As a child growing up in Maine during the 1950s, I was put to bed by my parents every Sunday evening after services at my dad’s small Baptist church. I can recall lying in bed with the radio tuned into “The Hour of Decision” and listening to the voice of Billy Graham. Every Sunday at the end of the program before falling asleep, I would once again ask Jesus to be my savior.
At the age of 15, a group from my church traveled from southern Maine by bus to Boston where Billy Graham was conducting a rally in the old Boston Garden. It was old, even in 1964. I can still remember the choir, the song-leading of Cliff Barrows, and the power of the message. What I remember most was the throng of people. It was probably the largest crowd in which I had ever been a participant. Later that year Billy Graham came to Portland, Maine for one evening in the city hall auditorium. It was much less impressive than the Boston event but it was still exciting to hear this great evangelist preach in person.
I attended college with his daughter Ruth with whom I was a casual friend. During those years I never had the opportunity to meet him in person. I was aware, however, of his ministry and his many books. My favorites were The Jesus Generation (1971) and Till Armageddon (1981).
After college I taught school for a few years but eventually returned to the academic world to study at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. In 1982, Billy Graham was the speaker at my commencement ceremony. I finally had the opportunity to meet him in person as he shook my hand after I had received my diploma.
There was one more occasion that I had an opportunity to attend a Billy Graham Crusade—in Pittsburgh in 1993—and more than any other this experience confirmed the power of Graham’s message. On this occasion, I took a bus load of teenagers from a nearby community to Three Rivers Stadium. We attended on a Sunday afternoon and sat together in a mid-level section. I remember as Dr. Graham gave the invitation at the end of his message that I bowed my head in prayer. When I looked up, the entire section in which I was seated was empty. Every teen that I had brought was on the way down to the field embracing the opportunity to receive Christ as Savior.
For the past 19 years I have had the privilege of serving as Dean of the Chapel at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa. One of our institutions most beloved and revered board chairmen was J. Howard Pew, who had a personal friendship with Billy Graham. Dr. Graham’s influence in Pew’s life is evidenced today in Grove City’s commitment to biblical principles and Christ-centered values.
As a life-long admirer of Billy Graham, I can only give thanks for the few opportunities that I have had to personally witness the Spirit-filled power and message of this great evangelist.
-- Dr. F. Stanley Keehlwetter is the dean of the chapel at Grove City College and a member of the public persuasion and media working group of The Center for Vision & Values.