When I was a kid, three Billys defined my life. Uncle Billy was one. My dad’s brother lived outside of Lewiston, Idaho. Billy Crayton was another. My best friend lived down the street. And then there was Billy Graham. According a radio broadcast our family listened to every Sunday night, the famous preacher could be reached in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The announcer reminded us “that’s all the address you need.”
In addition to tuning in to “The Hour of Decision” each week, our family subscribed to Decision magazine published by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. My pastor-father subscribed to Christianity Today, a magazine founded by Billy Graham.
Like many families throughout America, we watched Billy Graham’s crusades on television religiously. I could mimic the evangelist’s familiar phrases framed in his signature southern dialect.
“The Bible says … ” “God loves you …” “The buses will wait …”
When I was a senior in high school, I was given a scrapbook designed to collect classroom memories. Each page had a theme. One page was titled, “The Influencers.”
I pasted the page with pictures of my dad, my sixth grade teacher, my maternal grandfather, a favorite uncle, Sallman’s Head of Christ and Billy Graham. Each one had been a key influencer in my personal development.
As a young pastor with a penchant for writing, I submitted one of my first faith-oriented articles to Billy Graham’s nationally syndicated periodical. Imagine my delight when I received a letter from the editor of Decision magazine indicating my piece had been accepted for publication.
In one of my first ministry assignments, I served a church that was in the same area where Billy Graham’s nephew was a youth pastor. Kevin and I spent time together. His references to his famous uncle only served to validate my respect for “a friend I had never met.”
Through the years I began collecting memorabilia related to my ministry mentor. My collection includes an original portrait taken by Mr. Graham by a Seattle photographer the year I was born, a Christmas card sent out by the Graham family, vintage news magazines with Billy on the cover, an autographed copy of Living Letters — a program from the famous Madison Square Garden Crusade in 1957 (that lasted 16 weeks) — a crusade songbook and an 8-by-10 color photograph of Billy preaching at the funeral of President Nixon with the living presidents and their wives hanging on his every word.
When word of Billy Graham’s death was announced, I retrieved my collection from storage. I was invited to display it at Covenant Shores where I currently work.
As I arranged the memorabilia related to Billy’s life and ministry in the display case, it occurred to me that the most significant part of my collection is not behind glass. It is in my heart.
Thanks to this man I never had the privilege of meeting, I have a settled assurance that God loves me “just as I am.”
Rev. Greg Asimakoupoulos is the full-time chaplain at Covenant Shores Retirement Community on Mercer Island. He is the faith and values columnist for the Mercer Island Reporter and contributes original poetry each Blue Friday to KOMO news radio.