Hundreds have written and spoken about American evangelist Billy Graham’s amazing life and witness. I feel, I also should put in my two cents about this great Christian leader who went to be with the Lord recently aged ninety-nine years. Let me mention the four things about Dr Graham, the first full-time worker of Youth for Christ (YFC), that have particularly impacted me.
As a young man, I would be thrilled to hear reports of people coming to Christ at the Graham Crusades. Evangelism was at a low ebb in Sri Lanka in the 1960s. In the ministry of Graham, I saw the glory of the work of reaching out to the lost, and developed these convictions that have not left me more than five decades later:
Every Christian, whether called to be evangelist or not, should dream about reaching the lost and doing all s/he can to promote the work of evangelism.
The message of Jesus and the cross is powerful to save people for eternity. I must never lose my confidence in its efficacy.
Graham brought Christians from different denominations and races together in a grand experience of unity in Christ.
Our God is a great God and can do remarkable things through us as we follow the vision he gives us. We must dream big for God so that we can have maximum impact on behalf of the gospel for the salvation of souls. I am a poor organiser and not a person able to direct big ventures. But I think, over the years, others working with me have carried out some amazing evangelistic exploits for the kingdom.
THE BODY OF CHRIST
Christians may have minor theological and methodological differences among them, but we all belong to the same body of Christ. Our common aim is to serve this body. We may serve it primarily through the group God calls us to work with. But our agenda is only a small part of a whole that constitutes the body of Christ. Graham brought Christians from different denominations and races together in a grand experience of unity in Christ. Graham demonstrated the glory of the unity of the body of Christ, even though some criticised him for this ecumenicity.
I sometimes feel embarrassed to say that I relish being with strong charismatic Christians with an experiential bent and also being with Reformed Christians with a strong doctrinal bent. They are very different; but we love each other and joyfully relish each other and our unity in Christ. “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psa 16:3).
I served for several years on the Lausanne Committee for World Evanglization. We were always short of money! When we discussed our difficult financial situation, invariably someone would say, “Why don’t we ask Billy Graham”. He was the honorary chairman of the committee. Those close to Graham would say that he would love to give more funds to Lausanne, but his board did not allow him. The funds in the Graham organisation came because of his name, but he was accountable to his board about how to spend it, and they would sometimes veto his requests. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why he led life without any major scandal in personal life and ministry.
I sometimes get upset and hurt when our YFC board refuses to allow some requests I make for expenditures from funds that have come to YFC as payment for my preaching, teaching and writing. I tend to think that since I have earned this money, I must have the right to use it as I wish. But as sense sets in, I realise how grateful I am to have a group that holds me accountable regarding my use of funds. Accountability is a safety net which keeps us from bruising falls that could ruin our lives and ministries.
PUSHING OTHERS FORWARD
It is universally recognised that Graham’s stature as a great ambassador of Christianity was not only because of his remarkable abilities coming from clear gifts given by God. It was also because of his disarming humility. One of the marks of a humble person is the desire to push others forward. While some act mainly in order to push forward their personal or organisational agendas, humble people delight in pushing other individuals and groups forward. Dr Graham had a reputation for doing the latter.
Accountability is a safety net which keeps us from bruising falls that could ruin our lives and ministries.
My first major international speaking event was the Graham-sponsored Conference for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam in 1983. I was thirty-five years old, and I spoke on the call to multiply evangelists. I recommended that senior evangelists take younger evangelists when they go out to preach so that they could learn from their preaching. Dr Graham had watched my talk from a room. After it was over, he came into the hall and to the platform where I was and thanked me for my talk. Then he said that he would like to travel with me when I go out to preach so that he could learn how to preach to Asian audiences. The famous evangelist came into the hall and went up to an unknown young preacher to give him a push of encouragement.
Over the years, I have determined that I will try to push young people forward. I have been criticised a lot for this, especially by those who think that the people I am backing do not deserve it. Indeed, some have abused the trust I have placed in them, and others have brought deep disappointment to me. But many have not. And, I remain unrepentant about my commitment to pushing others forward.
It is a great source of pride to me to say that I work for YFC whose first full-time worker was Billy Graham.