do I fear death? No, I look forward to death with great anticipation. I'm looking forward to seeing God face to face.
That can happen any day. On February 25th, 2018, at 99 years of age, America and the world received the news. We have breaking news from North Carolina. The Reverend Billy Graham has died. Here's Billy Graham's children speaking at his funeral service. I believe from heaven's perspective that my father's death is as significant as his life. And his life was very significant. My father was faithful, he was available, and he was teachable. May we all be that way. My father was not God, but he showed me what God was like. He showed me unconditional love. He has often said that someday you'll read that Billy Graham is dead. He said, don't you believe one word of it. He said, I'll be more alive than I am now.
I'll have just changed addresses, that's all. And I can only imagine what it was like for my father to step into heaven. And there was the Lord Jesus Christ to say, well done, good and faithful servant. There was the throne of God, can you just imagine that?
My mother, his mother, father, friends clapping, cheering, bells ringing, trumpets blowing. Not because it was Billy Graham, it's just another child of God has come home. Another child of God. We will leave with these final words from Billy Graham. We're all under the sentence of death.
We're all going to die. We all need to be ready to meet God. Have you opened your heart to Jesus? Have you repented of your sins? I'm going to ask you to do that today. This is the moment. Tonight I want Jesus in my heart.
You don't have law, you'll be in eternity and the decision you make tonight may decide where you'll be. Do you know Christ? Are you ready?
I'm Greg Hengler and this is Our American Stories. I do not offer you a dead Christ. I offer you a living Savior. I offer you a living Christ. He is alive. At this moment, alive. And great job as always to Greg Hengler and a very special thanks once again to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for all that remarkable footage. The life story of Billy Graham here on Our American Stories.
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