Billy believed that his life purpose was to preach the Gospel and help people discover a personal relationship with God through knowing God’s son, Jesus Christ. Billy Graham is known for preaching the Gospel to live audiences to more people than anyone else in history. He has spoken to 215 million people in more than 185 countries. Billy was born in 1918, at the end of World War I, and raised as a farm boy in North Carolina. It was during the Great Depression that he learned the value of hard work on the family farm. At the age of sixteen, Billy made a personal commitment to Christ through the ministry of Mordecai Ham, a traveling evangelist.
Billy started college in 1936 at Bob Jones University, and eventually transferred and graduated from the Florida Bible Institute, which is now called Trinity College. In 1943 he also graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois with a degree in Anthropology. It was at Wheaton that Billy met a fellow student named Ruth Bell and married her in 1943. When Billy met Ruth for the first time, he remembers thinking “I just could not believe that anyone could be so spiritual and so beautiful at the same time.” Billy sought a degree in Anthropology so that he would have an understanding of people in social settings different from his own and an understanding of social customs and primitive religions. Billy never sought after a seminary degree.
Ruth (Bell) Graham was born and lived the first 17 years of her life in China. Her parents were missionaries near Shanghai, China and her father was a well known medical doctor. Ruth also attended High School in North Korea while her parents worked in China. Ruth’s life long dream was to return to the mission field after graduation and minister to the people of Tibet. Ruth believed that God had called her to be a missionary to the remote borders of Tibet just as strongly as Billy believed that He had been called to preach the Gospel. Ruth had also been impacted by the life of Amy Carmichael working with children in southern India. While Billy and Ruth were dating, Ruth felt compelled to tell Billy about her friend Mildred who had rejected the man she loved because marriage to him would have kept her from obeying her call from God to do pioneer work in China. Billy was open to missionary work, and in his own words said, “I believed it was more comfortable to consider it in the global abstract than in the Tibetan concrete.” After Billy asked Ruth to marry him and she was struggling with her decision due to our different callings, Billy asked Ruth “Do you believe that God has brought us together?” She believed so without hesitation. Billy said “In that case, God will lead me, and you’ll do the following.” Ruth’s legacy is not the number of people she lead to Christ, but her clear submission to her husband and his calling, by loving her husband and nurturing her children.
Youth For Christ
Billy got his start as a traveling evangelist at the invitation of Torrey Johnson with Youth for Christ (YFC), an organization founded for ministry to youth and servicemen during World War II. In 1944 at the age of twenty-six, Billy began preaching to high school and college students at YFC Rallies in major cities throughout the United States and in Europe. Early in their marriage, and while Billy was speaking in Europe, Ruth’s intuition told her that Billy was feeling guilty and that he was worried there might be an estrangement between them, caused by Billy’s obsession with the ministry and being away months at a time. Ruth wrote to Billy and said, “In your thinking we have grown apart due to the wide separation of our ways and interests, but I feel closer to you than ever before…wherever you are, I go with you in mind and heart, praying for you continually.”
Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) was started in 1950 and is headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina. In the last 60 years Billy and the BGEA have hosted over 400 evangelistic crusades in countries around the world. Some other things Billy started include: “Hour of Decision” a weekly radio program that ran for 50 years; Christianity Today magazine; “My Answer” a international newspaper column; Decision magazine; World Wide Pictures which produced over 125 evangelistic films, and written 27 books.
Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, was asked by Billy to develop the training program for how counseling and follow-up was to be done for each of the Billy Graham Crusades. It was Billy Graham that encouraged Bill Bright to begin Campus Crusade for Christ and personally wrote him a $1000.00 check to start his ministry among college students. In 1967 Billy strategically partnered with Campus Crusade and Intervarsity at UCLA and Berkeley. Because Billy and Ruth got their start with YFC they always had a special concern and heart for young people and college students. Speaking at college and universities often took priority as they prayed through invitations to speak. Billy spoke at many colleges including Harvard, Princeton, Nigeria University, Moscow University, Sydney University, and Cambridge University. Billy spoke at many historical missions conference such as Intervarsity’s Urbana, Campus Crusade’s Explo ’72, Eurofest ’75 and many more.
World Evangelization Conferences
In an effort to not only preach the gospel but also raise up other evangelists to take the gospel around the world, Billy and the BGEA started hosting conferences in major cites around the world. The Berlin Congress on Evangelism in 1966, started by Billy, served as a catalyst for many new efforts in evangelism including Bill Bright starting Campus Crusade for Christ. It was also Billy Graham that pioneered the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974 in Lausanne, Switzerland. Dr. Ralph Winter unveiled the understanding unreached people groups at the 1974 Lausanne Conference and then decided to open the U.S. Center for World Mission. Billy Graham’s counsel has been highly sought over the last sixty years by nearly every President since Harry Truman. Billy had personal friendships with most of those Presidents including Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton. Many other world leaders have also sought audience with Billy Graham including: Martin Luther King, Jr., Prime Minster Winston Churchill and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Billy & Ruth Graham have three daughters (Anne, Gigi, & Ruth), two sons (Franklin & Ned), 19 grandchildren and numerous great grandchildren. Ruth died in 2007 at the age of 87. Billy was 89 when his wife of 65 years passed away.
“If any Christian deserves the accolade as the Man of the Century with regard to world evangelization it is Billy Graham. In light of eternity, we may find that Graham’s contribution to global mission far exceeded his high-profile evangelistic crusades.” – Patrick Johnstone.