On a cool Tuesday night in October 1958, the Rev. Billy Graham walked onto a stage at the Charlotte Coliseum for the 26th sermon of a five-week Charlotte crusade. “Tonight,” he began, “I want to talk on how to live the Christian life.”
The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer reported that more than 13,000 people had jammed the arena to see the young North Carolina preacher just a decade into his public ministry. By then, Graham had already become one of the most well-known figures in evangelical Christianity; for two years running, he had appeared on Gallup’s list of most admired men and women.
He would appear on it 53 more times.
Billy Graham has died, his spokesperson said Wednesday. He was 99 years old — a man who grew up on a family farm in Charlotte, enjoyed friendships with U.S. presidents and world leaders, and perhaps has delivered the Word to more people than anyone who has held up a Bible.
His message — the grace and saving power of Jesus — has reached millions across the globe, but it resonated not just because Billy Graham spoke the words. It’s because he lived them.
“A Christian is more than a person who is living up to a system of ethics. A Christian is more than a person living a good moral life. A Christian is a person in whom Christ dwells.” — Billy Graham, 1958, Charlotte.
How do you measure the reach of a person? You can start with numbers, of course. Billy Graham preached to more than 215 million people at crusades, missions and rallies. His Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, based in Charlotte, puts out a magazine that reaches 425,000 readers. It broadcasts a one-minute radio message that airs on more than 660 stations.
Through it all, Billy Graham not only brought Christ to millions and millions to Christ. He was the man he called on so many to be on that Charlotte stage almost 60 years ago. A man who lived a Christian life.