“Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation”
Mark 16:15 NIV
State 38: North Carolina - April 25, 2018
We woke up in a Walmart in Hickory, NC well rested, and ready for a brand new day. Yesterday, we partook in the best sweet potato pie in North Carolina, and we could not wait to see what adventures lie in store today. The first task of the day is to drive 59 miles Southeast to Charlotte to visit the Cross Country Couple's "Famous Person" for North Carolina: The Reverend Billy Graham. Billy Graham was a Preacher, Southerner, Entrepreneur, Pilgrim, Author, Pastor, America's Protestant Patriarch, and Spiritual Advisor to every sitting president from Truman to Obama! Billy Graham has; authored 34 books, appeared in “Gallup’s list of most admired men and women” 61 times; more than any other person in history, and been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal; the highest award Congress can bestow on a private citizen. In a career spanning seven decades, Graham preached live to 210 million people in 185 countries across six continents resulting in 3.2 million people accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior! When figuring in radio and TV broadcasts, Graham's lifetime audience is estimated to be between 2.2-2.5 billion, and has preached the gospel to more people than anyone in the history of Christianity!
For decades, Billy Graham was adamantly against a library bearing his name, and viewed any building erected to glorify himself as an idolic abomination to the message he preached for over 60 years. The concept of a library was instead presented to Graham as an ongoing ministry focused on visitors hearing how God transformed the life of the son of a dairy farmer in rural North Carolina, and used him to carry the message of Christ to the ends of the earth. Thus, the Billy Graham Library is neither a memorial nor museum. Instead, the library is a prayerfully planned ministry focused on communicating the Gospel to visitors, and the transforming power it has on a life that says yes to Christ. With the understanding the focus of the library would be on visitors hearing the message of Jesus, only then did Graham agree to the establishment of the Billy Graham Library. Dedicated on May 31, 2007, former Presidents; Carter, Clinton, Bush and 1,500 others joined Billy Graham for the ceremony. In the years since, over a million visitors have ventured to the library to hear how Graham used his God-given potential to share the best news in the history of humanity to millions of people around the world:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever
believeth in Him should not perish but should have everlasting life. John 3:16
The Billy Graham Library is a 40,000 sq.ft. complex consisting of three sections: Billy Graham’s childhood home, The Billy Graham Library, and The Prayer Garden where Billy and Ruth Graham are buried. We began our visit by exploring Billy Graham's childhood home. Built in 1927 on the families dairy farm in Charlotte, Billy Grahams Childhood Home is where he lived from the age of 8 until moving to attend college. After the Graham family sold the house, the home was twice relocated by subsequent owners. With the establishment of the library in 2007, Graham’s boyhood house was once again moved brick-by-brick and board-by-board to the library grounds a mere four miles from where the Graham’s Dairy Farm once stood! After being beautifully restored, the house was filled with photos and personal items of the Graham family. Although pictures are permitted inside the home, I am only going to show photos from the outside, because I do not want to ruin the experience if you one day visit for yourself.
After departing Billy Graham's Childhood Home, we walked down a sidewalk to the main building within the library complex. Paying tribute to Graham’s humble upbringing on a dairy farm, the library's main building is modeled after a barn complete with a nearby silo. All enter the library via doors at the base of a 40-foot tall glass cross signifying only through the Cross of Christ we can be reconciled to God. This was the most impressive cross I have seen! What a first impression! Talk about curb appeal! Please see the pictures below.
After crossing through the doors at the base of the cross, we entered the main space of the library where the story of Billy Graham’s ministry starts. From his humble beginnings on a farm, to his decision to dedicate his life to Christ, to his travels around the world speaking in stadiums filled to capacity, Billy Graham met with heads of state, royalty, celebrities, everyday people, communists, racists, and even convicted criminals. No matter his audience, Graham shared the love of Jesus Christ with all who would listen. Billy Graham was a man convicted by his faith whose actions were seeded in scripture. The bible commands:
“Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation” Mark 16:15 NIV
This is precisely what Billy Graham did! In what the world would come to know as the Billy Graham Crusades, Graham would rent a large venue, such as a stadium, park, or street to preach the gospel directly to the people, and invite them to come forward to ask Jesus to be their savior. Graham’s first crusade occurred from September 13–21, 1947 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and was attended by 6,000 people. As the ministry grew in size, the number of those in the choir were greater than the number of attendees at his first Crusade! From 1947 until his retirement in 2005, Billy Graham conducted 417 crusades, and below are a few unbelievable highlights.
In 1957, the longest crusade occurred in New York City at Madison Square Garden lasting 16 weeks, and included Martin Luther King Jr. preaching jointly!
In 1973, the largest crusade occurred at Yoido Plaza in South Korea’s capitol of Seoul with 1.1 million people in attendance!
In 1992, the Crusade with the most converts occurred in Moscow where approximately one-quarter of the 155,000 people in attendance came forward to accept Christ as their personal savior. Please see the pictures below from Billy Graham's Crusades.
Graham spent six decades preaching to packed stadiums in 185 countries across 6 continents, because God’s loves knows no borders or nationalities. Even during the height of the Cold War, Graham ventured to virtually every communist country of the Eastern Bloc, because:
“Nowhere in Mark 16:15 - nor in any other similar passage, did Christ command us to go only into the western or capitalist world. Nowhere did He say to exclude the communist world”. Billy Graham
Long before the U.S. Supreme Court banned racial segregation, Graham had desegregated his crusades in 1953! President Clinton was just a child when he attended a Billy Graham Crusade in the South during the Civil Right's Movement. When the local organizers demanded a racially segregated audience, Clinton stated he never forgot Graham’s response:
“Christianity is not a white man’s religion, and don’t let anybody ever tell you
that it’s white or black… Jesus doesn't want me to speak to a segregated audience; I'm
not coming unless everyone can come to my crusade” Billy Graham
Whether preaching to a small crowd of teens at a Youth for Christ rally, denouncing racial segregation in the South or praying for a wounded nation in the aftermath of 9/11, Billy Graham followed Christ's calling for his life, and the message he shared was always the same. At Graham’s final crusade on June 26, 2005 at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in New York, he said:
“I have one message: that Jesus Christ came, he died on a cross, he rose again, and
he asked us to repent of our sins and receive him by faith as Lord and Savior,
and if we do, we have forgiveness of all of our sins” Billy Graham
I am not going to give a blow by blow analysis of the Billy Graham Library, because it will ruin the surprise when you visit. Ok! Ok! Ok! Twist my arm why don’t ya!!! While the library's galleries were packed with presentations, music, artifacts, videos and pictures from throughout Graham's ministry, there was one relic in particular I found quite amusing. On display was a letter and $5.00 check made out to Billy Graham from President Richard Nixon. On May 28, 1970 President Nixon was seated on stage with Billy Graham at a crusade in Knoxville, TN. When the offering plate came around, President Nixon realized he had no cash on him. To avoid an embarrassing moment, Billy Graham reached into his pocket, and gave the President $5.00 to place in the offering dish. The letter on display was a thank you note written by Nixon accompanied by a check to repay the $5.00 loan! Please see the picture below.
From viewing Billy Graham's Bible, standing behind the very pulpit where he once preached, and viewing pictures of millions of people from crusades of the past, the Billy Graham Library is an inspirational place, and It is impossible to depart without feeling inspired and having an uplifted spirit.
After departing the Billy Graham Library’s main building, we walked a short distance to the Prayer Garden where Billy and Ruth Graham are buried. Billy Graham preached no one is beyond Gods grace! Not only did Graham pray with 12 US Presidents, he was also a Spiritual Advisor to convicted criminals! After Richard Liggett murdered a man during a botched robbery in 1971, he was convicted, sentenced to life in prison, and sent to Angola for the remainder of his days! Named after the former plantation which once occupied the property, Angola is a 18,000 acre penitentiary in Louisiana, and surrounded by the Mississippi River on three sides! With 6,300 prisoners and 1,800 staff, Angola is the largest maximum security prison in America! Approximately 74% of the prison population are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. Commonly called “The Farm”, “Alcatraz of the South”, and “Hell on Earth”, Angola was a prison plagued with assault, murder, and rape earning the penitentiary the title of the most dangerous prison in America. Even the most hardened criminals feared Angola!
In 1995, a new Warden named Burl Cain came to Angola, and was tasked with curbing the violence in America’s most notorious penitentiary. One of Cain’s most successful endeavors was to bring religion into prison! A devout Christian himself, Cain believed introducing a spiritual atmosphere into Angola would help build a culture of morality, decrease violence, and inspire inmates to peacefully serve their time. The Warden reached out to a variety of religions to initiate inmate ministries within the penitentiary. Billy Graham was among those who answered the Warden’s call, and donated over $200,000 to build chapels to support the prison's ministry at Angola! If you are among those who find it difficult to imagine convicted criminals serving life sentences sitting in church with smiles on their faces, Warden Cain’s response is, “Even if an inmate will not be set free in this world, he looks forward to being free in the next”. When assaults at Angola decreased from 1,387 in 1990, to 371 in 2012, other states began taking notice of the Warden's unorthodox efforts.
One day, Cain was present at the prison cemetery for the burial of an inmate. At the time, standard practice was to inter the deceased prisoner in a reinforced cardboard box. As inmates lowered the man and cardboard casket into the grave, the bottom of the box gave way, and the body fell out! Cain believed prisoners who died at Angola had paid their debt to society, and deserved a dignified funeral service with proper burial. In response, the Warden developed a woodworking program at the prison tasked with constructing a simple and sturdy casket for deceased inmates. Convicted murderer; Richard Liggett was selected as an apprentice in the program, eventually became a master carpenter, and led a team of prisoners to construct caskets for inmates in Angola’s woodworking shop. Building a casket took about three days, and cost $215 in materials. The plain plywood caskets were: lined with mattress padding, adorned with brass handles and topped with a wooden cross.
Due to failing health, Billy Graham was unable to visit Angola, so Graham’s son Franklin went in his father’s place. During Franklin’s 2005 visit, he encountered Richard Liggett in the prison’s woodworking shop, and was moved by the simplicity of the caskets, and the care the inmates took in its construction. During the tour Franklin said, “His father was a simple man with a simple message, and would want to be laid to rest in a simple casket”, so he purchased coffins for his mother and father. Per the request of the Graham family, the names of the inmates who built the two caskets were burned into the wood: Richard Liggett, Paul Krolowitz and Clifford Bowman. Liggett told Warden Cain, “The most profound thing in his life was to build the coffins for Billy and Ruth Graham”.
Richard Liggett died in prison from cancer in 2007, and his body and personal effects were shipped back to his family in a coffin he personally constructed. Among the personal effects, Liggett’s family discovered papers showing Liggett was active in church, studied the Bible, shared his religious views with other inmates, and was saved by the prison ministry Billy Graham established inside Angola! On February 21, 2018, the Reverend Billy Graham, America’s Protestant Patriarch, Pastor to the Presidents, and Evangelist to billions of people throughout the world, entered into eternal rest buried in a plain plywood casket built by a convicted murderer who Graham had led to Christ!
Please view the pictures below of the final resting place of Billy and Ruth Graham in the Prayer Garden.
After departing the Billy Graham Library, we drove 167 miles Northeast to Raleigh where we found a Walmart to spend the night.