I never had the opportunity to shake hands with Billy Graham.
A few years back my wife and I were in the Asheville, North Carolina area and had a couple of free hours. We decided to drive to Montreat to see the area where Billy Graham lived. We roamed around the quaint little community for a while. I asked numerous people, "Where does Billy Graham live?" I was amazed at how many people either did not know or were just keeping the community secret from outsiders like us.
We had good friends in Asheville who had told about us about a road leading up a North Carolina mountain and that on the way we would pass George Beverly Shea's house. Shea sang right before Billy Graham preached for many, many years.
I finally found the post office in Montreat and went in and found someone to talk to about my search. He gave me the information I needed. He told me where to go to find the very quiet road that went a long winding way up a steep mountain. We found it and on the way up we saw a house that looked like the one my friend had described as George Beverly Shea's house. I pulled over and my wife said, "Where are you going?" I told her, "I'm going to knock on George Beverly Shea's door. I would give anything to shake hands with him."
I had heard that Franklin Graham had bought Shea a new Chevrolet Suburban. I had also heard that the 95-year-old Shea was pulled over for speeding in that new Suburban. I was told the police officer refused to give Shea a ticket saying, "My mother would never forgive me if I gave a speeding ticket to George Beverly Shea." Low and behold there was a shiny looking new Suburban sitting out behind the house. Only a dummy like me would knock on a famous person's door in hopes that he would actually come to the door. No one came to the door and I suspect that Shea and his wife didn't make a practice of opening their door to strangers. I don't know what I would have said. I probably would have stuttered and said, "Hello, I'm Glenn Mollette. I love hearing you sing." Duh.
I gave up knocking on Shea's door and we proceeded up the winding mountain road. It was a very long way and I was about to give up when suddenly we came to a gate and I knew we were at the entrance to Graham's mountain home. A friend who actually visited in Graham's home said, "Yes, there is a gate but once you drive past that gate you come to a real gate and fence." We didn't drive through that gate but parked the car and walked around a bit. There was nothing to see but beautiful mountain trees and scenery. We were about ready to leave and I said to my wife, "I want to pause a moment and touch this gate for just a bit." The longer I stood there touching that gate, the more tears filled my eyes. My thoughts were, "Oh God if I could just be one percent of the person that Billy Graham is then I would be 100 times more and better than I am today." I have to say it was a profound moment of my life. Finally I backed away from the gate, got in the car and we drove quietly down the mountain road.
What was it about Billy Graham? He was one single person who impacted the planet by everything that he said and did. Many years ago, there was another great preacher by the name of Dwight L. Moody. Moody was said to have shaken two continents for Jesus Christ. Moody is often remembered for saying, "The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to Him. By God's help, I aim to be that man. By God's grace I will be that man," he said. I believe history will attest that Moody became that man. Graham in every way, and even more, became that man Moody aspired to be as well. The Bible tells a story of a woman who had been sick for many years. She had heard that Jesus would be passing by. She did everything to get close to Jesus because she just wanted to touch him. When she did, she was healed and Jesus knew that power had gone out of him to heal the woman. Jesus said, "Your faith has made you well."
Millions of people have had life changing experiences because of Billy Graham. Yet, Graham would be the first to declare that he was simply the messenger. He had a message of pointing people to Jesus Christ. In essence what made Graham so attractive was that he pointed people to the one far greater than he. He preached a simple Bible message of God's love and about an old rugged cross where Jesus died for the sins of the world. He preached about a wonderful place called heaven. Because of Graham's simple message and beautiful Christ-filled life he became America's pastor who many of us grew up loving to hear.
I heard Graham preach several times in Cincinnati, Louisville and Atlanta. My oldest son and I heard him right after he had a fainting spell in Toronto. Word about his failing health was spreading. Graham came on to Atlanta to preach where about 8,000 of us where gathered in the Georgia Dome. He was 80 years old when he marched into that stadium and strongly stood on that platform and powerfully brought his inspiring message. What a day, what a day that was.
What a day it will be when Jesus we shall see. What a day it will also be whenever I get to meet Billy Graham. If anybody is in heaven it surely is Billy Graham. By God's grace and mercy, when I get to heaven I'm going to try again to find him and shake his hand. Of course I will try to find his famous singer George Beverly Shea and also shake hands with him.
Dr. Glenn Mollette is the author of 12 books. His syndicated column is read in all 50 states.