The most influential instrument in my boyhood was the radio on top of my grandmother’s refrigerator. It must have been uniquely wired. All it ever broadcast was the farm news, preachers and singers. I’m still not sure what a pork belly is, but I got it straight when it came to preachers and singers.
I don’t know the first time I heard Billy Graham preach. It just seems like the whole Graham team was always part of our family. We listened to The Hour of Decision beginning before I could reach the radio dial. We knew the Wilson brothers, George Beverly Shea. I was impacted by Cliff and Billie Barrows. Later, we met the wife and family of the crusade pianist and many men who worked with Mr. Graham. A man attended one of our meetings who told me he had spent the week with “Billy.” I couldn’t figure out who he was talking about until he said, “Ruth.” He had been a Graham team member during the Youth for Christ days.
During the days when my family of origin was fragmenting, we lived at Grandma’s on several occasions. We were at radio side during the Los Angeles crusade and heard the stories of gangsters, entertainers, athletes and educators coming to faith in Jesus. Those names and stories became part of my youth.
By the fifth grade, Mr. Graham family and team were extended family. It was not long after the L.A. Crusade that Graham came to Des Moines. We were about the last ones getting into the building. Mom and sister found two seats together in the third balcony and I found one open seat on the last row at the top of the auditorium. When the altar call was given, I found Mom and told her I was going to the altar. It seems to be my first confession of faith—“Mom, I’m going forward….” It felt a long trip down the back stairs to the main floor and then walk to the stage where I met a counselor.
Even when I wasn’t living for the Lord, I knew one day I would be a preacher-evangelist.
Radio, television and music gripped me. I made many altar call walks during the long journey of healing. The Graham ministry was important in that process. I learned about ministry integrity. It was Mr. Graham who first announced he would not be with another woman than his wife for dinner or in a car. He had a team around him, friends he had known most of his life, who entered every hotel room to make sure there would never be a morality question. His office team lived with strict guidance handling the money. And the Graham generosity became the standard. The important things I saw in the lives of the major evangelists I studied or worked with were financial integrity and open handed generosity. Carole and I benefitted from several convocations, conferences and gatherings paid for by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Assn. The same can be said about Oral Roberts whose desire to do all things top drawer and generous sowing into pastors impacted me.
Several years ago, we visited the Chapel on the Graham Asheville, N.C. campus. Our friends Gary and Marilyn Hansen lived in Asheville and were tour guides on that trip. If you’ve watched the Gaither Homecoming series, you have seen the singers in that chapel. Any description of my experience in that prayer loft and visit to that chapel would be inadequate. I was very aware of what Jesus had done in me, and his present active work. I felt recommissioned. And so appreciative for the people who had influenced me and been agents of change and healing. I regret we didn’t stay longer—days longer—to wander over the many acres to encounter Christ and further celebrate the company of witnesses whose presence permeated the landscape.
Thank you, Mr. Graham for your faithfulness and example.
©2018 D. Dean Benton