A lot of people were probably scrambling around on the internet yesterday and today to find out who this “Billy Graham” guy was and why he was getting so much air time. At 99, Reverend Graham had been out of public view for some time, hopefully receiving the loving and tender care and attention by friends and family that he so richly deserved. In this “out of the media – out of mind” world today, a lot of younger people may never have heard of him. But when I was a teenager, I had a unique “encounter” with Reverend Graham.
It is hard to imagine today, but in the late 60’s/early 70’s, teachers were much more active in the lives of their students. Depending on the size of your town and school, they might know about not only your parents and siblings, but also about your grandparents – the “stock” from which you were hatched. Mine certainly did.
During this same time, American culture was going through huge upheavals regarding Vietnam, Civil Rights, the Women’s Movement, drug use, frustration with corporate America, and the beginnings of an understanding of how we were destroying our ecosystem at an increasing rate. “Religion” (meaning “standard” Christianity) was being openly mocked as hypocritical and irrelevant. Alternative faiths and cults were emerging. The “social media” of the day was radio, television, newspapers, and numerous printed publications.
During all this upheaval, the Reverend Billy Graham was actively using radio and television to get out his simple, biblical message that Jesus Christ was real, that sin was real, that death was certain, and that Christ had died and resurrected that we might move from death into eternal life. That Christ loved us, that God loved us, that we were not alone. Reverend Graham didn’t come into the churches with this message – he went into stadiums and into movie theaters (by way of live and recorded broadcasts). His message didn’t change with the times and he was never apologetic about his beliefs. And around the world, people listened.
I was in and out of trouble in school – never expelled but awfully close sometimes. Today I likely would have been sent to an alternative school. But my teachers knew where I came from and while frustrated and angry with me – they also knew that I was up against a real mess at home. One or two flat out wanted me gone, but most were tolerant and did their best to help me just survive. I’ve written about some of this in other posts so won’t go into it here. I’ll just say, that one situation developed that had put my teachers at wits’ end. And Billy Graham was coming to town.
In Miami, Oklahoma, Billy Graham was going to be broadcast at the local Coleman theatre. Tickets were snatched up, but apparently schools had been given a small number to hand out to special students and families. Three of my teachers got together and, with the principal’s help they pulled me in and gave me an ultimatum. I was to attend the Billy Graham “crusade” and not only stay for the entire message but I was to answer the “altar call” and walk down front and get one of the helpers there to sign a form they gave me. I was furious – but more afraid that I would be expelled, so I took the tickets and forms and showed up.
Now today these teachers would have been disciplined and likely lose their jobs for pushing a kid into a religious event – and making them walk down front like a repentant sinner. But back then, I know that these people were doing their best to try to save me from my worst impulses. And I am grateful.
No, I didn’t feel any tugs on my heart during Reverend Graham’s message. I sat in my seat and watched those around me and fumed. I walked down front with a huge chip on my shoulder, got my paper signed, took their little pile of handouts, and got the heck out of there. I’m not sure I remember a single word of what he said. And I did not magically turn into a model individual with a renewed attitude. I stayed resentful and angry. It took many years and much work on my own and with the help of others before I could rebuild from the horrors of my childhood. But what I did take away from that event was a bit of hope in my heart because my teachers had cared. I took away a bit of kindness from those who were down front who kindly signed my form and told me they would pray for me – and I think they did. A little sunshine makes a huge difference when cast on a deep dark hole.
I didn’t know then that a time would come that God would open my heart and my ears so that I could hear the message of Christ’s sacrifice and saving grace. I didn’t expect at the time that I would later watch and listen to Reverend Graham’s broadcasts, or that I would read some of his books and be blessed and comforted by his message of hope and deliverance. Reverend Graham really had only one message. He preached it and lived it here on earth, and now I am certain he lives it in heaven. Thank you, Reverend Graham, and God bless you in your infinite journey.