At this stage in my life, early rising has become the norm. It was 4:00 am, February 21 when my BBC app flashed the news about Billy Graham’s passing. So many memories flashed into my mind, and then prayers flowed from my heart.
When my wife roused sometime later I said, “Billy Graham has died at 99, and I’m sure that he’s glad he didn’t live to be 100.” My story about Billy Graham feels so personal because he impacted my life on so many levels.
On Crusade with Billy Graham
As a young boy I always admired my dad’s older brother, my Uncle Don. Donald Hustad was well known in church music circles as a talented and wise musician and teacher. He was a world-class organist, choral director, musical arranger, and composer. I was so impressed to see the many record album covers with my Uncle Don’s name on them.
By then, Billy Graham had become a household name and he was a growing national and international celebrity. And then it happened. Billy Graham invited my Uncle Don to join him as the organist for his worldwide crusades. “Wow,” was my initial reaction. When I was 16, my uncle invited me to join him and his family for the Billy Graham crusade in Minneapolis, St. Paul.
I remember the thrill of it all like it was yesterday. I was there in the midst of all the excitement backstage and the long, intense week of events and meetings. Then, to watch thousands of people pack into the Minnesota State Fair Grounds and to be within 50 feet of the powerful preacher was incredible. Billy Graham usually came to the stage after the meeting started, would pray intensely, and then do what he was called to do—preach the gospel with passion and deep pathos. I watched in wonder as literally hundreds of people streamed forward.
And then, to be at one of the staff events—a party—and to be introduced to the man himself and to note his presence and poise, and his interest in me, a shy, young boy from Iowa. He was indeed, “the man.”
A Meeting that Changed My Life
I followed him and read what he wrote from then on and particularly admired his talent in the media—how well he used radio and television. But with all of his achievements, there was always such a modest touch to the man.
I remember once, a TV interviewer quoted another Christian leader who had unleashed a major criticism of Billy Graham. The interviewer seemed intent on starting a fight or controversy. Billy listened, put his head down for a moment, then looked at the interviewer and simply said, “I am sorry he feels that way.” No defense, no counter-attack, no fighting back. If you want to see true greatness in a man or a woman, don’t look at the big things they do, watch for the little things.
As I grew into a young man and started my teaching career, I usually made a point to listen to his weekly radio broadcast, “The Hour of Decision.” In my teaching, I had overcome my deep introversion and shyness and had become a recognized and respected teacher. But I was thinking of a career change to follow my life-long dream of getting into radio; and indeed, Billy was the master of the spoken word on the airwaves.
One night, the Billy Graham broadcast came on and it was noted that Billy was speaking from an international missionary radio station located in Monte Carlo: Trans World Radio. I jumped out of bed, wrote the name down, and within a year, my family and I were involved in the global work of missionary radio, all the while supporting our own work and outreach. I became a missionary entrepreneur.
I am still an entrepreneur today; what I call a Jesus–led entrepreneur. Billy Graham had indeed changed my whole life and career, and I am sure he never knew or probably remembered the shy boy he was so kind to that night of the staff party at the Minneapolis crusade.
I have been a student of his life for some time, and the lessons about entrepreneuriship, ministry, media, leadership, and personal conduct that you can learn from the life of Billy Graham are legion.
This short memoir is just a single example of a story that was duplicated hundreds of thousands of times around the world. Lives were totally changed by the presence of “that man, the man.”
But I can just imagine him shaking his head and saying, “No Stanley, I am not the man; there is only one who is ‘the man.’”
A Gentle Passion
I remember one interview in which Billy was asked about his purpose and passion, and with a little bit of a shrug and smile, confessed that he was indeed quite intense, a bit of a “warrior” for the gospel. In my view, “humble warrior” would be a suitable title for Billy Graham.
Billy would have turned 100 this coming November, and I just know in my heart that he might have been dreading that. There would have been hundreds of kudos, tributes, news stories, and thousands of accounts just like mine that would have come forward. He would have endured it with a smile, but I know that he would not have liked it. I can almost hear him say, “It’s not me, I was blessed to do what I was called to do, to join with others in saying, ‘Come and see the One who is truly The Man.’”
That is the one thing he did, and he did it well. Thank you, Humble Warrior.
Photo credit: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association