Graham died at his home Wednesday morning from natural causes, according to family sources.
Born in Charlotte in 1918, North Carolina, William Franklin Graham Jr. was the oldest of the four children of William and Morrow Graham. He was raised on a dairy farm, and little in his childhood suggested he would become a world-renowned preacher.
Then at 16, Graham attended a series of revival meetings run by outspoken evangelist Mordecai Ham. The two months he spent listening to Ham’s sermons on sin sparked a spiritual awakening in Graham and prompted him to enrol at Bob Jones College. When the conservative Christian school’s strict doctrine didn’t align with his personal beliefs, he transferred to the Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College of Florida) and joined a Southern Baptist Convention church. He was ordained in 1939.
Graham received additional training at Illinois’ Wheaton College, where he met his future wife, Ruth McCue Bell. They were married for 64 years, until her death in 2007, and had five children.
After serving briefly as the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Western Springs, Illinois, Graham launched his first radio programme, ‘Songs in the Night’, in 1943. Although he left a year later, Graham liked the idea of sharing his message with a wide audience. As noted on his website, Graham took Jesus literally when he said in Mark 16:15: “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.”
Graham was still in his early 30s when entered the public spotlight by giving a series of well-attended “sin-smashing” revival meetings that were held under a circus tent in a Los Angeles parking lot. The press took interest in the charismatic young preacher and began writing articles about him. To get his message to even more people, Graham founded his own ministry, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
He believed that Jesus led a sinless life and that all men were lost and would face God’s judgment. Most importantly, he was convinced he must use “every modern means of communication available” to spread the Gospel throughout the world, and did so in print, on radio and television, online and in person.