Listen: Dwayne Jeffries chats with American gospel preacher Will Graham.
There are few names in the Christian world better known than that of Dr Billy Graham, the American evangelist famous for his worlwide preaching tours throughout the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s.
Imagine, then, what it must be like to be his grandson, knowing that you’re called by God to follow in his footsteps.
That’s a reality for Will Graham, vice president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Will continues his grandfathers work of evangelism, and in 2014 came to Australia to reach people with the gospel message of Jesus in a series of public meetings in regional areas.
During his visit he came into the Open House studios for a chat with Dwayne Jeffries, and in his distinctive southern drawl, he shared about growing up the grandson of the famous preacher, how he committed his own life to Christ, and some of the highlights of his ministry as an evangelist.
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Speaking of his formative years, Will said that at a very young age he knew God had “set him aside” for Christian ministry.
“You look back and connect the dots, and one of the first ‘dots’ I remember is a teacher asking us to draw a picture of something you want to do in life, ‘what do you want to be?’
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“Most of the boys drew [pictures of] American football but I drew an open Bible, and a pair of headphones that you use in aviation. I wanted to fly around and tell people about Jesus. So even at a young age, God had placed this in my heart.”
Do Big Evangelistic Meetings Still Work?
Asked about whether the big ‘crusade’ style meetings made popular by Dr Graham in the 1950s and 60s, still work today. Will is convinced they are still important.
“Evangelism is always relative…we use different means to reach new generations.” he said. “But the crusade model where we gather in big stadiums still works. Peolpe say it doesn’t work it does. We’ve worked like that not only in the united states but here in austrlaia. Some of the places I’ve gone here like Moree, Gunnedah, Tamworth, Orange, Bathurst, Lithgow, they don’t have stadiums, so we meet in city halls. And we’ve had wonderful events and a huge, great number of people come to Christ in those events. We praise God for that.”
“We don’t just hold events and say ‘hey, come to our event’, he added. “A year ahead we’ve been working in the community and getting locals to invite their friends.”
It’s the model his grandfather used, and in fact 80 per cent of the people making decisions to follow Christ in Billy Graham’s crusades, were invited along by a Christian friend.
The Gospel Message that Saves Lives – Literally
Reflecting on some of the highlights of his travels in Australia, Will spoke of his friendship with former deputy prime minister John Anderson, a man of strong Christian faith, who taught him a lot about Australia’s culture, as well as the impact of the gospel on a woman and her toddler.
“I remember preaching and I could see her and her small child running around, and after we were done I went to Macdonald’s to eat, and she was there,” Will said. “We started talking, and she said, ‘a couple of weeks ago I had made plans to commit suicide, and not only to take my life but my daughter’s life. I’d made a lot of bad cohoices and given up in life. But tonight I realised God has a plan and a purpose for me and I re-dedicated my life to Christ.
“That’s what the gospel does, it changes things.”
“She was estranged from her husband at the time and now they’ve recommitted their marriage together, are worshipping the Lord and looking at going into ministry together.”
When God Works Without a Preacher
Will also recalled a time when he was invited to preach at a church, and had spent much time preparing an indepth sermon, but the musician played overtime and took up most of Will’s preaching opportunity. With only five minutes left to speak, Will shared some simple stories of a his recent work in India – and to his surprise, a married couple came forward to give their lives to Christ.
“They said ‘we want to give our lives to Jesus’, but I didn’t get to preach! It just reminded me, ‘God you don’t me!’, because God works – as long as you’re faithful to Him, God works in peoples’ lives. That’s what that couple needed to hear, just a simple five minute testimony of what I saw on the mission field, and they realised they needed Jesus in their life. And I didn’t preach a sermon!
“So God just reminded me ‘Will, I don’t need you, but you should count it a privilege to serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. God doesn’t need me but chooses me to allow me to be part of what He’s doing. I’ve just got to be faithful in presenting the gospel.”