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“It’s very humbling.”
The Rev. Dr. Don Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church Spartanburg, repeats the words often when he speaks about one of his dearest friends.
A friend whose photos appear on the walls around his office and on his desk. A friend with whom he has shared deep conversations, lunches and laughs in the past 20 years.
“It’s humbling how a boy from Africa who is less than a nobody could form a relationship and a close friendship with a man who has brushed shoulders with presidents and prime ministers his whole life,” he said, leaning forward in his office chair. “It’s a very humbling thing.”
It was a Wednesday morning. The day before, Wilton had spent five hours at the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham’s home in Montreat, N.C. He has visited Graham, the world-renowned evangelist and member of First Baptist Spartanburg, at least once a week for the past 20 years, he said. They discuss life, current events, sports (particularly golf), family, relationships, history — just about everything. Wilton prays with the 94-year-old pastor about health, family and the state of the nation.
“He is very passionate about praying for America,” Wilton said. “He loves America and the people of this land.”
And because his eyesight and health is deteriorating, Wilton sometimes reads the Bible for him. They eat lunch together — Graham eats everything, Wilton says.
“He loves food with a capital F,” he said with a laugh. “He loves meats, chicken, vegetables — he loves potatoes. He loves yogurt and fruits and ice cream and cakes.”
Recently, the meetings have been a little different.
The conversations have been the same, but now, a crew of cameramen with cameras rolling surround the two as they talk.
Wilton says the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is filming a video series called “My Hope America with Billy Graham” that will air nationally in November, in celebration of Graham’s 95th birthday. The series will include archived footage of Billy Graham’s crusades over the years, from all over the world.
“The world is his pulpit,” Wilton said.
Wilton said Graham has always had the desire to preach one last message, and this will be it.
The series will also include comments from Graham’s home during the later stages of his life. The Rev. Franklin Graham, his son, and Billy Graham’s evangelistic associates chose Wilton to field the questions, to interview him, for this special.
Being asked to participate “was just very humbling,” he repeated. “But even though there are cameras on me as well, this has nothing to do with me. I’m totally irrelevant.”
Wilton says there is a genuine interest across the world to hear what God is saying through Graham today, at his age. How does he see the world today? What does he think? How does Graham see things through the eyes of a 94-year-old? But most importantly, Wilton said, “What hope is there for us? What is God saying to America today?”
“So for the last six months, to a year, a major television production company has been coming up there and they set up in Graham’s beautiful living room area,” Wilton said. “I sit in a chair with my very close friend and we talk.” They have a conversation and talk like they have for the past 20 years, while cameras roll.
Wilton says Graham answers the way he classically does. “He points everything toward God’s Word. I must have heard him say a hundred thousand times: ‘God loves you and you were made by him and created for a purpose and that purpose is to have peace in God through Jesus Christ, and Christ is the one who gives you life.’ If anyone ever asks if man can solve its own problems, Graham would say, ‘Just look at the world. The world is so full of conflict. … God is the one who can make a difference.’ “
Graham’s health continues to decline, and he becomes less and less mobile in his Montreat home, Wilton said. So when they talk in front of cameras, generally about two hours each day, Wilton gives Graham breaks along the way.
“I’m very mindful of his energy level,” he said.
Wilton cherishes his friendship and his time spent with the evangelist over the years.
“I am holding hands with him as he goes to heaven,” Wilton said. “And in that process, he’s a man just like you and me, and so there are things in his heart that are very important.”
And when Graham leaves this world, “I will have a huge hole in my heart,” Wilton added. “I know that we will be together again one day, and forever.”