Since Billy Graham’s death on Feb. 21, an outpouring of condolences and memories have filled BGEA websites and social media. Thousands traveled to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week to file quietly past his casket, and countless more waited outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to pay their respects as he lay in honor.
On Friday, many who attended Mr. Graham’s funeral took a step back from the magnitude of the occasion to talk about his impact on them personally.
From Focus on the Family founder James Dobson to Pat McCrory to Ricky Skaggs, all were there to honor a man who never sought such acclaim. In true Billy Graham fashion, the funeral was centered on Christ, with news cameras rolling as one person after another lifted up His name.
With so many hearing the Gospel through the past week’s memorial events, Dobson commented, “He may have spoken to more people beyond the grave than he ever did cumulatively.”
Here are 20 reflections and personal stories from Mr. Graham’s funeral service:
Kathie Lee Gifford, NBC Today
“Whatever I was doing, wherever I was in the whole world, I would have been here. Because he meant everything to me. … He preached to millions, but he was kind to me, just one woman.
“Any time something would happen in my life that was in the tabloids or in the papers in a terrible, horrible way, the first phone call I would get every single time would be Billy. And sometimes he wasn’t even in America. And he would call, I don’t even know how he found out, and he would say, ‘Kathie, hi honey, this is Billy. Can I pray with you?’ And he would pray for me. The public Billy was no different from the private one. The man lived his faith. I’ll have eternal life because Billy was faithful to his calling.
“He left home so many times to spread the Gospel. Every time I fly into Asheville [near where he lived], I look at that gorgeous land down there and think, ‘How would Billy feel, coming home from all his trips from around the world? It must’ve made his heart soar to know he would see Ruth and his children.’ Talk about sacrificing your own life for the benefit of the Gospel. He did it. We can’t even put in words what he sacrificed in terms of his own health, and maybe even his own happiness to be faithful to the call of God. He was the finest man I ever knew.”
Steven Curtis Chapman, singer-songwriter
Steven Curtis Chapman thinks back fondly to how Mr. Graham used a variety of musical artists—from Johnny Cash, “The Man in Black,” to a young Chapman with a “long, flowing mullet.”
“He was always looking for that opportunity. How can I reach people ultimately to present the message to them?”
After participating in a Crusade in the early ’90s, Steven Curtis Chapman overheard Billy Graham saying he could’ve been clearer on his sermon points. “Even to the very end, he was purposeful and passionate and concerned—deeply concerned that his message was being communicated clearly. I love that about him.”
Pastor Rick Warren, Saddleback Church, California
Rick Warren told the story of being asked to pray at former President Barack Obama’s inauguration. The hat he had purchased for the occasion was stolen, and when Billy Graham found out, he sent Warren his own hat, worn at nine inaugurations prior. Their friendship had begun decades earlier.
“He took me under his wing, and that began a 40-year mentoring long before I started Saddleback Church. When I was in my 20s, he taught me how to preach. But in my 30s, when I started Saddleback Church, it was more about learning from his character. A 60-year ministry with no major scandal, that is an accomplishment of amazing proportions. Billy put into place, early, some parameters like in the Modesto Manifesto [a four-point declaration of Biblical integrity], which at Saddleback, we just copied. We just took that manifesto and made it for Saddleback, and it’s protected us now for almost 40 years.”
Pastor Amos Brown, California
In 1952, 13-year-old Amos Brown attended a Billy Graham Crusade in Jackson, Mississippi, where ropes segregated the audience by skin color.
“I literally saw with my own eyes, Rev. Graham left the podium, came down to the audience and pulled those ropes down,” Brown said. “He went back up to the podium and said, ‘Before Jesus, there is no segregation.’
“That was my first memory of Dr. Graham. … He dared to do something courageous in the Deep South.”
Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor
“Our family got saved in the ’70s because my mom had been watching the Billy Graham Crusades on TV. She came to the Lord and she brought the rest of the family along. So he means the world and eternity to me. His simple message transcended generations, politics, denominational divides. There’s no one like him.”
Rev. Billy Kim, interpreter for Billy Graham in Korea
Rev. Billy Kim served as Billy Graham’s interpreter for his largest-ever Crusade in Seoul, South Korea, attended by over 3 million people over five days. The last day of the Crusade alone drew more than 1 million people.
“During the Seoul Crusade, my family went every night. At the final meeting, with an estimated 1.1 million people in attendance, all of my children dedicated their life to serve the Lord. The church I pastored at that time was a mere 300. Now, after your Crusade, it’s more than 20,000 members. We have more churches and missionaries in our region, all because you came to preach the Word to our people.”
Beth Moore, Bible teacher and author
“He’s a life that’s so overwhelming to celebrate. … He’s such a tremendous example of how to run the race and finish well.
Bill Newman, Australian evangelist
“It kind of chokes you up today when you think of the tremendous life he’s lived and the inspiration to evangelists all over the world. As we look around us today, we see people coming from so many places because they love Billy Graham. They love him because of his integrity, his quality of life, but the fact that he just preaches the simple essence of the Gospel, and that’s why we’ve been able to bring so many nations together, so many churches together. He’s been faithful to the Gospel all these years. He’s been that example to us of integrity. He’s been a wonderful example of what we should be as evangelists.”
Joni Eareckson Tada, founder of Joni and Friends International Disability Center
“This man was all about sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, not only in his life, but even now, today in his death.”
Larnelle and Cynthia Harris
Larnelle Harris of Kentucky sang in several of Billy Graham’s Crusades.
“A true friend will tell you the truth regardless of what your reaction is to it and they will love you anyway,” Larnelle said. “So the world then has lost a true friend.”
Larnelle’s wife, Cynthia, added: “So many people out there can say Billy Graham led me to Christ, and that’s awesome. … I think that’s what he’s going to be known for—his impactful reputation. He’s sat with the poor. He’s sat with the rich. It made no difference because all he wanted to do was make sure their hearts were on God, on Jesus.”
Ricky Skaggs, country and bluegrass singer
Ricky Skaggs talked about his last visit with Billy Graham, who, instead of asking Skaggs to sing, asked him to read Scripture. Mr. Graham lit up when Skaggs began to read and said, “Praise the Lord.”
Skaggs also recalled the first Billy Graham Crusade he performed at decades ago on a baseball field as sheets of rain drenched the audience. “I thought, ‘Ain’t nobody gonna stay out here for this,’” he said, but kept singing. After a while, a golf cart brought Mr. Graham onto the field with an umbrella over his head. “It stopped raining,” Skaggs said. “Before he got to the stage, there were no more drops of rain. And I said right then, ‘This man has favor. This is a man of God.’”
Rev. Sami Dagher, church planter in the Middle East
“When we talk about Billy Graham in the Middle East, we describe him like this: He is a faithful man. He is faithful for the Word of God. He has never preached his own opinion or his ideas or philosophy. But he preached the Word of God.”
Pastor Skip Heitzig, Calvary Church, New Mexico
“For me, it means a full circle. I came to faith in 1983 by watching Billy Graham on television. The man who was instrumental in giving me life has stepped into the highest form of life, eternal life and his reward in heaven. I feel like it’s a passing of a baton. Even though he’s passed [the baton] long ago, I feel almost a higher responsibility to be as faithful to the message and to the ministry of the Gospel as he was.”
Aileen Coleman, Australian missionary to Jordan
“It’s so wonderful to see how he develops his every message around the cross. And we know without the cross, we’ve got nothing to offer people.”
Coleman shared a story from when she and Eleanor Soltau, her partner in missions, visited Billy and Ruth Graham’s home years ago.
“We were at breakfast one morning, and he said to his wife, ‘Ruth, you fix a good breakfast for these girls.’ And he went into the kitchen to help fix a special breakfast for us. He didn’t have to do that. Here we were in the home of a man probably used more than any other man on earth that I know of, bringing people to Christ, and here he was making breakfast for us. And I thought, that’s grace.”
Peggy Anderson is a friend of Gigi Graham, Billy Graham’s oldest daughter. She spent many Thanksgivings with the Graham family.
“God has blessed this faithful one. I think of the five kids and how they shared their daddy with the world. Here now, they’re sharing his death, which the public needs. They’ve all been so gracious.”
Rev. Gerald Durley
Rev. Gerald Durley served as Crusade director for a 1994 Billy Graham Crusade in Atlanta. He talked about how Mr. Graham helped bridge the racial divide in his community and how he called to pray for Durley’s daughter the day of her wedding.
“If you had to summarize Billy Graham from [the African American] community, it would be honesty, openness, transparency and humility. I think his legacy has to be focusing on the power of Jesus Christ and not about political persuasion, not about gender, not about race, not about whether you’re an immigrant or a non-immigrant, but understanding Christ loves us.
“A lot of people come to your city and think they have the answer for you. He listened. He listened, and he asked, ‘Well what could I do? Is this the best way to do it?’ Even though he’d been in millions of places and met millions of people, he listened and he took it in and he fed it back. That’s what a true leader is about. He did not try to have the answer because every community is different. It was never about Billy Graham. It was always about Jesus Christ working through Billy Graham.”
Pat McCrory, former N.C. governor and Charlotte mayor
“There’s no doubt that Billy Graham was the most influential person to ever come from our state—not only to people in our country but to people throughout the world. And I think he appealed to people throughout the world because he never spoke down to us, he spoke to us. And he treated everyone the same, whether you’re a king or a queen, a president or a governor, it didn’t make any difference to him. He spoke to the common man and woman the same way he spoke to the kings and queens and presidents. He’d be embarrassed about this attention that’s focused on him today. I know he’d tell me that.”
Pastor A.R. Bernard, Christian Cultural Center, New York
A.R. Bernard served as chairman of Billy Graham’s last Crusade in New York in 2005. Today he serves on the Commission of Religious Leaders in his state.
After the funeral, Bernard commented: “It was an amazing tribute to an amazing person. He will be deeply missed.”
Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family
“He would hold up his Bible and say, ‘The Bible says.’ That’s where the power came from.
“The first time I met him, I spoke at one of his rallies in Calgary, Canada. And I got there before he did, and I was sitting on this side of the platform. He came up the stairs and instead of sitting down, he went across and [said], ‘We have not met.’ I said, ‘Dr. Graham, I am so glad to meet you.’ He said, ‘You can call me Billy.’ I couldn’t do it, but that’s the way he saw himself.”
Dobson added that no matter what Mr. Graham was asked over the years, he always brought it back to the cross, to Jesus’ love for us and sacrifice for our sins.
“Who knows how many people will be in heaven because of that wonderful message.”