Basin clergymen remember Billy Graham

Odessa and Midland ministers said Wednesday, after the legendary Dr. Billy Graham died in North Carolina, that Graham had greatly inspired them and was one of the most important evangelists in history.

CrossRoads Fellowship Senior Pastor Griffin Jones recalled leading a group to Graham’s televised crusade in April 1997 in San Antonio, where they were among 250,000 people to hear the charismatic Southern Baptist preacher during four nights in the Alamodome.

“I think he was the pinnacle of a Godly Christian leader who was filled with dignity, grace and integrity,” said Jones, who was then teaching the adults’ Sunday school class and serving as an associate pastor at Temple Baptist Church. “It was an amazing experience to see how he had a message that was clear but always empowered by God’s spirit to touch people’s hearts.

“He was committed to the authority and inspiration of the scriptures, which he really believed were God’s words. Second, he had a genuine heart for people who did not know Christ.”

Asked what else made Graham’s ministry so successful, Jones said, “He said he never converted anybody, but God used his spirit and word through him to bring people to Christ.

“Dr. Graham said, ‘I’m just a spokesman,’ and I think authenticity is always attractive. As people listened to him and watched him, he had this winsome personality. I think Jesus was like that. The word ‘integrity’ is the most appropriate to describe him.”

Dr. Byron McWilliams, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church, said by email from a mission trip to Canada that Graham “has been a hero of mine for decades.

“He was a faithful man of the Gospel who preached to many millions,” McWilliams said. “Not until believers get to Heaven will we see the full extent of Dr. Graham’s ministry and influence. He had a way of preaching the message of salvation so that the greatest intellect as well as the child could both understand and come to faith in Christ. Truly, he was a powerful force for Christianity worldwide.

“My prayer now is that God will raise up thousands of faithful preachers who follow his example and preach the Word.”

The Rev. Wayne Keller of Midland, former pastor of Alamo Heights Baptist Church and former interim pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Odessa, had just been baptized at age 8 when his parents and grandparents took him to see Graham in the early summer of 1950 at the Louisiana College football stadium in Pineville.

“Next to the Apostle Paul, he was the greatest figure proclaiming the Gospel,” Keller said. “Several things distinguished his ministry. First, it was never about him, it was always about his being God’s servant. He preached a simple message of God’s love that transcended all cultures. Then he gave a formula for new Christians to follow: practice God’s presence, believe his promises and depend on God for everything.”

Noting that Graham had just come to national prominence with his first major crusade in the fall of 1949 in Los Angeles, Keller said, “He taught people that they were not on their own when they became Christians because the Holy Spirit came into them and enabled them to live that Christian life.

“It was primarily because of his humility and absolute commitment to the Lord. His ego never got in the way of the Holy Spirit, and his message came so much from the heart that you couldn’t help but listen to him. Across cultures, languages and religions, Dr. Graham would go anywhere to preach the Gospel to anyone. He was a risk-taker who went to places where people said, ‘You can’t go,’ like North Korea and Russia.

“We just send ahead a great old soldier.”