Billy Graham’s Legacy is Grounded in Faith

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Billy Graham

Chapel at The Cove. Photo by Jeffrey S. Otto

When Billy Graham passed away at the age of 99 in February 2018, more than 2,000 people gathered at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte for a private service to honor the iconic evangelist with North Carolina roots. Born in a humble farmhouse near Charlotte in 1918, Graham was proof that God uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things.

Graham grew up milking cows and shoveling manure on his family’s dairy farm. As a teenager, he became a Christian and began preaching sermons while still a college student. In 1939, Graham was ordained, committing his life to spreading the Christian Gospel. He married his college sweetheart, Ruth Bell, and went on to preach to more than 215 million people in live audiences on six continents, spreading the Bible’s message of hope.

According to a 2005 Gallup Poll, 35 million Americans – one in six adults – had heard Billy Graham preach in person.

“My grandfather came on the national scene four years after World War II,” says Will Graham, the third generation of Grahams to preach under the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. “He had been preaching about 10 years before that, but from the national spotlight, he came in about 1949. People were looking for answers. Their worlds had been shattered. A lot of men and boys never came home from the war.”

Billy Graham

Between 1949 and 1959, Graham led three large revivals, including the Greater Los Angeles revival that made him famous, as well as the British Isles and Australia revivals.

“I think what people loved about my grandfather was that he made the Gospel simple,” Will says. “It wasn’t convoluted with deep theology. Theology is important, so don’t misunderstand me. But he kept things simple. He talked about faith in Jesus Christ, relevant topics and things in the news. He didn’t get caught up in different denominations. He brought people together for the sake of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. That’s what endeared people.”

Billy Graham

The Cove

Among Billy Graham’s accomplishments was the founding of The Cove near Asheville in 1987, a Christian retreat center that has drawn more than 1 million visitors from around the world for seminars, pastoral and personal retreats, and special events. Will Graham serves as executive director of The Cove.

“My granddaddy and grandmother had a dream of building a Christian retreat center where people can come and study God’s Word – to get alone with God’s Word and try to listen to what God is telling them,” Will says. “Out of that dream, The Cove was born. Both had the same vision, but came about it in two different ways. Granddaddy thought about the spiritual side – a place to get plugged into God’s Word – and grandmother thought about the physical side – how the body gets worn out and needs to be alone to reconnect with the Lord. Both of those visions are being carried out every day at The Cove.”

Guided tours of The Cove are available during business hours for visitors. The tour lasts about an hour and includes a short film, a Billy Graham display and a look inside the Chatlos Memorial Chapel and prayer room. Adjacent to the chapel is Ruth’s Prayer Garden, named in honor of Graham’s beloved wife. It contains more than 80 species of garden plants and provides visitors a peaceful place for a moment of reflection or meditation.

Billy Graham

Photo by Jeffrey S. Otto

The Billy Graham Library

Retrace Billy Graham’s journey from farm boy to America’s pastor at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte. Opened in 2007, the library is organized around themes of “The Man,” “The Message,” “The Ministry” and “The Mission,” giving visitors a look at the history behind the beloved evangelist and ambassador.

The Journey of Faith tour leads guests through six exhibits, including two theaters and four galleries of memorabilia. The exhibits portray the 1949 Crusade in Los Angeles that made Graham a household name, as well as his relationship with his wife, Ruth, his relationships with several American presidents, and his use of radio, television and movies to share God with the world.

Guests at the Billy Graham Library can eat at the Graham Brothers Dairy Bar, where favorites include Mother Graham’s chicken salad, milkshakes and homemade pound cake. Souvenirs and gifts are available in Ruth’s Attic Bookstore, which also carries books by Graham family members.

The complex includes Graham’s childhood 1927 home that was restored and moved to the library grounds from its original location, about 4 miles away. Graham lived in the home from age 9 until he left for college. Inside, visitors can see original family photos and items used by the Graham family.

Since the Billy Graham Library opened, more than 1.1 million people from 87 countries have visited.

Billy Graham

“Only God could know the important role this dairy farmer’s son would play in world evangelism,” says a Billy Graham Evangelistic Association spokesperson. “From humble beginnings on a farm to his decision for Christ at a local revival on the edge of Charlotte, North Carolina, to his travels around the world speaking in stadiums filled to capacity, Billy Graham has pursued a singular vision – to share the love of Jesus Christ with all who would listen. He has met with presidents, kings, queens, celebrities and everyday men, women and children. No matter his audience, the message is the same.”

Billy Graham Milestones


• William Franklin “Billy” Graham Jr. was born in 1918 in a farmhouse near Charlotte, North Carolina.
• Graham was ordained a Southern Baptist minister in 1939.
• Graham and his future wife, Ruth Bell, graduated in the same class from Wheaton College in Illinois in June 1943. In August that same year, the two were married in Montreat, North Carolina.
• Graham conducted his first crusade in 1947 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with 6,000 people in attendance. He was 28.
• Graham founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1950. The ministry now employs 817 people worldwide.
• In 1954 at age 35, Graham preached his first international crusade in London, speaking to 2 million people over three months. • In 1983, Graham received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Reagan, the highest honor a president can bestow on a private citizen.
• In 1988, the first seminars were held at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, giving Christian leaders, teachers and speakers a peaceful place to guide people in studying the Bible.
• In 1996, Graham and his wife, Ruth, were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by U.S. lawmakers.
• The Billy Graham Library opened in 2007 in Charlotte.
• Graham died in February 2018 at the age of 99 at his home in Montreat.

– Jessica Mozo

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