Rev. Billy Graham, who transformed American religious life through his preaching and activism, becoming a counselor to presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, died at the age of 99 on Wednesday. For one local pastor, Phillip McClendon, he remembers Graham and his first meeting with the world famous Graham. McClendon, who now preaches at Hillsdale Baptist Church outside of Neosho, was the pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Joplin for a number of years. He contacted the Neosho Daily News and submitted his thoughts about Graham.
Rev. Billy Graham, who transformed American religious life through his preaching and activism, becoming a counselor to presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, died at the age of 99 on Wednesday.
For one local pastor, Phillip McClendon, he remembers Graham and his first meeting with the world famous Graham. McClendon, who now preaches at Hillsdale Baptist Church outside of Neosho, was the pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Joplin for a number of years. He contacted the Neosho Daily News and submitted his thoughts about Graham.
“I met Billy Graham in 1975. His demeanor, kindness and genuineness had such an affect on me that I can remember most of his dialogue with me verbatim. I was a young pastor in New Mexico and he was having a crusade in Albuquerque. I just wanted to be some kind of part of it so I drove 80 miles to be there.
I arrived the day before. Lorne Sanny was the Crusade coordinator was inside the coliseum setting up chairs by himself. I asked him if he wanted some help. He said yes and after helping with chairs it turned into being trained to be a counselor and later into me becoming a counselor in charge of a section and a group of other counselor.
Part of my job was to leave literature at the end of each isle for people that came forward at the end of the service. The crusades would be several nights in the same city. About midway through the week I was approached by another counselor in charge of a section like mine. He asked if I would trade sections with him because his family would be sitting in my section. Of course I did and to my surprise Ruth and Bunny Graham were sitting in my new section. I went to greet her. She was so kind. Enough that I built up the courage and asked
“Is there any way you could help me to meet your husband?”
She said “I certainly can. Be here tomorrow.”
I was there the next night. I made sure to wear the same suit so she would remember me. I went to her and specifically remember saying
“I’m hear to meet Mr. Graham.” She called over an usher and asked him to take me to his room.
On the way through the halls in the coliseum I saw Ethel Waters. She always sang ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow’ so beautifully. She was riding in a golf cart. She was the happiest person. I am so thankful I had the privilege.
As we progressed through the halls we came to an open dressing room. I stood in the door. In front of me was Billy Graham. He was reclined in a chair and having makeup applied for television. I will never forget he said
“Hey c’mon in.” He actually spent time talking with me. The entire time I was wondering to myself how can this man be so calm? He asked me where I was from and I told him Taos. He was familiar with the native art from Taos.
He said “What do you do?” I told him I was a pastor.
He said “That’s the most important thing you can do.” I cherish this time when I reflect on it. Billy Graham had peace that spread to those around him. He had a calmness that was unearthly. He had a tremendous impact on me. My mother would always call me on nights when the Crusades were on t.v. She would say “Phillip, Billy Graham is on tonight.”
There’s one very important lesson that II walk away from that meeting with. Billy Graham was humble and put God above all things. He would never take glory for his amazing work. He acknowledged God in all things. That is the only place a human being could have the peace and calmness that I sensed from Dr. Graham. My belief is this is one way that God demonstrates to us that he knows our hearts and cares what’s important to everyone of us. God showed me “Philip, I know this is important to you.” And somehow he cared about something everyone else might think is insignificant and provided a small town pastor something I will never forget.
Sometimes God reminds us that he’s not only intimate but he’s also powerful. In 1992 I was invited to Moscow to help with the Billy Graham Crusade. We were in an arena that fit about 40,000 people. The crowd far exceeded that. The first night at the invitation people were running over each other. They were running to get saved. The second night Billy said to the crowd “We’re going to walk to the invitation and be calm.” The crowd was calm.
Only a short time before 1992 you would be laughed at for suggesting there would be crowds running to get saved at an arena in the U.S.S.R.
Later before we returned to the U.S. Billy personally told me he had been praying for the doors to be opened to Russia for years. In the most humble way he said “This crusade is the answer to my prayer.”
Many people would say that we need Billy Graham now more than ever. If God has used Billy Graham the way he did in his lifetime I believe he was taken away from us at the exact right time. In God’s time. Billy Graham used to be on the major networks in our country sharing the gospel. At a time that we’ve moved so far the other way Billy Graham is on the major networks inspiring hope all over again.