Renowned evangelist Billy Graham celebrates his 90th birthday today, just three days after the nation elected its 44th president.
The man affectionately known as the “World’s Preacher” and “America’s Pastor” for more than 60 years has been a friend to every U.S. president since Harry Truman and recently issued an appeal on behalf of president-elect Barack Obama after he became the first African American to be voted into the office.
"President Elect Barack Obama faces many challenges, and I urge everyone to join me in pledging our support and prayers as he begins the difficult task ahead,” Graham stated Wednesday.
Today, however, it will be Graham who many will be praying for in gratitude for his ministry, which has touched countless lives all over the world. Graham is believed to have spoken face-to-face with more people in more places than anyone in history, having preached to over 210 million people in over 185 countries. Hundreds of millions more have been reached through television, video, film, and webcasts.
“Words cannot describe the impact this man of God has had on me,” writes “A.P.” from the West African nation of Ghana in a message to Graham featured by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). “I am so inspired by his love for God and his work in the vineyard of the Lord."
Another individual, identified as “S,” recalled how Graham was in Richmond, Va., for an evangelistic crusade back around 1957.
“I felt the Holy Spirit and went forward and rededicated my life. I have never been the same,” the person wrote. “I started reading my Bible and over all these years have fallen more and more in love with the Lord.”
For the past month, the BGEA has been encouraging individuals around the world to bless and encourage Graham by sending a birthday greeting or a story of how his ministry impacted their life. According to the ministry, tens of thousands of these messages have been pouring in, and are being collected together to share with the evangelist as part of the birthday celebration.
Since his historic 1949 Los Angeles crusade vaulted him into the public eye, Graham has led hundreds of thousands of individuals to make personal decisions to live for Christ, which is the main thrust of his ministry.
In 1950, Graham founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), which was headquartered in Minneapolis, Minn., until relocating to Charlotte, N.C., in 2003. Through the ministry, Graham has broadcasted the gospel around the world, printed a magazine that is regularly distributed to more than 600,000 individuals, and produced and distributed over 125 evangelistic productions, among other endeavors.
The evangelist has been regularly listed by the Gallup organization as one of the “Ten Most Admired Men in the World,” making an unparalleled 51 appearances and 44 consecutive appearances since 1948. 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.
Since retiring from public ministry due to his failing health, however, Graham has been largely confined to his home in Montreat, N.C. He has suffered from Parkinson's disease for about 15 years, has had fluid on the brain, pneumonia, broken hips, and recently revealed that he is suffering from prostate cancer.
This year’s birthday celebration will be the second since the death of his wife, Ruth Bell Graham, who died four days after her 87th birthday in 2007.
Despite the death of his marriage and ministry partner of more than 63 years, Graham has been buoyed by his family and the hope of the Gospel message he has faithfully preached for more than six decades.
"I look forward even more to the time when I will be reunited with my wife in heaven, and neither of us will ever experience again the physical aches and pains brought about by age and illness," Graham said in a statement to the press.
The evangelist, who has written 27 books, hopes to finish a new book project based on his personal experience with growing older and how to be prepared emotionally and spiritually for what he says can be the most fulfilling years of life.
"Every day is a gift from God, no matter how old we are,” Graham stated. “I have discovered that just because we grow weaker physically as we age, it doesn't mean that we must grow weaker spiritually. In fact, we ought to be growing stronger spiritually, because our eyes ought to be on eternity and Heaven – on the things that really matter.”
According to an announcement, Graham will celebrate his 90th birthday today with a private family dinner near the evangelist's mountainside home outside Asheville, N.C.
The following week, there will be a larger celebration with friends and people who have served with Graham. There, he will be presented with the book of birthday greetings from fans around the world.