Lausanne leaders Michael Oh, Doug Birdsall, Michael Cassidy, and Blair Carlson share their unique reflections on being ministered to and working with the late Rev Billy Graham, Founder of the Lausanne Movement, who went to be with the Lord on 21 February 2018 at the age of 99. (Read Lausanne’s full news release here, including Rev Graham’s statement to participants in the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 2010)
We invite you to share your own tributes and reflections in the comments below as we honor and celebrate the life of Billy Graham.
Tribute from Michael Oh – Global Executive Director / CEO
When I was with Billy Graham in July 2013, I asked him, ‘What are you most looking forward to when you go to heaven?’ To my surprise and delight, he replied, ‘Seeing my wife Ruth. I was really in love with her. She was a woman of God.’
That was a precious moment to see into Billy’s heart. The Lord used him to pour out love to tens, even hundreds of millions in his gospel preaching. Many of us still remember the time we experienced a Billy Graham crusade; mine was in Philadelphia in 1992. But in that moment with Billy in 2013, I saw that his global gospel influence was grounded in a loving heart—filled with the love of Christ and poured out to many, starting with his wife Ruth.
In fact, in an interview with Newsweek magazine in 2006, he was asked about the most enduring impact of his remarkable global ministry. To the surprise of his interviewer, Billy replied that perhaps his most significant contribution was the 1974 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization and the resulting Lausanne Movement.
Billy Graham lived a full and astoundingly impactful life spanning over 70 years of ministry and reaching many countries around the world. But the Lausanne Movement stood out to him as one of the closest to his heart. In fact, in an interview with Newsweek magazine in 2006, he was asked about the most enduring impact of his remarkable global ministry. To the surprise of his interviewer, Billy replied that perhaps his most significant contribution was the 1974 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization and the resulting Lausanne Movement.
When I asked him, ‘Why did you start Lausanne?’ he replied, ‘I travelled the whole world meeting such wonderful leaders. But I found that they didn’t know each other.’ Billy’s friendships with thousands of global leaders and his shared heart for global evangelization led to the 1974 First International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, and the subsequent establishment of the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization (known today as the Lausanne Movement).
Michael Oh, Billy Graham, and Leighton Ford in 2013
Today more than ever, this is our challenge and blessing: to faithfully steward the gospel commission to the whole world and to the end of the age. That is a stewardship given to us not by Billy Graham, but by our Lord. But it was Billy whom the Lord used to help galvanize global evangelical leaders to work together toward that cause. Why Lausanne? As Billy Graham said in 1974, ‘That the earth may hear His voice!’
Tribute from Doug Birdsall – Honorary Co-Chair
From the days of childhood, as I would climb into my top bunk at bedtime, I would frequently tune in my old Emerson vacuum tube radio to listen to Billy Graham preach on Sunday nights on his ‘Hour of Decision’ program.
A month after I graduated from high school, I had the opportunity to hear him speak in person at his 1971 Crusade at McCormick Place. I vividly remember getting chills up and down my spine as Billy gave the invitation at the end of his message. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I witnessed men and women by the hundreds get up from their seats all across that vast auditorium and stream forward to receive Christ. Later that night, as I rode the train back to Peoria, I met the woman who would be my wife, Jeanie. Thank you, Billy!
In 1974 I heard about the upcoming International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne through Leighton Ford, who would become a lifelong friend and mentor. At that time, I could not have imagined that thirty years later, I would be appointed to serve as the Chairman of the Lausanne Movement. Nor could I have dreamed that someday I would have the opportunity to interact with Billy Graham and John Stott, the two giants of global evangelicalism in the latter half of the 20th century.
Leighton Ford, Doug Birdsall, and Billy Graham: executive chairs and honorary chairs of the Lausanne Movement, as well as chairs for the three Lausanne congresses (II, III, and I respectively).
The first time I visited Billy at his old log home with Leighton, the very first thing Billy asked me was ‘How’s John?’ This should not have surprised me because just a year earlier when I first met John Stott in London on Lausanne-related matters, his first question had been ‘How’s Billy?’ Whenever I met with one of them, they invariably asked after the other. On one occasion, John Stott told me he would like to see Billy Graham one more time on this earth. I coordinated arrangements for them to meet at the Graham’s home on Stott’s next trip to the States. Unfortunately, John Stott had a fall and broke his hip shortly before that eagerly anticipated reunion. Thus, the two old soldiers did not have the opportunity to meet here for a final meeting.
Now, let’s return to my first meeting with Billy Graham. Towards the end of our time together, I told Billy that I wanted to ask one more question. I told him that I had frequently heard him refer to the ‘Spirit of Lausanne’. I asked him what that oft-used phrase was intended to imply.
A broad smile came across that handsome old face. Billy’s eyes lit up as he leaned forward in his chair and said, ‘The Spirit of Lausanne? Well it’s the spirit of humility and friendship, study and prayer, partnership and hope! Yes, that’s the Spirit of Lausanne, that’s how I’ve always understood it!’
Billy Graham embodied those qualities. It begins with humility, and it ends in hope.
Billy is now re-united with Ruth and with John Stott and with all the great and glorious cloud of witnesses. I can imagine that he has now amended his understanding of the Spirit of Lausanne, ‘It begins with humility and it ends with joy—eternal joy.’ He has entered into the joy of his reward. Thanks be to God!
Tribute from Michael Cassidy – Honorary Co-Chair
It is with very deep personal grief and heart-rending sadness that I learned of the Going Home to Glory of Billy Graham. I came to Christ at university through a student converted at a Billy Graham outreach at Harringay in 1954. I witnessed his evangelism when he came to Cambridge in 1955, and I had an instant hero. My call into evangelism in the cities of Africa happened at Madison Square Garden in 1957. And ever thereafter Billy Graham and John Stott became the two dominant influences in my life and ministry as African Enterprise developed. My personal debt to this giant of giants is therefore incalculable.
But the extraordinary thing is that literally multitudes of other Gospel People around the world can claim Billy Graham as either their immediate or ultimate agent in conversion or the inspirational fountainhead of their ministries. In our time this is surely without precedent or equal. His evangelistic ministry of incomparable success, spanning the globe for decades, has secured for him a place of distinction in the whole sweep of church history.
Then there is Billy Graham’s steadfast and gracious leadership of the worldwide evangelical movement generally and the Lausanne Movement specifically. This has been a sure and steadfast anchor for millions into biblical faithfulness, watered with love, humility, and graciousness. It has also inspired multitudes, myself included, into evangelistic zeal.
Words cannot express or measure what Billy Graham has meant to both church and world in our time. We therefore have to be content with lifting a deep Deo Gloria, along with profound thanksgiving, for the life and work of this most special and humble servant of the Lord.
And to all in his family and close colleagues in the Billy Graham Association, we extend our deepest sympathy and our great love at this time of immeasurable loss.
Michael Cassidy, Billy Graham and Walter Smith at the South African Congress on Mission and Evangelism, Durban, 1973.
Tribute from Blair Carlson – Congress Director, Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization (Cape Town 2010)
I remember being with Mr Graham in Moscow at the Peace Conference in 1984, where he had been invited with the Dalai Lama, the Pope’s representative from the Vatican, and all the world’s eminent religious leaders to discuss world peace. On his first morning in the former USSR, while we were reviewing the schedule for the day, Mr Graham abruptly stopped and said, ‘Blair, I want you to mark me today. At every event I want you to mark me to make sure I clearly present the gospel.’ Into the cacophony of human wisdom and religious talk, he consistently brought the truth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, as the answer to the need of every human heart.
Billy Graham was a man of broad interests, but with one narrow focus—proclaiming the gospel message and inviting people to a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Whether on the world stage or walking around unnoticed in his baseball hat, his heart was the same. Following Mission ’89 in London, I learned that while getting lunch in Hyde Park with a colleague, he spoke to a young woman working at the hotdog stand. Later, the girl’s father told of her amazing return to the Lord as a result of being reminded of what the Lord Jesus did for humankind on the cross.
Billy Graham’s passion to proclaim Christ was far-reaching. Perhaps this can be seen most clearly in his founding of the Lausanne Movement, among the first to connect international and local leaders toward the end of global evangelization. What Mr Graham began gave birth to other similarly international evangelistic initiatives like Mission Africa.
I started to recount the details of Cape Town 2010: the amazing program, the talented speakers, the size of the gathering. Mr Graham interrupted me and said, ‘Just tell me, are the Congress participants telling the people in their countries about the Lord Jesus Christ?’
Following Cape Town 2010, The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, Mr Graham asked me to come to his home in Montreat, North Carolina, to give a report in my role as Congress Director. He was frail, but sharp in mind. After we reminisced about some of the many significant memories from past missions, I started to recount the details of Cape Town 2010: the amazing program, the talented speakers, the size of the gathering. Mr Graham interrupted me and said, ‘Just tell me, are the Congress participants telling the people in their countries about the Lord Jesus Christ?’
To me the lasting legacy of knowing Mr. Graham over a period of some 40 years was his tenacious commitment to the gospel. He just wanted everyone in all the world to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Do you have a story about Rev Billy Graham? We invite you to share your own tribute or reflection in the comments below.