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American Christian Evangelist Billy Graham Dies

(VOA): American Christian evangelist Billy Graham, often viewed as the most influential preacher of the 20th century, died Wednesday at the age of 99. Graham for decades waved a bible over his head as he preached to more than 200 million people in 185 countries and territories. He staged massive rallies — the Billy Graham Crusades — that were attended by thousands of people, and reached millions more via TV and satellite links. During seven decades of preaching, Graham declared that belief and acceptance of Jesus Christ was the only answer to humanity's troubles. Graham conducted these crusades on every continent except Antarctica, in person and via satellite. He preached in Soviet-bloc nations before the fall of communism. And in the winter of 1994, Graham delivered sermons in China and North Korea, where he also met with those nations' political and religious leaders. As a result of his world travels, the quintessential American preacher concluded that Christianity is no longer a strictly Western religion "It's stronger in Africa and Latin America and in Asia than it is in Europe, by far. In Europe, it's still called Christianity, but it doesn't have much strength and much power. And I was in Rome and had a talk with the pope about it and I think he would agree to that — that the real life of Christianity now is in what we call the third world," Graham once said. The evangelist was a spiritual adviser and acquaintance of every U.S. president from Harry Truman in the 1940s to Barack Obama in recent years. Graham was often asked to pray or preach at public national U.S. events, such as inaugurations of new presidents. He met with world leaders and was the first prominent evangelist to carry his Christian message behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. Graham had been ailing in recent years and died at his home in Montreat, North Carolina. He rarely appeared in public in recent years, although he attended a 95th birthday celebration in November 2013 where real estate magnate Donald Trump, before he ran for president, paid tribute, as did other prominent figures. Upon Graham's death, Trump said on Twitter, "The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man. In what Graham's son Franklin said was Billy Graham's last message to America, a video was played at the birthday celebration, with the aging preacher saying America was "in great need of a spiritual awakening." Graham's conservative Christian message presaged that of other U.S. televangelists, although none has reached his prominence. In his prime, well before he ended his crusades in 2005, Graham's booming, quick-speaking style won him admiration throughout the U.S. heartland, where church attendance on Sundays was, and still is in many places, a given at the start of a new week. He repudiated racial segregation at his rallies in 1953 at the start of racial protests and violence that roiled the U.S. through the 1960s; however, Graham was not a prominent figure in the country's civil rights movement, although he once bailed the most prominent civil rights leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., out of jail after he had been arrested at a protest demonstration. Graham was born in 1918 to devoutly Christian parents on a North Carolina dairy farm. He said he accepted Christ when he was 16 and began preaching two years later, under mentoring of a traveling evangelist who called him to a Christian revival meeting. Tall and handsome with clear blue eyes, Graham was ordained as a Southern Baptist minister in 1940. Within a decade, his preaching style was winning attention. Newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst ordered his San Francisco paper, along with other papers under his control, to give the budding evangelist extra coverage. Reporters called him "God's machine gun." Graham's focus was on spiritually saving lives, calling people to repent for their sins and accept Jesus into their lives. He believed in a literal heaven and hell. At the end of every crusade sermon, he invited people — whom he called inquirers — to come forward to seek salvation through belief in Jesus. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, would respond at his rallies. Graham said he was not discouraged that more than 2,000 years after the birth of Jesus, the majority of the world's population was not Christian. In Photos: Billy Graham

(This story has not been edited by N24 staff and is Voice Of America auto-generated from a RSS feed)

Published Date: Thursday, February 22nd, 2018 | 05:45 AM

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