A young boy gazed back at the painting of a cross, his brow furrowed in thought as he lingered behind his father. The boy took a few steps before stopping in front of Sam, a Billy Graham Library volunteer. His small hand tugged Sam’s pant leg to get Sam’s attention, and his father joined them.
Sam knelt down, and the boy whispered in his ear that he wanted to pray for Jesus’ forgiveness. The boy’s father heard and hesitated. A thoughtful expression frosted his eyes, but he stepped into the prayer room, following his son and Sam. As Sam and the boy bowed before the Lord together, tears began to stream down the father’s face, and he knelt also. His voice cracked as he said, “I have not lived my life or led my family in the way I should. I want to rededicate my life to God as well.” The son climbed into his father’s arms, and they prayed together for forgiveness. Father and son walked out of the Billy Graham Library together through the door at the foot of the huge, glass-windowed cross that adorns the front of the Library.
Stories like this have played out almost every day for the last 10 years at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C.
Entering Through the Cross
Hydrangeas, wild roses and begonias line the path from the parking lot to the barn-shaped building. The two-story, redbrick Graham family home sits on the west side of the property. On the east side is the memorial prayer garden, where Ruth Bell Graham, George Beverly Shea, Cliff Barrows and his first wife, Billie, are buried. Hymns and worship music play across the grounds.
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But the cross-shaped entryway is the Library’s most prominent feature.
“We wanted to make sure that everyone who comes through the door enters through the foot of the cross,” Franklin Graham said.
Nine-year-old Matthew Henry was the first to accept Christ as his Savior at the Library, and more than 9,000 others have since made the same commitment.
“That’s the entire purpose of the Library,” said Billy Graham Library Vice President Tom Phillips. “We are open to encourage people through The Journey of Faith tour.”
From its groundbreaking in 2005, the Library has been extraordinary. Former presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton helped dedicate the building on May 31, 2007, and five days later, the Library opened.
The Library has drawn visitors from 91 countries to its Journey of Faith tour, which ends with an invitation from Billy and Franklin Graham to receive Christ. It has featured exhibits of prominent Christians like singer and actress Ethel Waters and has hosted book signings for former president George W. Bush, Louis Zamperini, Mike Huckabee, Phil Robertson, Joni Eareckson Tada and NFL player Benjamin Watson.
It hosts annual events like Bikers with Boxes and the Ladies Tea and Men’s Breakfast tours. The Christmas at the Library events draw thousands each year.
And like the young boy who tugged at the pant leg of Sam the volunteer, thousands of the Library’s 1.4 million guests have emerged knowing the Christ the Library proclaims. Here are a few of their stories.
Library staff member Lynn Bateman heard the phone ringing at the lobby information desk soon after she started work on Wednesday, Oct. 5. Tom Johnson greeted her from the other end of the line.
“Would you ask your staff to pray for my sister Andrea and my brother Tim?” he said. “I am bringing them to visit the Library today, and I have been praying for their salvation for more than 40 years.”
Lynn shared the request with the Library guest services team and the volunteer manager.
Tom arrived with Andrea and Tim around lunch time. They made it to the final theater presentation, and sat down to watch the film. As Billy and Franklin Graham began the invitation to accept Christ, Tom glanced over at Andrea and saw that she was weeping.
He went to her, placed his hands on her shoulders and looked into her face. “Did you pray the sinner’s prayer?” he asked. Andrea looked back at her brother with tears streaming down her face. “I did,” she whispered.
Tom’s heart broke into a hymn of praise within him, and he embraced his sister. Library historian Wayne Atcheson heard what God was doing and went to talk with Andrea.
“You just made the best decision of your life,” he told her. Andrea was quiet and did not want any fanfare, but tears collected in her eyes and she said, “Yes, I know.” Andrea is 80 years old.
Steps to Peace With God
During the summer of 2016, Sarah Fonesco served as an intern at the Library. She urged her family to come see the Library, but it was not until the week after she returned to college that her mother, father and 16-year-old nephew Matito were able to make the trip from Atlanta.
Shirley Wilson, a guest services attendant, noticed Matito stayed a step back from the rest of the group during the tour. When they came to the entrance of the Just As I Am theater, Sarah’s mom asked Shirley to pray about sharing the Gospel with Matito, who is originally from Honduras. Matito had come to America to live with Sarah’s family a month earlier because his parents were killed in Honduras. The family planned to adopt him and care for him as their own.
Shirley was not confident she would be able to communicate with Matito, since he spoke very little English. She led the group into the Prayer Room and placed a Spanish version of the Steps to Peace with God tract in front of Matito to help her give him the basics of the Gospel. Sarah’s mother was able to help translate despite her broken Spanish. They spent 45 minutes talking with Matito, moving from the basics of the Good News into the details of what it would mean to live his life with Jesus.
Shirley sensed from the way Matito tried to hide the pain in his eyes that the loss of his parents had left him numb. He studied the Spanish tract and ran his fingers over the picture of the cross.
Then he spoke a string of Spanish words, and through Sarah’s mom’s translation, told Shirley he wanted to receive Jesus into his life. Shirley led him in prayer, then she gave him a Spanish Gospel of John. Matito looked at the floor to hide the tears in his eyes. Sarah’s mom wiped back her own tears. God’s plans are always perfect. If they had come to visit earlier in the summer, during Sarah’s internship, Matito might not have been with them to hear the Gospel and give his life to Jesus.
A Christmas at the Library Prayer Card
The splendor of Christmas at the Library twinkled off the tears in 16-year-old Isabelle Rocco’s eyes as she bent over her prayer card. She stopped writing for a moment and gazed at her father, John, who was browsing in Ruth’s Attic bookstore. Swallowing her emotions, Isabelle finished her card and dropped it in the nearby prayer box.
Three months later, John visited the Library again and had lunch with his friend Wayne Atcheson, the regional manager, and Library Vice President Tom Phillips. Twice during the luncheon, Tom heard John say, “My wife’s a really good Christian, and I’m trying to be.”
Toward the end of the conversation, Tom said, “John, you’ve said that twice. What do you mean by that?” John said, “Well, I mean what I said. I’m trying to be.”
“Don’t you know?’ Tom asked, explaining that one can know that they belong to Christ. Tom asked if he would like to know, and John said “yes.”
In the back offices of the Billy Graham Library, Tom walked John through the Steps to Peace with God tract. They circled words and underlined sentences, and about 20 minutes later John, weeping, held up the tract and said, “I never knew how to do this.”
As soon as John arrived home, he brought his family together to tell them about his newfound faith. Isabelle couldn’t hold back her tears.
She put her arms around John and said, “Daddy, remember when we went to Christmas at the Library? Well, they had these prayer cards, and I wrote on my prayer card that I wanted my daddy to come to know Jesus.” John hugged his daughter tighter, in awe of God’s grace.
Let the Little Children Come to Me
The darkness covering the exit of The Journey of Faith began to lighten as the doors opened. The light centered on the cross, highlighting the fuchsia and violet sunset in “The Cross” mural. When the entire mural illuminated, a large group of 4- to 6-year-old girls exited the theater.
The first little girl walked directly to the red velvet rope in front of the painting and fell to her knees. She prayed aloud, “Thank you, Jesus, for taking away my sins.” The other little girls followed her, kneeling and praying. Joy filled the heart of the Library volunteer watching the scene—a picture of the outpouring of the love of God to little children, and their response to Him.
The Billy Graham Library volunteers are a part of God’s work in people’s lives every day. Jean started volunteering at BGEA as soon as the ministry moved to Charlotte in 2003. For her first few years, she guided tours of the headquarters building and then moved to the Library when it opened.
“Coming to volunteer at the Library is the highlight of my week,” Jean said. “Of all the things in my life, volunteering here is my time that I cut into stone. I will not let anything interfere with my being here.
“There is no word to describe how this place has changed my life. God has strengthened me in my faith, in my prayer life, and in how I witness. I feel honored and blessed that He would allow me to have a part in His work and let me impact people’s lives for Him.” Jean is looking forward to her 10th anniversary of volunteering at the Library.
For more information or to apply to be a Library volunteer, check the Library website: billygrahamlibrary.org. ©2017 BGEA
Emily Adams is Associate Administrative Assistant for the Billy Graham Library. Decision copy editor Jerri Menges and Library historian Wayne Atcheson contributed to this article.