Billy Graham: Finishing Strong, finishing well

Editorial, Features, Health

By Gbenga Osinaike
When news filtered in that Billy Graham had gone to glory, my mind immediately flashed back to a book written by Steve Farrar, titled Finishing Strong. If you have not read that book please go get a copy. In the book, Farrar gives a historical account of the generation of Graham.

He tells the story of Graham’s contemporaries: Chuck Templeton and Bron Clifford. Did you ever hear their names? The truth is that Graham was not as known as those two men. They were contemporaries of Graham and were all in their mid-twenties when they were making waves in the US.

In fact, Templeton was described by some as the most gifted preacher in the US then. He and Graham ministered for young people. But Templeton had more recognition and if people were to bet their money they would gladly stake it for him.

Clifford was another gifted preacher. By 1945, many believe Clifford as the most gifted and powerful preacher the church had seen in history. But around 1950 the most unimaginable thing happened. Templeton left the ministry to pursue a career as a radio and television commentator and newspaper columnist. He decided he was no longer a believer in Christ in the orthodox sense of the term. He no longer believed in the validity of the claims of Jesus Christ.

What about Clifford? Farrar in the book indicated that by 1954, Clifford on the other hand “had lost his family, his ministry, his health, and then… his life. Alcohol and financial irresponsibility had done him in. He wound up, leaving his wife and their two Down’s syndrome children.

At just thirty-five years of age, this once great preacher died from cirrhosis of the liver in a rundown motel on the edge of Amarillo. His last job was selling used cars in the panhandle of Texas. He died, as John Haggai put it, “unwept, unhonored, and unsung.

“Some pastors in Amarillo took up a collection among themselves in order to purchase a casket so that his body could be shipped back East for decent burial in a cemetery for the poor.”

So, when the news filtered in that in Wednesday February 21 that Graham has slept in the Lord, it was natural for the world to celebrate him. Graham whose worldwide crusades and role as adviser to United States Presidents made indelible imprints on the psyche of people is described as one of the most influential religious leaders on the globe. He died in his home in Montreat, N.C. on Wednesday 21st February.

Franklin his son told the press in 2015 ‘my dad is ready to go to heaven.’ He was in and out of hospitals for treatments relating to old age. The cleric had been ill for a number of years and was regularly listed in polls as one of the 10 Most Admired Men in the World.”

The televangelist had ministered to over 200 million people across the world according to reports. His Christian crusades took him from Manhattan to isolated African villages and according to the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (BGEA) website. It was said that Graham preached to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history.

He came to Nigeria in 1960 and there was no other record that he ever came to the country. But many Nigerians benefitted from his ministry.

His uttermost wish for his hearers was for them to know Christ. “My one purpose in life is to help people find a personal relationship with God, which I believe comes through knowing Christ,” said Tokunbo Emmanuel a Nigerian preacher.

Professor Duro Adegboye, president of Gospel Unlimited once shared at a forum how Billy Graham Evangelistic Association sponsored many evangelists from across the world and how he organised a life time conference in the US where many were trained and equipped with the resources for the purpose of evangelizing the world.

Graham was married to Ruth McCue Bell, daughter of a medical misssionary. The union was blessed with five children 19 grandchildren and several great grandchildren. Ruth died after 64 years of blissful marriage in June of 2007.

Fox News reports that “Billy Graham was about the most popular televangelist in world history. He arrived national prominence in the United States of America with his 1948 Los Angeles Crusade earlier scheduled for three weeks which lingered to eight. His subsequent programs also outstretched normal schedule. For instance, his event at the Madison Square Garden in New York ran for months in 1957.

“His BGEA organization was founded in 1950 with Headquarters in Minneapolis which in 2003 relocated to Charlotte. The BGEA conducted the weekly ‘Hour of Decision’ radio program and published the ‘Decision’ magazine and produced several television programs.

Apart from preaching, Graham is also a renowned author. He wrote a total of 29 books in his time. His biography, ‘Just As I Am,’ his last book, ‘Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well’ published October 2011 would be blessings to humanity centuries after him.”

Indeed, for Graham, there are many lessons for the present-day church. He preached a simple gospel and did not encourage drama and ragmatazz round his ministry. He was not given to enticing words of human wisdom. He did not amass wealth and he stayed focus till death. A general has indeed gone home!

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