Billy Graham (1918-2018). In thanksgiving to God for His outstanding servant

Billy Graham (1918-2018). In thanksgiving to God for His outstanding servant

Tony Peck, EBF General Secretary - February 23, 2018

When I was growing up in Glasgow, Scotland I was aware of several key leaders in the Baptist churches who had made their Christian commitment at Billy Graham’s ‘Tell Scotland’ Campaign of 1955. Like the Haringey Crusade of one year earlier in London, and like many others to follow, there are millions today who mark their Christian journey from that moment when they encountered Jesus Christ as they ‘came forward’ at a meeting addressed by Billy Graham.

As a young pastor in Bradford in Yorkshire, UK, I travelled with others from my church to a football stadium in Sheffield to hear Billy Graham in ‘Mission England 1986’. I remember that as the Invitation was given there was the quiet rustling sound of a mass movement of people all silently converging on the football pitch to bring themselves and their lives to Christ. Such was the spiritual power which came through this man and his preaching.

Along with so many others around the world we mourn the passing of Billy Graham at the age of 99 years. But most of all we give God thanks for this outstanding servant of God who dedicated his life to bring the claims of Christ to so many million people. We also give thanks for a true Christian statesman, above religious and political factions that might have tried to claim him exclusively. He never lost his focus and his convictions to preach Christ as Lord and Saviour but he was secure and confident enough in his own faith to work with and embrace Christian leaders of all traditions. When I attended the funeral of Pope John-Paul II in Rome, I saw the honoured place given to Billy Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham-Lotz, and the Billy Graham Organisation. I learned something of the long friendship between this Polish Pope and Billy Graham, no doubt recognising in one another the heart of the true Gospel evangelist.

In Europe we have particular cause to give God thanks for the ministry and influence of Billy Graham. In particular, in the 1970s and 1980s he made several significant visits to communist Eastern and Central Europe, then under the yoke of communist rule. Such was his respect and standing as a Christian leader that he was ’permitted’ by the authorities to conduct high-profile evangelistic campaigns in these countries, which at one time might have been unthinkable.

Mateusz Wichary, the President of the Baptist Union of Poland writes:

"The visit of brother Billy Graham to Poland in 1978 was the beginning of a new era. First, it was a new beginning for our Baptist churches and other evangelical bodies. We were a small group of believers, hiding from oppression, and the only hope we had was to survive. With his coming to Poland and open, bold, unashamed preaching of the Gospel a new hope and a new sense of dignity as Gospel people stirred up in Polish Baptist hearts. With conversions of people outside Baptist families who joined as new members the reality of our churches changed once and forever, and the effect of this continues until now.

Second, it was in Poland on 1978 that Billy Graham for the first time preached in a Roman Catholic church. First in Poznan, in the chapel of Dominican order (10th October) and second and more significantly, in Katowice, welcomed by the bishop Bednarz in RC Cathedral (11th October). Thus Billy Graham's books, which were published in 80's were important not only for evangelicals, but also for many Roman Catholic priests. I have met quite a few, who told me that they were converted through Billy Graham’s preaching or books. Some of these are bishops and other people in authority in the Polish Catholic Church today.

For Polish Baptists Billy Graham will always be the man who introduced us to our brothers and sisters in the world. He taught us the value of our own identity: preaching the Word with full conviction, proclaiming the call of repentance of the Gospel of Christ to everyone without hesitation, and having no fear or reluctance in doing so. It was a great lesson to us that was used by the Spirit in many decades that followed. Indeed, there would not be the Baptist Church of Poland as we know it today if God had not sent Billy Graham here."

In 1988, the year of the celebration of the beginnings of Christianity in Kievan Rus, Billy Graham visited Ukraine. It was then part of the Soviet Union, and the Baptists there members of the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists in the USSR. Igor Bandura, current General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Ukraine comments:

"Church officials and the leadership of the All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian-Baptists testify to our great affection for the most influential evangelist of the 20th century - Billy Graham. We are thankful to God that our country entered the list of nations where this evangelist preached.

It was a huge privilege for us to receive in our land a great man of God who was burning with the constant desire to convey the gospel to sinners. At the beginning of religious freedom and after years of spiritual famine, millions of people first heard the Gospel from his lips and accepted the Word from God.

In 1988, Billy Graham's visit to the headquarters of the Evangelical Christian Baptists in Ukraine was a huge blessing and encouragement for our ministers. This was the year when Billy Graham came to Ukraine as an honored guest to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus. He preached in the churches of Kyiv and participated in the Council of the Baptist Union.

About 15 thousand people gathered for his evangelistic sermon in Kyiv. People stood in the streets and listened to Billy Graham with the help of loudspeakers designed to carry his voice to the masses. He was readily interviewed by newspapers, radio and television.

We greatly appreciate the precious contribution made by Billy Graham to the Divine cause. We testify to the commitment and respect of this influential preacher of global renown."

In 1989, on the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall and an end to communist rule in the USSR and the Warsaw Pact countries, the European Baptist Federation held its Congress in Budapest, Hungary. It was obvious that momentous change was coming, coupled with a certain fear and anxiety about how this would come about. Many who attended that Congress testify that the highlight was Billy Graham’s preaching to thousands gathered on the final evening.

Ákos Bukovsky writes on behalf of the Baptist Union of Hungary:

"Dr Billy Graham was the first American evangelist, who managed to break through the „iron curtain” and preach the Gospel freely in Hungary and other countries of the Communist Block during the period of the cold war.

The breakthrough took place with his first visit to Hungary in 1977. This was followed by visits to Poland (1978), East Germany and Czechoslovakia (1982), the Soviet Union (1984), Romania and Hungary (1985), China (1988), then Hungary again (1989).

The reaction of the more than one hundred thousand Hungarian hearers of the Good News gathered in the People’s Stadium – as it was called in those days - in Budapest during the tense period of the fall of Communism in 1989 is vividly etched in our memory. They streamed by the ten thousand down from the stands when the invitation was given to receive Bibles and to commit themselves to become followers of Jesus Christ. We are firmly convinced that Dr Graham’s visits made a marked contribution to the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. His much quoted saying: “Communism cannot be conquered from the outside, this is why I am going behind the iron curtain” proved to be prophetic.
Another significant event in Hungary is also linked to Dr. Graham’s blessed ministry in Hungary. This was the return of the Hungarian Crown and Crown Jewels – taken to America by the US Army after World War II - from the United States to Hungary just 40 years ago, on January 6th, 1978. Many people had worked at that time towards the recovery of these reliquiae in many different ways. We, Baptists had our share in these efforts. Just three days after Dr Billy Graham’s return to the US from his 1977 visit to Hungary, President Jimmy Carter – an American Baptist himself – signed the executive order about returning the crown.

We Hungarians shall always remember Dr Billy Graham, this wonderful servant of God with gratitude and thanksgiving!"

In his history of the EBF, Bernard Green comments on that rally in Budapest in 1989:

"The most exciting testimony to the power of God to cross the boundaries which communism had erected was in the response of 17,000 people to Billy Graham’s evangelistic appeal. Some undoubtedly were brought to faith then; but a considerable number wished to testify that God has delivered them from bondage, and to use the opportunity to exercise their freedom publicly."

As European Baptists we honour the continuing spiritual legacy of Billy Graham in our region and indeed in the whole world.

We can only rejoice that he is now with the Lord whom he loved and served so faithfully for so long.

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Click here to watch the video of Billy Graham preaching at Budapest 1989.

1. photo: Biliy Graham (By Stringer France / Reuters)
2. photo: Billy Graham Preaching in Holy Trinity Church, Warsaw, 1978. (By Billi Graham Evangelistic Association)
3. photo: 10,000 people in Katowice Cathedral to hear Billy Graham preach, 1978. (By Billi Graham Evangelistic Association)
4. photo: Billy Graham with Baptist leaders from Ukraine and the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of the USSR, Kyiv, 1988. (By Baptist Union of Ukraine)
5. photo: Billy Graham Addresses the vast crowd in Budapest, July 1989. (By Baptist Union of Hungary)