75 years ago this month, Billy Graham committed his life to Jesus Christ. No one could have known then how God would use this ordinary farm boy to spread the Gospel throughout the world.
He thought they were fanatics.
One day in May 1934, 15-year-old Billy Graham came home from school and set out to pitch hay to the mules with one of the hired hands at his family’s farm on the outskirts of Charlotte, North Carolina. The two heard singing from behind the barn, and the hired man wondered aloud what was happening.
“I guess they’re some fanatics that have talked Daddy into using the place,” Billy replied.
Little did he know that he himself would be an answer to one of the prayers offered up that day during the prayer meeting being held in the pasture of his family’s dairy farm. One of the men in attendance, a salesman named Vernon Patterson, prayed that God would raise up someone from Charlotte to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
Billy had been baptized and confirmed. He went to church each week, his family had Bible reading and prayer together, and he was vice president of the youth group at his church. But his real interests lay elsewhere. He hoped one day to play professional baseball.
That September, when an evangelist named Mordecai Ham came to Charlotte to preach at what would become an 11-week crusade, Billy wanted no part of it. After a few weeks, however, he became curious. Ham was known for pointing out sin in the communities where he preached, and he claimed to have affidavits stating that students at one of Charlotte’s high schools were involved in immoral behavior at a house across the street from the school. Rumors then spread that students would protest at Ham’s meetings.
These developments piqued Billy’s interest. And then a friend named Albert McMakin said, “Why don’t you come out and hear our fighting preacher?” Billy liked the idea of a fighter. The deal was clinched when McMakin offered to let Billy drive his dairy truck to the meetings.
After one service, Billy was hooked. He attended night after night, dutifully taking notes as Ham preached—and becoming increasingly convicted that he was a sinner who did not know Jesus Christ. He began to realize that neither his baptism and confirmation nor his church attendance would save him.
“Our family Bible reading, praying, psalm-singing and church-going—all these had left me restless and resentful,” writes Mr. Graham in his autobiography. “In a word, I was spiritually dead.”
During each service, Ham invited people to come forward and receive Christ. On November 1, six days before his 16th birthday, Billy responded to that invitation. The choir sang four verses of “Just As I Am,” followed by the hymn “Almost Persuaded, Now to Believe.” On the final verse of that song, Billy went forward, feeling, he writes, “as if I had lead weights attached to my feet.”
That night, he repented of his sins and prayed to receive Christ. And although he felt no great emotion, he knew he was a new person. His mother, Morrow Coffey Graham, recalled later that when she arrived home from the meeting that night, Billy threw his arms around her and said, “Mother, I’m a changed boy!”
In the months that followed, Billy grew in faith and began, sometimes shyly, to share his faith with others. Once, an evangelist named Jimmie Johnson stayed at the Graham home while in Charlotte, and Billy accompanied him to an evangelistic meeting at a jail. Johnson asked Billy to speak to the prisoners for a few minutes, introducing him as “a fellow who’ll tell you what it’s like to be converted.” The prisoners looked uninterested as Billy spoke, leading him to think he would never be a preacher.
Billy Graham couldn’t see the path on which God would eventually lead him. And during that “pasture prayer meeting” the previous May, Vernon Patterson couldn’t have known that a boy doing chores on the other side of the barn might be someone God would use in answer to his prayer.
But looking back over the last 75 years, one can see how God called, prepared and led an ordinary young man to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ to nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries.
Are you praying for a loved one to be saved? Someone who shows no interest in Jesus Christ?
Jesus taught that we are to pray and never give up (Luke 18:1). More than seven decades ago, God transformed a farm boy in Charlotte, North Carolina, in answer to prayer. You may see God answer your prayers in the same fashion. ©2009 BGEA