Georgia faith community calls Billy Graham a humble messenger for Christ

Influential evangelist Billy Graham held three crusades in Atlanta.

The Rev. Gerald Durley, now pastor emeritus at Providence Missionary Baptist Church, attended one in 1994 held at the Georgia Dome, where he also served as a co-chairman.

"He was the most humble, transparent and genuine person   I ever met in my life," said Durley."He did not come in and say 'I have a panacea for this community. He listened. And, as great of a speaker he was, he was just as great a listener.”

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Durley recalls being in the green room one time with Graham during a crusade. Graham wanted to know how to reach out to the African-American community crusades.

“He wanted to know how his message of Jesus Christ could bring the people of Atlanta together,” Durley said.

RelatedBilly Graham fought for civil rights

Graham, who led religious crusades that spanned the globe and had a huge broadcast ministry, died Wednesday at 99.

Although he had been ailing and frail, the news still affected the millions who were devoted to his simple, but powerful sermons.

  RelatedA look at Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse Pastor Charles Stanley, of First Baptist Church Atlanta, said while he was saddened by the death of Graham, he was also overwhelmed  "with gratefulness for his faithful life and example. I give thanks to God for the eternal influence he had on my life and so many others. "

Stanley first heard Graham as a teenager and thought that “that man can preach the gospel!”

During a time when some preaching had grown somewhat lifeless and stale, the North Carolina man of God  brought something different to listeners.

“ He spoke with enthusiasm and authority, was filled with the Holy Spirit and was true to the Word of God,” Stanley said in a statement. “As a young man wanting to serve God, that inspired me profoundly.”

While a ministry student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Ft. Worth, Stanley had an opportunity to ask Graham some doctrinal questions that bothered him.

“I was struck by how kind and down-to-earth he was—he wasn’t too busy to minister to a struggling seminary student...So as I reflect on Billy Graham’s life and think about all the people who he’s led to Christ, not the half has been told about the impact he’s had on eternity.”

Even though, he didn’t know Graham, the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, said he had a profound impact on many Christians.

It's hard to overstate the cultural impact of Billy Graham as a singular religious figure on the American landscape," said Warnock. "He certainly was iconic for Christian evangelicals, but many people beyond the Christian tradition also listened to Billy Graham."

Humble. Gracious. Confident.

Those are the word that the Rev. Bryant Wright, senior pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, used to describe Graham.

Graham advised and prayed with presidents and leaders of other nations, but he never lost his connection with ordinary men and women.

As a young pastor, Wright once spent time with Graham. He remembers asking him what experience stood out in his mind about  spending time with world leaders.

Graham told him, “well, I just keep those visits in confidence,” Wright said. “I don’t really talk about those.” That meant a lot to Wright because Graham held tight to his  values.

“He became the spiritual counselor to so many presidents because they could trust him. They knew he would pray for them and had absolute integrity.”

Wright saw a frailer Graham again in 2012. He and his wife  prayed for the faith leader and he prayed for them.
  "The world has lost a mighty good man, but Heaven has to be rejoicing and he has to be rejoicing to be in the presence of his Lord and Savior."

“It’s hard to overstate the cultural impact of Billy Graham as a singular religious figure on the American landscape,” he said. “He was certainly iconic for Christian evangelicals, but many people beyond even the Christian tradition listened to Billy Graham.”

Graham “was a good Christian,” said the former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. “He always talked about sin and forgiveness and that Christ died for all our sins. It was a very simple message but  a message that applied to everybody... He kept it very simple and sound theologically.”

He made sure African Americans felt welcome in his ministry and crusades. “He always said salvation knows no colorline.”

Pastor James Merritt, senior pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, has known Graham for about 20 years.

He got to visit Graham at his North Carolina home about seven years ago. He told Graham about a man in his church who had gotten saved listening to one of Graham’s sermons. The man was drunk in a Biloxi hotel room.  After hearing Graham gave his life to Christ and returned home to save his marriage.

That afternoon, Graham’s daughter asked Merritt what they had talked about.

“All he’s talked about today is your visit,” he said she told him. “She said you don’t know how much what you said meant to my dad because my dad wonders and worries so much did he ever make a difference in anybody’s life.”

Billy Graham was in his heyday when the Rev. David Gushee became a born-again Christian in 1978.

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"He played a role, from a distance, in helping me acept the evangelical Christian message," said Gushee, distinguished university professor of Christian ethics and director of the Center for Theology & Public Life at Mercer University.

"Billy Graham was one of the most effective evangelists in Christian history, not just through his words but through the exemplary and winsome quality of his life..." he said. “How I wish that Christians today had more examples like Billy Graham to demonstrate what Christian love can look like to a watching world."