I first became aware of the man and his vision and high energy presentation of faith as a boy when his Crusade was televised frequently from all over the world. My mother was a devotee of Dr. Graham, finding his message warming and full of hope in a world that back then seemed tame compared to today's mayhem. And while as a boy my mind would usually slip off to things like baseball, football, or weekend skating parties, there was something about his demeanor, the way he made it so clear that he wasn't a mere showman but a man energized through his belief in the message that he brought. It impressed me even at the ripe of old age of seven and would continue to do so, often in unexpected places and times.
I remember when I was far from home at college and facing difficult exams that I decided on a whim to attend a showing at a Christian fellowship of one of his crusades. I must admit that I had been tardy at church attendance, not unlike most college kids after a fun-filled Saturday night, but something told me to go. And, of course, with larger, clearer and color TV available, his steel eyes, jutting jaw and dead serious look made me think he was looking right at me through the TV set. And the words hit home and I even felt a chill down my back as he mentioned the name of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
It happened again on a lonely, orderly room overnight watch in Officer Candidate School as I, keeping phone watch, listened to one of his radio broadcasts as I manned the quiet phones through the night. Once again his words touched my soul and awakened the Spirit within me and it helped me deal with the long night and the thought of a rigorous coming day with no sleep.
Even in my 30s, when I came home to visit my mom, his presence surprisingly showed itself to me but in a more direct way. My mother, a widow with all children grown, asked me if I would take her to one of his live crusades, which was in town that week. Now I would have taken her whether I wanted to or not, but I was actually touched by the thought of seeing this man I could never forget in person for the first time. And since Mom had been a long-term supporter of Dr. Graham's mission, she had VIP tickets which placed us up close and personal on the seventh row directly below the pulpit. It was springtime and we were at the Hampton Coliseum in Virginia and the place was packed to the ceiling.
George Beverly Shea opened the crusade and there was beautiful Christian music as the audience broke into song with the performers. And beautiful flowers, especially white lilies in abundance, gave a feeling of new birth which spring unleashes to the stage area and then Dr. Graham walked to the podium. He had a soft smile on his face and as his steel blue eyes peered all over the arena and when his glance came in my direction I felt as if he was passing a spiritual link directly to me.
He was so much grander in person than on TV. His conviction was strong and could not be questioned, his love and devotion to his Savior was clear and his message struck directly home, even more forcefully than those televised appearances. Standing tall in a crisp blue suit with red tie, it brought me to tears as I thought about those things that I meant to do in faith but had not completed and it reinforced me will to be a better man. And when we departed at the end of the evening, dear Mom looked at me, grabbed hold of my arm and said it was a wonderful time to spend with her youngest son.
Mom has been gone for fourteen years but I will always remember that evening as clear as yesterday. And now that Dr. Graham has also left this earth, I will always remember him and how he had an impact on me and my faith even when I sometimes never knew it. But I know it now and it makes me smile. I'll bet Dr. Graham is smiling right now, too, as he joins his Lord and Savior for eternity and has a joyous reunion with his wife, Ruth, who had been patiently waiting for him in heaven above.
Thank you, Dr. Graham, for being a strong and steady beacon for Truth, never faltering and always continuing your work for Him. You left your mark behind and it will continue to work to spread the message of hope and love. And you, Dr. Graham, have finally earned your rest in the arms of He who made us. No one could deserve such a fitting conclusion to a wonderful life of Christian service.