By David R. Nicholas
President, Shasta Bible College & Graduate School
Today, Feb.21, 2018, The President of the United States, Donald Trump, called Billy Graham “GREAT,” said “there was nobody like him,” and considered him a “very special man.” But in reality, he was God’s great man for our time. As I attempted to assimilate and accept the news of Evangelist Billy Graham’s graduation to Glory at the age of 99, memories of a lifetime of encouragement and blessing from his ministry and lifestyle consistency flooded my mind. It was in 1934, under the ministry of Evangelist Mortecai Ham, that a young Billy Graham gave his life to Jesus. That was before I was born, of course, but when he came to Los Angeles in 1949 at the age of thirty for the crusade that was used of God to popularize his powerful ministry, I, as an eight year old, became aware of his dynamic impact on our city because my Dad and Mom, Robert G and Pearl Nicholas, attended that crusade and were among the 400,000 people who personally heard Graham’s evangelistic message and were encouraged in their own ministry of church planting and evangelism.
On behalf of Shasta Bible College & Graduate School where I am privileged to serve as President, Donna and I extend our condolences and prayers to Franklin Graham and all the members of the Billy Graham family.
Throughout my life, especially during my teenage, college and graduate school years, Billy Graham was an ever-present reality. Though his innovative and cooperative approach to evangelism had its critics, I was always impressed by the consistency of his Gospel message and the evident blessing of God upon his ministry as hundreds came streaming to the platform to profess faith in Christ in response to his convicting sermons. As a graduate student at the University of Southern California in September of 1963, fresh out of college, I was there that night in the Los Angeles Coliseum when a record 134,254 attendees somehow found seats either in the stands or in the three rows of seats on the football field. I was one of the counselors, and being young, was directed to the very top row. I had been a Youth For Christ club director in College and there to my surprise, on the top row with me, was one of my Clubbers from San Gabriel High School, Donna Roberts, who was also a counselor. We sat together during Mr. Graham’s message and were awestruck as we moved downward, to execute our counseling duties, at the thousands who came forward at the invitation. Donna had ridden the church bus to the Crusade because her boyfriend wouldn’t go with her. So, we couldn’t help but wonder if the sovereignty of God hadn’t brought us together that night. In fact, Donna ditched her ride and let me take her home where her boyfriend was waiting for her. When he asked “who is that guy,’ she replied, “Oh, he’s just my Youth for Christ director.”
Over the years, my appreciation for Billy Graham and his evangelistic team intensified. In 1969, Donna and I were married at San Gabriel Union Church. At the time I was Area Youth Pastor for a Southern California Association of Baptist Churches, and was completing my Th.M. work at Biola’s Talbot School of Theology. That summer, when Graham Crusade came to Anaheim Stadium, I once again volunteered to counsel, going through all the counseling training with Dr. D. James Kennedy. I wanted to see how it was done because I was writing my Th.M. thesis on “An Examination of the Biblical Doctrine of Separation,” and cooperative evangelism was a “hot issue” among many of my pastor friends. I did my best to point those I counseled and led to Christ toward good Bible-believing churches. Later, as I was nearing the completion of that thesis, desiring to present both sides of the issues involved, I learned that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Board was scheduled to meet in a Century City Hotel. I prayed God would make it possible for me to meet him personally. God answered my prayer when, as I walked toward the hotel, I recognized Evangelist, Merv Rosell, one of the small cadre of gifted evangelists who had ministered with Billy Graham through Youth for Christ in the 1940’s and was a member of Graham’s Board. He had held a tent crusade in Escondido, CA where I had met him as a high school student. When I reminded him of that and told him why I wanted to meet Mr. Graham, he graciously walked me into the board room with him. There, Billy Graham with his penetrating blue eyes greeted me with a warm smile, answered some of my questions, and then directed his Vice President, Dr. Walter Smyth, to answer any more. In fairness to both viewpoints in the inclusivist-separatist debate, I included that interview as an appendix to my thesis. Interestingly enough, my meeting with Billy Graham took place January 2, 1971, following Dr. Graham’s appearance as Grand Marshall of the Pasadena Rose Parade on New Year’s Day.
The last Crusade Donna and I were privileged to attend what was supposedly his “last” in Charlotte, NC, 1996. That night Johnny Cash and his wife, June Carter Cash provided the music and Dr. Graham preached. God had other plans, however, and Graham’s actual final crusade was July 5, 2005 at Corona Park in Flushing Meadows, NY at 86 years of age; and he delivered his final message in 2013 at 95 via more than 480 Television stations across the U.S. and Canada.
Today, though we grieve the loss of the “Pastor to Presidents, “. . . we sorrow not as others who have no hope.” (1 Thess. 4:13-18). The man who preached the Gospel to approximately 215,000,000 people over six decades from all walks of life in over 400 crusades is with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, whom he loved so deeply, proclaimed so faithfully and served so well. We echo Vice President Pence’s sentiments in tribute to Billy Graham, “. . . We mourn his passing but I know with absolute certainty that today he heard those words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’” He now enjoys Heaven with Ruth.
I have learned that Mr. Graham’s grave marker will say, “Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.” That simple, yet profound description of what he was says it all. He will be missed by America and the world, but his godly legacy will pay lasting dividends for eternity.
David R. Nicholas
President, Shasta Bible College & Graduate School