Rising from the heart of America to remote villages across various continents, and subsequently reaching out to more than 200 million people in live audiences, Billy Graham, who passed away on February 21, 2018, a few months shy of his 100th birthday, is an evangelist who literally took the gospel almost to the ends of the earth. RITA OKONOBOH examines his ministry and how his godly influence helped to shape pentecostalism, as the world, and Nigeria, in particular, knows it today.
Without dark clouds in our lives, we would never know the joy of sunshine. We can become callous and unteachable, if we do not learn from pain,” are the words of Billy Graham, as published on the website, www.billygraham.org.
When Nigeria first fully embraced pentecostalism in the 19th century, made more popular by renowned preacher, Archbishop Benson Idahosa, who passed away in 1998, his style of evangelism only served to affirm the fact that he, indeed, had Billy Graham, as one of his mentors. As such, describing Billy Graham as the grandfather of Nigeria’s pentecostalism, wouldn’t be out of place.
Born on November 7, 1918, and consciously embracing Christ at the age of 15, he went on to become one of the most popular preachers in the world, taking the gospel within and outside his homeland.
Rising from a humble beginning as the son of a farmer, according to reports, he influenced 13 presidents of the United States of America, guiding them through prayers and godly counsel. Coming to prominence with a live crusade held in 1959 in Los Angeles, his largest crusade was said to have been held in Yoida Plaza, Seoul, Korea, with more than 1 million people in attendance, in one setting. The crusade, which was a five-day event, saw Graham preaching to a total of more than three million people.
As his website states: “The Los Angeles Crusade in 1949 launched Mr Graham into international prominence. Scheduled for three weeks, the meetings were extended to more than eight weeks, with crowds filling a tent erected downtown each night. Many of his subsequent early crusades were similarly extended, including one in London that lasted 12 weeks, and a New York City Crusade in Madison Square Garden in 1957 that ran nightly for 16 weeks.
“Today, Mr. Graham’s ministry is known around the globe. He preached in remote African villages and in the heart of New York City, and those to whom he ministered have ranged from heads of state to the simple living people of Australia and the wandering tribes of Africa and the Middle East. Beginning in 1977, Mr Graham was given the opportunity to conduct preaching missions in virtually every country of the former Eastern bloc, including the former Soviet Union.
“Mr Graham founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) in 1950, headquartered in Minneapolis, Minn., until relocating to Charlotte, N.C., in 2003. Through BGEA’s ministry, Mr Graham started: the weekly Hour of Decision radio programme, which was heard around the world for more than 60 years; television programmes that are still broadcast today on national Christian networks; a syndicated newspaper column, My Answer, which is carried by newspapers both nationally and internationally, and Decision magazine, the official publication of the association, which has a circulation of more than 425,000, making it one of the most widely circulated religious periodicals in the world.”
Graham, has one way or the other, served as source of influence in many Nigerian religious settings, both orthodox and pentecostal. Religious programmes broadcast on television and radio, print publications, as well as authored volumes, find some source of inspiration from Graham. Open-air crusades, made more popular by him, and which found their way into Nigeria’s religious confines, find some part of their roots in the Billy Graham style of evangelism.
An example in financial transparency
Even if the latest report as at last Thursday was that of 2016, the ministry offers detailed insight into its financial standing, breaking it down into various categories of income. Described as Operating Support and Revenue, the funds are broken down into: contributions; training centre; Decision Magazine and other materials, and others. The issue of financial transparency has been one that has dogged many churches in Nigeria, especially for churches founded by single individuals. This sometimes results in leadership tussles and battle for church property. More pentecostal churches can learn from the example of Billy Graham on making the church’s books more accessible.