World-renowned evangelist and “America’s Pastor,” the Rev. Billy Graham has passed, aged 99. According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the North Carolina native “died today at 7:46 a.m. at his home in Montreat.” Over a ministry career that spanned almost 80 years, it is estimated that Billy Graham preached to around 215 million people through his gospel crusades.
With tributes flooding in from across the globe, you’d be hard-pressed to find any evangelical ministry that has not been profoundly impacted by Graham and his message. One extraordinary tribute that has emerged is from TODAY anchor Kathie Lee Gifford.
“I think the value of a life is if you can look back and say you impacted one person’s life for eternity — how awesome is that? Well, Billy can look back on his life and be absolutely assured that he has impacted millions of lives for eternity,” Gifford penned at TODAY.
Now, of course, his ministry credentials are astounding – his impact for the Kingdom of God is second to none. But that was not the part of Billy that most impressed Gifford during the course of her 50-year friendship with the minister.
“The thing that I adored most about him is that he remained the most humble and giant of a man you would ever, ever, ever want to meet,” she explained. “He had this incredible, loving presence of a person for the masses, but then when you were one-on-one with him, you were the only person in the room. Rarely do people have both of those gifts.”
This is a sentiment that was echoed by megachurch pastor Greg Laurie, whose evangelistic ministry he admits is entirely based on the model he learnt from his mentor and friend, Rev. Graham. “There were not two Billy Graham’s,” Laurie said in a video tribute posted to Facebook. “He was the same privately as he was publicly. In many ways, he was even more impressive privately. When you saw the real guy, you saw a genuine humility.”
“Billy Graham was the most godly man I’ve ever met,” Greg added.
In her tribute to Graham, Gifford highlighted that famous Bible verse in Micah 6:8
“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
“By those standards,” Gifford pointed out, “Billy lived an extraordinary, exemplary life.” But it wasn’t just Gifford herself who was so profoundly impacted by this wonderful man. As she explains, her entire family came to Christ through Graham’s ministry.
“My entire family came to faith through Billy. My father is Jewish, my mom Christian, and although we didn’t have a devout home, it was just sort of an understanding of that Judeo-Christian tradition in our home. It was Billy that connected the dots for me,” she explained.
Gifford, who attended Graham’s 95th birthday celebration, said that she was sat next to Franklin Graham’s daughter Cissie, when she asked her if it would be OK to approach her gradnfather and say how much she loved and appreaciated him.
“Oh he loves that,” Cissie replied.
“Everyone left and it was me and Billy. I went, “Billy, it’s Kathie Lee.” He was looking like around because he doesn’t see very well, and all of a sudden I saw his eyes focus and he looked right into my eyes, and he goes, “Oh Kathie Lee, I love you.”” Kathie recalled.