Billy Graham

Nov 11, 2002 03:00 AM EST

Evangelist Billy Graham took Christ at His word when He said in Mark 16:15, "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature," (KJV).

Mr. Graham has preached the Gospel to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history -- over 210 million people in more than 185 countries and territories -- through various meetings, including Mission World and Global Mission. Hundreds of millions more have been reached through television, video, film and webcasts.

Since the 1949 Los Angeles mission vaulted Mr. Graham into the public eye, he has led hundreds of thousands of individuals to make personal decisions to live for Christ, which is the main thrust of his ministry.

Humble Beginnings

Born November 7, 1918, four days before the Armistice ended World War I, Mr. Graham was reared on a dairy farm in Charlotte, N.C. Growing up during the Depression, he learned the value of hard work on the family farm, but he also found time to spend many hours in the hayloft reading books on a wide variety of subjects.

In the fall of 1934, at age 16, Mr. Graham made a personal commitment to Christ through the ministry of Mordecai Ham, a traveling evangelist, who visited Charlotte for a series of revival meetings.

Ordained in 1939 by a church in the Southern Baptist Convention, Mr. Graham received a solid foundation in the Scriptures at Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College in Florida). In 1943 he graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois and married fellow student Ruth McCue Bell, daughter of a missionary surgeon, who spent the first 17 years of her life in China.

The Early Years

After graduating from college, Mr. Graham joined Youth for Christ, an organization founded for ministry to youth and servicemen during World War II. He preached throughout the United States and in Europe in the immediate post-war era, emerging as a rising young evangelist.

The Los Angeles mission in 1949 launched Mr. Graham into international prominence. Scheduled for three weeks, the meetings were extended to more than eight weeks, with overflow crowds filling a tent erected downtown each night.

Many of his subsequent early missions were similarly extended, including one in London which lasted 12 weeks, and a New York City mission in Madison Square Garden in 1957 which ran nightly for 16 weeks.

The Current Ministry

Today, at age 83, Billy Graham and his ministry are known around the globe. He has preached in remote African villages and in the heart of New York City, and those to whom he has ministered have ranged from heads of state to the simple-living bushmen of Australia and the wandering tribes of Africa and the Middle East. Since 1977, Mr. Graham has been accorded the opportunity to conduct preaching missions in virtually every country of the former Eastern bloc, including the former Soviet Union.

Mr. Graham founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1950, which headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He conducts his ministry through BGEA, including:

- the weekly "Hour of Decision" radio program broadcast around the world on Sundays for over 50 years

- the daily "Decision Today" radio program aired by approximately 200 stations in the United States and Canada

- mission television specials which are regularly broadcast in prime time in almost every market in the U.S. and Canada approximately six times annually

- a newspaper column, "My Answer," which is carried by newspapers across the country with a combined circulation of more than five million readers

- "Decision" magazine, the official publication of the Association, has a circulation of 1.4 million and is available in English and German versions, with special editions available in Braille and on cassette tape for the visually impaired.

- World Wide Pictures has produced and distributed over 130 productions, making it one of the foremost producers of evangelistic films in the world. Films have been translated into 40 languages and viewed by more than 250 million people worldwide and, for a minimum charge, are provided for showing in prisons and correctional facilities nationwide.


Mr. Graham has written 23 books, many of which have become top sellers. His latest, "Just As I Am," published in 1997, achieved a "triple crown," appearing simultaneously on the three top best-seller lists in one week. In this autobiography, Mr. Graham reflects on his life, including nearly 60 years of ministry around the world. From humble beginnings as the son of a dairy farmer in North Carolina, he shares how his unwavering faith in Christ formed and shaped his career.

Of his other books, "Approaching Hoofbeats: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (1983) was listed for several weeks on The New York Times best-seller list; "How to Be Born Again" (1977) had the largest first printing in publishing history with 800,000 copies; "Angels: God's Secret Agents" (1975) sold one million copies within 90 days; and "The Jesus Generation" (1971) sold 200,000 copies in the first two weeks.

Awards and Honors

Mr. Graham's counsel has been sought by presidents, and his appeal in both the secular and religious arenas is evidenced by the wide range of groups that have honored him, including numerous honorary doctorates from many institutions in the United States and abroad. Recognitions include the Congressional Gold Medal; the Speaker of the Year Award; the Templeton Foundation Prize for Progress in Religion; and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation Freedom Award for contributions to the cause of freedom. He has received the Big Brother Award for his work on behalf of the welfare of children and been cited by the George Washington Carver Memorial Institute for his contributions to race relations. He has also been recognized by the Anti-Defamation League of the B'nai B'rith and the National Conference of Christians and Jews for his efforts to foster a better understanding among all faiths. In December 2001 he was presented with an honorary knighthood, Honorary Knight Commander of the order of the British Empire (KBE), for his international contribution to civic and religious life over 60 years.

Mr. Graham is regularly listed by the Gallup organization as one of the "Ten Most Admired Men in the World," whom it described as the dominant figure in that poll since 1948 -- making an unparalleled 44th appearance and 37th consecutive appearance. He has also appeared on the covers of "Time," "Newsweek," "Life," "U.S. News and World Report," "Parade," and numerous other magazines and has been the subject of many newspaper and magazine feature articles and books.

He and his wife, Ruth, have three daughters, two sons, 19 grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren. The Grahams make their home in the mountains of North Carolina.

By Pauline J.
[email protected]