Today, the man many knew as “America’s Pastor”, world-renowned Evangelist and Reverend Billy Graham was laid to rest in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, in what the Graham Family termed his “Last Crusade.”
About 2300 people attended the ceremony to say their final goodbyes before he was laid to rest next to his wife in a private interment ceremony, a week after he passed away in his home on February 21, 2018 at the age of 99.
Among the dignitaries who attended was President Trump and the First Lady Melania, Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen, Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Pastor Joel Osteen, foreign diplomats as well as religious leaders from different faiths from across the country and the world.
Like the Evangelist’s religious humble beginnings in a tent in 1949, a throwback to his first great revival Los Angeles which propelled him to the national spotlight and later to international religious prominence, his chose to end his journey on earth in a tent as he had begun, turning down a Presidential Offer to use the nation’s Cathedral in the Capitol.
A humble man throughout his life, his departure was signified in the same manner. The pine coffin with a cross in which Rev. Billy Graham was buried in and which was seen all over the world, was simple and crafted by inmates at Angola Prison Penitentiary in Louisiana where he once preached many years ago.
According to a Billy Graham’s spokesman, the inscription on his headstone will also be simple and reflective of his entire existence. It will read as follows, ‘Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ,’ a reference to the biblical scripture, John 14:16.
The service attended by thousands was broadcast live on many media networks as well as streamed live on various online media outlets and social media.
The Graham Children Remember Their Father
Billy Graham’s eldest son, Reverend Franklin Graham, delivered the eulogy, presenting his father as a man who lived and practiced what he preached.
“The Billy Graham that the world saw on television, the Billy Graham that the world saw in the big stadiums, was the same Billy Graham that we saw at home. There weren’t two Billy Grahams,” he said of his father. “He loved his family. He stood by us. He comforted us.”
In a service that lasted over an hour, the younger Reverend Graham’s message about his father included Gospel calls to salvation and repentance, remembering his father as a man who lived his life exactly as he preached and how he his life was devoted to spreading the Gospel and the Word of God.
As much as it was a farewell service and a celebration of the life of a man who was a spiritual leader to hundreds of millions in his country and across the world, however, to his children, the ceremony was an emotional remembrance of their father and a last talk with him.
Graham’s children, all speakers and others preachers in their own right, took turns to recall the teachings of their deceased parents on how they were taught to deliver sermons and read scriptures.
Speaking of her father’s death, Anne Graham Lotz said, “I believe, from Heaven’s perspective, that my father’s death is as significant as his life. And his life was very significant.
“But I think when he died, that was something very strategic from Heaven’s point of view. I believe God is saying: ‘Wake up Church! Wake up world!’”
The Final Crusade
Rev. Billy Graham’s funeral aptly termed the “Last Crusade” by his family featured some of the famous Gospel Musicians who once shared the stage with him during revivals and crusades sometime in the past. Among them was Bill Gaither and his Gaither Vocal Band, Linda McCrary-Fisher and Michael W. Smith.
Other notable guests were North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and his predecessor Pat McCrory, musician Ricky Skaggs, TV host Kathie Lee Gifford, Evangelist Rick Warren as well a televangelist Jim Bakker.
A lineup of clergy who were either influenced or touched in one way or the other by Billy Graham delivered powerful messages of condolence and also in celebration to his life, including prayers and benediction.
Among them was Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York; Lebanese Pastor, Sami Dagher; Billy Kim who is President of the South Korean Far East Broadcasting Company Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr., President of Liberty University.
Rev. Graham’s towering influence all over the world was evident by the messages of condolences and respect from some of the speakers. Sami Dagher, a Lebanese Pastor and friend to the late Evangelist pointed out the impact and “great affect” he had “on the Middle East for all believers.”
Meanwhile, South Korean Pastor Billy Kim credited the late Evangelist and Reverend Billy Graham for the growth in the number ofChurches and missionaries in South Korea, saying his wife also became a missionary at the age of 12 after hearing him speak in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“Your journey has ended on this earth but may the Lord give you perfect rest in the presence of our heavenly father.
“You have fought a good fight. You finished the course,” he ended.
While the ceremony also emphasized the message that only the Reverend’s earthly journey may have come to an end – a point underscored by Rev. Franklin Graham as he stood behind the same pulpit his father used in the 1990s, it also celebrated his home-going and a beginning of a new life.
He recalled one of his father’s frequent sayings that people shouldn’t believe it when they hear that he (Billy Graham) has died: “He said: ‘I’ll be more alive than I am now. I’ll have just changed addresses, that’s all.’”
A Week of Mourning
The funeral came at the end of a week in mourning that began in the hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina where crowds had lined the streets in in honour of the Reverend.
The late Reverend lay in repose at his childhood home built by his father in 1927 on their Charlotte Dairy Farm, an area which was long ago swallowed by urban sprawl.
The old structure is located on the same premises as the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association after it was moved and restored years ago by the Billy Graham Library.
Over 1300 people including former Presidents paid respect during a public viewing early this week where the Reverend’s remains lay in repose for 2 days at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte before it was flown to Washington, DC where he had been granted a rare honour to “lie in honour” at the Capitol Rotunda.
This makes Billy Graham the 4th private citizen to be granted such honour since the founding of the nation.
Lay “In Honour” At the Capitol’s Rotunda
In addition to being thenon-elected private citizen to “lie in honour” at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, Billy Graham is the first Religious Leader to be accorded such an honour and respect.
“We need to put God back in government,” said Billy Graham’s son, Reverend Franklin Graham. “We need God back into our schools. We need God back into our everyday lives. If we do that, we could see a spiritual healing in our country.”
The other civilians who were granted the same honour were the Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks in 2005 and two former U.S. Capitol Police Officers in 1998 who died in the line of duty in 1998.
When Congress granted the Evangelist the nation’s highest distinction reserved mainly for Presidents and elected officials, it was following a tradition started in 1852 by Congressman Henry Clay to pay tribute to the nation’s non-elected, most imminent citizens.
The Rotunda has long been considered the most prominent place to pay final respect to the nation’s most eminent citizens like Presidents and elected members.
Spiritual Leader And Confidant
Rev. Bill Graham was a lifelong Democrat who was a friend, confidant and served as a spiritual leader many Presidents.
He was also a spiritual leader to hundreds of millions of Americans and around the world where his religious footprint still remains.
Among these were Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, the Bushes and Bill Clinton.
Graham was a confidant to President Dwight Eisenhower and President George W. Bush, as well as many others that served in between those two leaders.
A Journey Well-Travelled
In his religious journey to spread the word of God, the world-Reknowned Preacher and Evangelist preached to more than 200 million people in the course of his lifetime to spread the word of God across the world. It is reported he also prayed with every single U.S. President since Harry Truman.
The Man of God was a known proponent of Civil Rights and racial equality long before segregation was outlawed, with his Church being one of the first where segregated seating did not exist.
Rev. Graham was credited with playing a huge role in influencing Dr. Martin Luther King as well as on the success of the Civil Rights Movements in the U.S. His and Dr. King were close.
Rev. Graham was a man of principle who lived by what he preached. In 1953, while segregation was dominant in the U.S., he refused to segregate his congregation and once declined an invitation to hold one of his famous global crusades in South Africa because of apartheid.
Dr. King acknowledged Billy Graham’s major role and influence in his life when he said, “Had it not been for the ministry of my good friend Dr. Billy Graham, my work in the Civil Rights Movement would not have been as successful as it has been.”
Unlike other Pastors, Preachers and Televangelists who were brought down by scandals, the Reverend had a spotless record in his 60 years of preaching and was never implicated in any scandal. He attributed most of the credit to his wife Ruth Bell of whom he once said the following,
“When it comes to spiritual things, my wife has had the greatest influence on my ministry.”
Rev. Graham and his wife Ruth who died in 2007, had five children who all followed in his footstep. Anne Graham Lotz and Reverend Franklin Graham who is also the President and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association followed their father as preachers.
The Evangelist and Reverend Billy Graham died on February 21 at his home in his sleep after a struggle with cancer, Parkinson’s and pneumonia. He was 99 years old. His wife Ruth Bell passed away in 2007 and he is survived by his 5 children and 19 grandchildren.
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