2: Justin Allgaier

2: Justin Allgaier

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 2 •

NASCAR driver and 2008 ARCA Re/Max Series Champion

The first time I heard about Billy Graham, I was pretty young, probably about ten years old. I grew up in the Church, and they talked about him a lot at Sunday school. The two teachers who taught me were big Billy Graham fans. He actually went to Wheaton College, just a three-hour drive from where I lived in Riverton, Illinois. Even though I was young, I felt close to him. I think the part that impressed me was that a lot of roads were paved because of him. Compared to the average community church, his crusades helped make evangelical Christianity more mainstream. Even if there were tens, hundreds, or thousands in a congregation — or however many might go to a local church — there really wasn’t anybody out there like Billy Graham, whose preaching reached millions around the world.

I had achieved personal success as a NASCAR driver, already winning titles at fifteen, which had made me a celebrity while I was still in high school, but it was Billy Graham who allowed me to see that one person’s voice can make a real difference.

I think the biggest thing that I like is that he wasn’t afraid to go anywhere with his teaching, even to communist countries like North Korea and the Soviet Union. A lot of people just go with what’s politically popular. When Jesus dwelt among us, He preached everywhere, to anyone who was willing to listen.

Billy Graham’s preaching during the Vietnam War also influenced me, inspiring me to stand up and talk about what I believe in. When Billy Graham visited the troops, many critics wanted him to take a political stand on the Vietnam War. Those who protested against it demanded that he side with them. Those who supported it wanted the same. As he wrote in his autobiography, when reporters asked if he was in favor of the war or against it during one of his trips to Vietnam, he told them, “My only desire is to minister to our troops by my prayers and spiritual help wherever I can.” I just thought that was very cool, and some of the things he said were pretty powerful, even though they were very controversial at the time.

When I moved to North Carolina in 2008, it was amazing to see the following that he had. I was already a fan, and with him having gone to school in my own home state of Illinois and my now living in Charlotte where the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is headquartered, it is as if he’s been a continuing presence throughout my life. But to actually arrive in Charlotte and see the following that he has here is unbelievable. It seems like there aren’t many people in the community who haven’t been touched in some way by him. It’s like everybody you run into has a story about him. You don’t normally have that effect on a big city.

Religious figures typically come and go. Their popularity peaks quickly, whereas Billy Graham has been popular for decades. I think that speaks volumes about the person he is, and how cool it is that he could have done that. I’m twenty-six years old, and Billy Graham is in his nineties, and I’ve been very lucky to be alive at the same time as him.

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