For me, there’s another connection between Billy Graham and my dad. Back when I was an impressionable youth in the suburbs of Winnipeg. . . it wasn’t the Hitler Jugend influencing my outlook on life, (as it did my dad’s), it was the Church. And I took it all very seriously.
As I young girl I prayed fervently for my father—a Lutheran—seen by my fellow Baptists as needing redemption. I decided to take it to Billy Graham and wrote him an impassioned letter where I shared my fear that my wonderful dad would not make it to heaven with me.Someone in Billy Graham’s company wrote back: yes, they would pray for my father. I saved that letter for years, trusting that my dad would be taken care of. Eventually, that prayer came true. But by then, I’d found my own—faltering, but empowering—way outside of the narrow-minded Baptist faith.
I was in grade six when I attended a Billy Graham Crusade at the old arena by Polo Park during Canada’s Centennial year. I remember the hymn, “Just as I am,” sung at a crucial time, as thousands streamed to the front to be ‘converted.’ And then the song, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” No doubt it was a well-choreographed script.
Music performed during the Crusades was often heard at our house. (I even used a recording of “How Great Thou Art” by George Beverly Shea at my mom’s funeral only a few years ago.) Maybe it was because Billy Graham endorsed Johnny Cash that we got to hear his songs on our record player. (Beatle’s music or top ten hits were not permitted.)
The families of my church and youth came together like a beautiful choir during the Billy Graham fever—united by an evangelical fervour. Considering these families were recent immigrants from a Hitler-dominated Europe, was there perhaps a kind of nostalgia for mass rallies which promised something bigger than the individual?
Billy Graham’s legacy is huge. He held rallies throughout the world—East and West Germany (including Nuremberg), Soviet Union, Great Britain, Africa, India, Korea, Japan, and Winnipeg. Attending a crusade was often life-changing—creating, at the very least—a life-long impression.
He was a powerful orator and had an impact our family. But today I squirm uncomfortably in the church pews of his influence.