On a cold November night in 1983, 31-year-old Franklin Graham was asked to preach for the first time in his life. Longtime friend and evangelist John Wesley White urged Franklin to share the pulpit for one night.
“To Graham, whose job as head of relief organization Samaritan’s Purse often put him in bullet-dodging, life-and-death situations, the task was a daunting one,” says the intro to Franklin’s book, Rebel With a Cause. “Not only did he have to overcome the pressure of following in his father’s mighty footsteps, but he also had to overcome a rebellious past.”
Although that first night did not turn out well, White felt sure that Franklin had a gift like his father’s and finally persuaded him to preach again in 1989 at an evangelistic event in Juneau, Alaska.
This time, the people responded. “They packed the place, drunks and prostitutes,” said White. “He gave the invitation and they poured down. It was a miracle and he knew it.”
Since that day in 1989, he has preached to more than 7 million people in cities around the world. “For more than 60 years,” says Franklin, “our calling at BGEA has been to ‘preach the Gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power’ (1 Corinthians 1:17). Wherever I go, whether to a modern city in Europe or Asia, or a rural village in Africa or South America, I always proclaim Jesus Christ as ‘the way and the truth and the life’ (John 14:6).”
The Good Samaritan
Franklin also lives out the Gospel in his role as an international humanitarian leader. In the summer of 1973, Dr. Bob Pierce, the founder of Samaritan’s Purse, met his eventual successor, an adventurous young student—Franklin Graham—with a growing heart for world missions. Intrigued by his many stories from the field, Franklin began to spend more and more time with the seasoned Christian statesman.
In 1975, he accompanied Bob on a life-changing tour of some of the world’s neediest mission fields, where Franklin saw the utter despair of the people. God had captured his heart for missions.
“I’ve been called to the slums of the streets and the ditches of the world,” said Franklin.
In 1978, Bob Pierce died of leukemia, and nearly 18 months later, Franklin Graham became the President and Chairman of the Board of Samaritan’s Purse. Through decades of earthquakes, hurricanes, wars and famine, Franklin has led the ministry in following the biblical example of the Good Samaritan all across the globe.
The Rebel Years
Franklin’s father, Billy, shared this account* of how God first brought him to ministry:
“In a radio interview not many years ago, Franklin told about his rebel years of drinking, drugs, smoking, girls and fast driving. These were things he said his mother and I knew nothing about—or so he thought. And he said he never forgot a conversation I had with him in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1974. I assured him of our love, no matter what he did, where he went, or how he ended up.
“He knew that he could always phone us, collect, from anywhere in the world, and that whenever he wanted to come home, the door would always be open. He also knew we would never stop praying for him. It was actually during a trip to the Middle East, while in Jerusalem, that he made his firm decision to follow Christ.
“[One] memorable occasion symbolizes for me the fulfillment of our prayers and the Lord’s persistent pursuit. On January 10, 1982, in a church in Tempe, Arizona … after preaching the sermon, I joined several other ministers in laying my hands on the head of William Franklin Graham III to ordain him for the Gospel ministry.”
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association appointed Franklin Graham CEO in 2000 and president of the organization in 2001.
But Franklin has an even more important role: father. Franklin and his wife, Jane, have four children—Will, Roy, Edward, and Cissie—and now eight grandchildren.
Read a tribute written by his son, Will: “When I think about my dad, Franklin Graham, I don’t think about the public Franklin Graham who stands in front of the world speaking on national television or preaching in large stadiums.
“I think about my dad who led me to Jesus Christ as a young boy,” says Will. “I think about my dad who fiercely protected his children from the prying eyes of others until we were old enough to handle it on our own. I think about my dad who offered strong discipline, accompanied by incredible love. I think about my dad who was the example of a godly husband. My dad is my friend.”
A Simple Message
Through the years, all three generations of Grahams have stayed true to the simple message of the Gospel. “I preach a simple Gospel, a message that some say is not sophisticated enough for today’s world,” says Franklin. “They wonder how the actions of a Man who lived 2,000 years ago could have any impact on their life today. The truth of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection appears as foolishness to them.
“But for those who believe—those who freely admit they are sinners in need of a Savior—the Gospel is ‘the power of God for … salvation’ (Romans 1:16). It’s that simple.”
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*From Just As I Am by Billy Graham