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A Gentle, Warm Pull
Graham crusades leave an eternal legacy.

The cover story of the July/August 2009 issue of Faith Today honoured Billy Graham and his impact on the personal lives of Canadians and the whole movement of Christian ministries in Canada.

Billy Graham in Winnipeg, 1967.

In “The Man Next Door,” Karen Stiller interviewed leaders who point to the key elements of Graham’s success: his personal integrity and his insistence on denominational co-operation for each of his campaigns. (He personally led about 13 in Canada since 1955.) These also provided the seeds for many co-operative efforts in the future, including the eventual gathering to form The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in 1964.

Even Protestants and Roman Catholics, who may not have crossed the street then to say hello, found themselves on the same planning committees. These connections around evangelistic events spun into respect and co-operation, which later became particularly important for social action interventions.

I, too, am thankful for this humble man and the sacrifices he has made in his life to follow God’s call. My memory of the first Billy Graham crusade in Toronto is more visceral than accurate.

Children feel things. Everything seems stronger when they try to make sense out of these emotions. My mother had taken us up and up to the very top of the building where we found ourselves in a wide-open space filled with thousands and thousands of people. I had never seen so many people in one place.

My best friend Eleanor, her brother Brian and I tried to sit in our seats but struggled. It was hard to concentrate. Energy seemed to swirl around us. It pulsed, sparkled, vibrated – somehow tying us together. We couldn’t miss the choir all dressed the same and filling a huge space. When they stood up to sing, it felt like a mighty army preparing for majesty to appear. But out of all this, only one man stood alone.

His voice was strong and commanding yet personal. He spoke to us as if he knew us. Oh, there were lots of things I didn’t understand but I felt I could trust him, and I wasn’t alone. When he asked who wanted to give their lives to Jesus Christ, I felt warm inside. It hadn’t been long since I had taken that step myself at a Christian camp. I knew what it meant and was happy for having done so. Already I was feeling changes in my life. I didn’t feel as afraid of things because I knew I could talk to God.

That day, Brian went forward. I think my mother was surprised. She had to leave Eleanor and me and take the long trip down to the once empty space that was already filled with people. Eventually we lost sight of them. But inside it felt as if we were all joining hands. Eleanor and I hugged each other as we watched and waited. There was a gentle, warm pull as we heard so many repeat the words together: “I am sorry for my sins.... I believe Jesus died in my place.... I want Him to be my personal Saviour....”

Not many years later, Brian died of a brain tumour. It gives me great comfort to remember the commitment he made that day.

Gail Reid is managing editor of Faith Today and director of communications for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

Originally published in Faith Today, July/August 2009.

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The Man Next Door




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