In the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me family members, friends and Christian leaders tell 101 stories about Billy Graham. This excerpt is from the forward and is written by A. Larry Ross who served as Billy Graham's spokesman since 1981.
A Life Well-Lived and a Lord Well-Served
I am honored by the invitation to pen the foreword to this anthology tribute to a man whose prophetic voice has not only influenced three generations as “God’s Ambassador,” “Evangelist to the World,” and “Pastor to Presidents,” but has had a profound impact on my life as a colleague, friend and significant spiritual mentor.
But first I must reframe the underlying premise, “Billy Graham & Me,” into the lexicon of the man himself, who would be more deferential and self-effacing, identifying the source of his strength and success as, “Billy Graham & God.” I have merely been privileged to have a front-row seat at the game to observe that spiritual partnership firsthand and watch Mr. Graham’s agenda-less servant leadership unfold over more than three decades of his public ministry.
I was raised in Wheaton, Illinois, a suburb twenty-five miles west of Chicago, where Mr. Graham received his education and where my father was a Bible professor in the graduate school that is now located in the building on campus that bears the evangelist’s name.
I will never forget the first time I heard Billy Graham preach, when I was just nine years old -- though it is not a happy memory. One hot, muggy Sunday afternoon in June 1962, with a temperature of 94 degrees and 97 percent humidity, my parents dragged my brothers and me to the final meeting of his Greater Chicago Crusade at Soldier Field, adjacent to the lake downtown.
I was sitting in the next to last row in the corner of the stadium -- one of 116,000 people in an overflow crowd under the blistering sun -- and Mr. Graham was just a speck on a small platform at the other end of the field. All I can remember is how thirsty I felt, though I must admit it was purely physical, not spiritual, like the craving of so many others who attended his meetings.
Little did I know in my youth, however, that the providence of God would so closely intertwine our lives -- Billy Graham’s and mine -- as the faculty house that was my boyhood home would have to be moved in order to build The Billy Graham Center; I would myself graduate from Wheaton College thirty-three years after him; and later I would transition from a mainstream corporate and agency public relations career to serve as his personal spokesperson for, at this writing, thirty-two years.
The first time I was introduced to Mr. Graham was in fall 1976, shortly after graduating from college, while working for a meeting planning firm that organized convention logistics for large corporations. I was an intern, assigned to help with the Holiday Inn Franchise Holders convention in Memphis. As a reward for working hard, the president of our company asked me which of the many celebrities and marquee speakers I wanted to meet personally.
Without hesitation, I asked to meet Billy Graham, who had spoken at a prayer breakfast for attendees that morning. The president told me that at that very moment he was having his picture taken with the client’s board of directors across the hall. The next thing I knew, we barged through the door, interrupting the photo shoot, and my colleague said presumptuously, “Billy Graham, this young man went to your alma mater and would like to meet you.”
I was mortified, as the evangelist was seated in the middle, surrounded by at least twenty-four directors standing in two rows. He smiled, stood up, shook my hand and we spoke privately for several minutes. He then turned to the group and for another ten minutes shared about our common heritage, values and biblical worldview, using my interruption as an opportunity to share his own personal testimony of faith.
I would later observe that this was Mr. Graham’s constant priority, practice and platform, to boldly -- yet sensitively -- share the transformative power of the Gospel message as any occasion would allow. And God has honored his faithfulness.
This excerpt from "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me" is provided courtesy of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC, Copyright 2013.