One of my heroes passed away yesterday. I thought I would share my story with you about how Billy Graham impacted me is such a way that my life, as I knew it, was over.
I did not grow up in a Christian home. The truth is that my life was a mess. My Mom was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when I was in Kindergarten. My Dad simply told me “Mom isn’t feeling well, she’s in the hospital and you’re not going to see her for awhile.”
I didn’t see my Mom for a year. When Mom got out the hospital my parents divorced and my Dad got custody of four boys. When I was in high school my Dad was single. He went out for dates on weekend nights. My friends figured out that my parents were not home so my house became the party house.
During my teen years, I lived for the party. If I wasn’t drunk or high, I wasn’t happy. It’s not that I was a bad person. I was just a very selfish person. I lived for myself. I didn’t have much supervision so I did what I wanted to when I wanted to. In retrospect, I was doing a lot of self-medicating. Real life hurt a lot, but when I got high the pain would go away. The problem was that the pain always returned in the morning.
Things began to change when my Dad gave his life to Christ during my junior year in high school. When you are 16 years old you think you have your parents figured out. You know their strengths and weaknesses. You know their patterns of behavior, but my Dad changed and that got my attention.
Six months later, I gave my life to Christ on Sunday, September 12, 1976, but I did not tell anyone. One of my friends, Michael Hastings was with me that night at church when I responded to the altar call. The next morning on the bus I whispered in Michael’s ear ‘Did you tell anybody what happened last night?’
Michael responded, ‘I only told Jim.”
“Please don’t tell anybody else,” I whispered back.
The truth is that I was embarrassed to admit that I was a Christian. The bottom line is that I was afraid if my friends found out that I would lose my friends. I went to church with my Dad, read the Bible every day, but I kept my faith in Christ a secret.
Fast forward one month to October of 1976.
It’s Friday night and I need to make a choice about what to do.
A friend was hosting a party. It was a big party. All of my friends would be there.
My other choice was to go to the Billy Graham Crusade at the Pontiac Silverdome. I had never heard of Billy Graham but people at church were talking about him and I read articles about Billy in the Detroit Free Press.
The Billy Graham crusade was unlike anything I had ever see. A stadium full of 40,000 people listening to Billy preach the Gospel was mind blowing – but the best part was watching thousands of people come down from the stands onto the Astroturf and commit their life to Christ. I still weep every time I hear the song “Just as I Am” because it takes me back to that moment that changed everything for me.
I had only been a Christian for one month but this moment gave me an intense desire to lead people to Christ. Quite frankly it wrecked my life. I stopped thinking about living for myself and started thinking about others. Suddenly leading people to Christ became the most important thing in the world – but I had no idea how to do that.
The crusade ending about 9 PM. I knew that the party would still be going on so I stopped by on my way home. I arrived at the party around 10 PM. (To give it the proper setting. This was a typical high school party in the 70’s with a lot of drinking and pot smoking) Mike, one of my friends observed me arriving late and remarked, “Mark, you’re late. Where were you?”
I didn’t really think about it. The words just came out of my mouth. “I went to see Billy Graham”
Mike’s jaw dropped. He looked at me in shock. “You did what?”
I thought to my self, uh-oh, the cats out the bag now.
“I went to see Billy Graham.”
“What did you do that for?” Mike asked.
“I’m a Christian. I’ve given my life to Christ” (This was the first time I said the words out loud.)
Mike stared at me in disbelief. Another friend, Jim entered our conversation.
“Mark, tell Jim what did tonight,” Mike said.
“I went to see Billy Graham” I replied.
“What did you do that for? Jim asked.
“I’m Christian. I have given my life to Christ.” I replied. (Every time I said those words, I got bolder)
Both Mike and Jim started to ask questions. After about ten minutes there was a group of ten friends standing around listening to me share my testimony. Then one of them spoke up and out of curiosity asked, “Can I go with you to Billy Graham next time you go?” (To be transparent, that was not the response that I expected.)
Billy Graham was in town for10 days. Six out of the ten days I loaded up my Dad’s 1972 suburban with kids from my high school to go to the crusade. It started a mini-revival in my school as many of my friends responded to Billy’s call to give your life to Christ.
I found my calling in life – to lead people to Christ. I realized that I may never have a ministry that is large as Billy Graham’s ministry but my friends didn’t go to the crusade because of Billy Graham. They went there because of me. I have influence and God wants me to use my influence to lead people to him.
Leading people to Christ is as simple as being transparent and sharing your story. I have been doing that ever
since – for 42 years.
I never personally met Billy Graham, but I want to say Thank you to Billy.
Thank you, Billy Graham, for coming to Detroit, Michigan in October 1976 at a critical time in my life – one month after I had given my life to Christ.
Thank you, Billy Graham, for faithfully preaching the Gospel and never veering away from it.
Thank you, Billy Graham, for being a powerful witness for Christ and never being part of a scandal.
Thank you, Billy Graham, for being like Jesus. There was something about Jesus where he could confront people like Zaccheus and they felt loved by him in the confrontation. I feel the same way about you. You preached a bold message but I always felt the love of God coming from you.
Thank you, Billy Graham, for being a person who unites. You were strategic about pulling people into the Christian faith and not pushing them away. Thank you for this. We need more leaders like you.
But most importantly – Thank you, Billy Graham, for wrecking ‘my life.’
Jesus said it like this, “whoever loses his life for My sake, will find it” I’m grateful that I lost the life I once had. It was a lonely, hopeless, self-centered life. The life that Christ has prepared for me is much better and more fulfilling. You helped me see what that kind of life could be.
We will miss you on Earth Billy Graham.
Looking forward to seeing you in eternity.