Friday, November 7, 2008–Today, well-wishers crowd the sunny brick pathway at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., to join the festivities surrounding Billy Graham’s 90th birthday. Families, friends and groups muse in the prayer garden and tour Billy Graham’s childhood home. Some catch a glimpse of Franklin Graham, who is here today, standing in the green grass near the garden.
Inside the 40,000-square-foot complex, Library visitors can step into a video booth to send Mr. Graham a personal birthday message. Guests of all ages are rehearsing what they will say, and some practice singing “happy birthday” in the line that is forming next to the video area.
Behind the line, crowds walk back into the depths of the Library’s main building, which houses more than 60 years of Billy Graham’s history in multimedia exhibits, vibrant films, and interactive displays.
Others munch on the free birthday cake; it’s delicious.
Many people here today have a memory or a story to tell of Mr. Graham’s influence on their lives. So far, more than 80,000 people have logged on to billygraham90.com to send a birthday message or story to Mr. Graham.
“The common thread through every one of these stories is how Jesus Christ has changed lives and what Jesus Christ means to people,” says Franklin Graham, “so they’re just thanking my father for sharing Christ with them.”
One Library guest today is Adam, a minister who has brought his children and a group from his church. As he’s waiting in line, he shares his story:
“One day I was in Bible College, studying to be a minister. I was working with a lawn care company, weed eating in front of a man’s house and listening to Just As I Am, [Billy Graham's] autobiography, on tape.
“While I was listening, the man in house motioned for me to come up to the house. I’ve never seen this guy before and don’t know who he is, and he just said, ‘I want to be a blessing to you, and I want to give you $100.’ He said, ‘Here you go; use this for the glory of God.’
“I found hope in Billy’s message because I come from a very humble background, alcoholic home, and I just needed to hear that message from the tape. And then as I was listening to it, the guy gives me $100. That was 15 years ago or so, but I never forgot that.
“We were very poor. I had a wife and two kids at the time. We were struggling. I don’t necessarily attribute that to Billy Graham, per se, but I attribute that to God. It was an affirmation of God’s calling on my life–for me to know that I was on the right track, doing what I was doing.”
Adam and his church family walk forward, excited to share their words with Mr. Graham via video.
AN OLD FRIEND
Ahead of the line, it’s easy to spot David Wilson walking out of the Library through the cross-shaped glass entryway because he’s so tall. Wilson is the younger brother of Billy Graham’s longtime friends and colleagues in the ministry, Grady and T.W. Wilson.
“My brother Grady started with Billy, and then T.W., the oldest brother, became Billy’s right arm, bodyguard, you name it,” says Wilson as he walks into the sunshine near the Graham family homeplace.
“T.W. called me one day, and he said, ‘What is your waist?’ And he asked me all about my size. He said, ‘Well Billy’s got some suits he wants to send you.’ I was in seminary, and I said, ‘Tell him to send them on.’ He was tall like I am, 6 foot 2. There was a guy who made suits for Billy and wouldn’t charge him a penny, loved to do it for Billy.
“He was known as ‘Billy Frank’ back in those days. That was what his daddy called him.”
Wilson remembers the Graham family home when it was in its original location off Park Road, about four miles away from where it sits now.
“The driveway to the home was on that side,” says Wilson, pointing to the left side of the home. “I used to drive up and get out and go in on that porch, and Mrs. Graham would always give me a cookie or something. She was just like a second mother to me. We called her ‘Mother Graham.’ She and my mother were the best of friends.”
“Then I would go out the back door and go over to the barn, which is in the right place, right here, and watch Melvin milk cows the old-fashioned way. [The barn] wasn’t that tall, and didn’t have the cross there, but that’s where the barn was. This brings back a lot of memories.”
WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS
Near David in the grass in front of the Library, with his camera around his neck, stands Russ Busby, photographer for the Billy Graham team for nearly 52 years. He plans to travel to the Asheville area later today and take part in Mr. Graham’s private birthday celebration.
“We’re going to try to document his family with him on his 90th birthday,” says Busby. “They all know me; I’ve been around so long. I’m called ‘Uncle Russ.’ They’re all very normal.”
Busby shares how he joined Billy Graham in 1956:
“They came to Oklahoma City for a Crusade, and I was managing a portrait studio. My wife and I saw the ads, and we decided we’d go see what it was about. To us it was just another preacher, but I was impressed with what he had to say. They used pictures for promotion, and I said they needed better pictures; so I found out what hotel they were staying at, and I took some of my work to them.”
Busby took pictures of the Crusade for two days. Impressed with his work, Mr. Graham’s business manager invited him to join them in their travels.
“About four months later, I did.”
Mr. Graham’s travels took him, and Busby, to more than 185 countries around the world.
“He’s very easy to photograph,” Busby says of Mr. Graham. “He has pleasant expression. It’s real. Franklin is quite easy, too. It’s been a lot of exciting fun. I’ve seen most of the world with one eye closed, looking through the viewfinder of a camera.”
All around, guests of the Library delight in the beautiful weather and peaceful surroundings, enjoying the chance to celebrate a 90-year-life dedicated to the glory of God.
The party at the Billy Graham Library continued on Saturday. Altogether, more than 2,000 people attended the two-day event.