I have always been an admirer of Graham, reading his books, attending some of his crusades in New York and in Knoxville through the years. I was particularly pleased when I learned of his Cleveland connection.
After high school graduation, he moved to Tennessee to enroll in the conservative Christian School, Bob Jones College. Of course, today the campus is Lee University and a street alongside the campus bears the name Billy Graham Avenue in his honor. It has been my desire and dream to have him visit Cleveland and help us officially dedicate the street bearing his name.
Though at 93 he has slowed down a bit in his travels, he still maintains a strong presence around the world as his evangelism continues through his family and friends. His son, Franklin, carries on his father’s work at Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and his project Operation Christmas Child is one adopted here in Cleveland by Life Care Centers of America. So, his legacy to help others and spread the gospel continues through many avenues.
I have read most of his books, many of them dating back decades. His newest book “Nearing Home” is now complete and will be released soon. Graham has said that through his life, he was aware of how to die, but no one ever taught him to grow old. So this new book addresses this aspect of life — focusing on how to prepare for and face the challenges of growing old — and how to finish well. I know of no other man on earth who could tell that story any better.
When I discovered Graham had lived in Cleveland, I began a research project of my own to learn about his stay here. I found that he left Bob Jones College because he said he felt disconnected from what he termed the school’s rigid doctrine. He then transferred to Florida Bible Institute.
While in Cleveland, he did have a job for a short time as a shoe salesman at Apler’s Shoe Store downtown, and he also is said to have preached one of his first sermons at Charleston Methodist Church on a Sunday afternoon and his second sermon was at Antioch Baptist Church. (I’m not sure of its location, but it’s believed to have been in Bradley County).
Dr. Lamar Vest, president of the American Bible Society, once relayed to me that upon learning the news of the street named in his honor here, Graham said, “I wish I was able to travel to Cleveland, Tennessee, where I got my call to the ministry.” I was also surprised to learn from my friend Jim Finley that Cliff Barrows, Graham’s music director, went to school in Cleveland for a full four years and was named “Man of the Year” with a full-picture page of him dedicated in the school annual. His biographical information shows Barrows received his sacred music degree from Bob Jones College in 1944.
I am hoping to have a formal dedication of Billy Graham Avenue soon. Beecher Hunter, CEO of Life Care, is working to have a Graham family member attend the service. Before officially naming the street, I did secure approval from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and was advised it has endorsed only a handful of streets or roads bearing his name.
After moving from Cleveland to Florida, Graham joined a Southern Baptist Convention Church and was ordained in 1939. Graduating from Florida Bible with a bachelor’s in theology, he moved to Illinois and enrolled at Wheaton to further his spiritual training. It was there he met Ruth McCue Bell, daughter of a missionary, and they married in 1943. The couple would raise five children.
And the rest is history.
Graham has been rated by the Gallup organization as “One of the Ten Most Admired Men in the World” a staggering 51 times.
Now at 93, and after the death of his wife, Ruth, he remains steadfast in his cause.
Of his 93rd birthday, he wrote: “As I turn 93, I am thankful to the Lord that not long before my birthday I was able to complete a book I’ve been working on for some time. The book is called ‘Nearing Home,’ and it’s about how to prepare for and face the challenges of growing old, and how to finish well. I’ve written down lessons and insights I wish I had learned earlier in life because I have come to realize that although I know how to die, no one ever taught me how to grow old. Even as I look forward to seeing Jesus Christ face-to-face, and to being reunited with Ruth, my parents and a host of friends who have now gone on before me, God continues to give me time on earth. My failing eyesight keeps me from reading as I once did, and my physical stamina is low, but I have more time to pray. I talk to the Lord about the needs of family and friends, and about the work of evangelism that God has called us to at BGEA.” (Visit the website http://www.billygraham.org/articlepage.asp?articleid=8207)
Through the miracle of technology, Graham’s organization is spreading the “Good News” around the world and to some countries where he was never allowed to conduct Crusades in the past.
He has said this is an answer to not only his prayer, but to what he feels is also God’s prayer. Graham recently wrote, “I’m grateful that I have lived long enough to see these things happening. God says in the Bible, ‘Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance.’ (Psalm 2:8). Some refer to that as God’s own prayer request. He wants every nation to turn to Him.”
William Franklin “Billy” Graham was born Nov. 7, 1918. Today, he is still spreading “The Good News” to help fulfill God’s prayer request.
Happy Birthday, Dr. Graham. Cleveland is proud to have been your “home away from home” on the very first leg of your spiritual journey.