In the life of each person there are banner days that stand out. For me there are a few. The most important day was the day I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. The next was getting married to my wife, Annette. After that would be the birth of our four daughters: Natalie, Natasha, Nicole and Nadia. Following that would be the day I spent with Dr. Billy and Ruth Graham.
I will forever be grateful to God and Dr Grahams daughter Ruth for allowing me this privilege. The weekend started by spending a few hours with George Beverly Shea, Dr. Graham’s soloist. He went to be with the Lord in 2013 at 104 years old. I was only going to stop in and say hello, but a few hours later I was still there. We talked about music George sang, I played some piano, and then he sang some more. Soon he showed me this incredible pipe organ and played a few tunes. He was quite a musician, too. He decided to donate the instrument to Angola State Prison, which he did before his home going. He told me the kind of music the Grahams loved and gave me a few tips about what to play for them.
To meet Dr. Graham was one of my earthly dreams. While I was growing up in Jamaica, my parents had us watch and listen to Billy Graham, and from early on I wanted to meet this world changer. The day arrived, and there are many things that stood out, but the most was the humility of Dr. and Mrs. Graham.
As I got to the house I met Franklin, Dr. Graham’s son, and also Dr. Graham, who was about to get ready for the concert. Mrs. Graham was in her wheelchair, and they put her before the piano so she could give me requests. I was so happy to play all the hymns she enjoyed.
Soon Dr. Graham joined us and he wanted to know more about me. I told him I lived in the Chicagoland area, and he immediately identified and had incredible things to say about his time in Chicago and his appreciation for the city. He kept asking me about me, and in my mind I was thinking, “Dr. Graham, let’s not talk about me! I want to hear from you! I want to get words of wisdom from you. You are one of my earthy heroes.” I later discovered that’s how Dr Graham operated; he made everyone feel special.
We talked about various subjects and soon I asked him his opinion on what to do to have a good marriage. He said you need two people who are very forgiving, and, for the most part, it’s going to be the wife forgiving the husband. I said to myself, “I am in big trouble. If Billy Graham’s wife has to forgive him all the time, I am in trouble!” I can see my wife Annette smiling, saying, “Preach, Dr.Graham!”
Apart from playing the piano, I did my Louie Armstrong impersonation on “When the Saints Go Marching In.” This caused them to smile. At the end of our time Dr. Graham prayed for me and we exchanged presents and took pictures. Having this mighty man of God pray over me is something I will treasure all my life. After our time was over, I went to the hotel and spent two hours just worshiping the Lord, thanking Him for allowing me the privilege of spending time with my hero, a man whom God used to change the world.
I knew this was a tremendous honor, but the magnitude of the day really hit when I read Dr. Graham’s biography, Just As I Am. I read about all the world leaders who sought him for counsel—leaders of free nations, leaders of communist nations, celebrities, the rich, the poor. Status did not matter to him; he cared about each person individually. In the days of apartheid he was the first to hold integrated meetings in South Africa. In America, he held integrated meetings against the wishes of many.
One story that stood out to me was a trip the team took to Europe. When they got there all the members of the team were allowed to check in, except my dear friends Dr. Howard Jones and Dr. Ralph Bell. When Dr. Graham got word of this he took the entire team from the hotel and found a place where his entire team could stay. They told me Dr. Graham said, “I don’t have a white team and a black team. I have one team.”
What a man of integrity. Personal integrity trumped everything he did. The importance he placed on prayer really spoke volumes to me. Dr. Graham was asked in one interview for the secret of his success. He said three things: 1) Prayer 2) Prayer 3) Prayer. I have tried to pattern my ministry after his.
I want to thank Ruth Graham for organizing my visit to see her parents. I will be forever grateful. I am her bodyguard for life 🙂
Dr. Graham, I will be eternally grateful for the example you set for all of us in ministry and for the day I was able to spend with you. I can only imagine the buzz in heaven with your arrival. Your legacy will live on for ever.