14: Dick Capen

14: Dick Capen

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 14 •
DICK CAPEN

Former U.S. Ambassador to Spain and publisher of The Miami Herald; business consultant, author and speaker

It has been my privilege to be associated with Billy Graham both professionally and personally for over forty years. Friends often ask me what Billy Graham is like: one-on-one, off camera, while not preaching. They are curious about who this man is up close and personal.

How do you capture the essence of the most respected leader on the world stage? How do you sum up such a powerful man of God who has written more than thirty books and preached to millions on five continents over a span of seven decades?

Well, the answer is amazingly simple. Whether he is preaching to a live audience of 100,000 or sitting in my living room, Billy Graham remains the same: loving, unselfish, gentle and humble.

Billy Graham is absolutely self-effacing.

He simply does not fully comprehend the enormity of his legacy — it transcends time and geography. When conversing with him it is difficult to look beyond the inspiring aura his presence projects so that you can absorb the reality that you are talking with the most respected, influential religious leader of our time. Instead, he comes across as your closest friend.

Billy is down-to-earth, clear thinking, always interested in others and reluctant to talk about himself. His influence cuts across politics and poverty. His message is timeless. He describes his life’s work this way: “I am a simple proclaimer of the Gospel of Jesus.” In his eyes, all the glory belongs to God.

Over the years I have had a front row seat on Billy’s ministry. I have marveled at how profoundly he has given hope to millions around the globe who have no hope. Through what he would describe as God-given responsibility he has led people out of the depths of depression and the ravages of natural disaster. He has offered freedom of the soul for millions trapped behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War while uplifting thousands of people held as political prisoners suffering unbelievable brutality at the hands of dictators.

Billy’s ministry has leveraged Internet technology allowing access to his message in the most remote jungles of Africa, in huts on mountaintops high in the Andes and in isolated Alaskan villages. He has consoled our nation’s leaders in the loneliness of the Oval Office. He has led our nation in prayer in times of crisis and inspired our best during Inaugural transitions of power. Though for years he has been considered one the world’s most respected leaders Billy insists that the credit for it all belongs to God.

Billy Graham has been called “God’s Ambassador” for good reason. He has preached to more than 215 million people in live audiences in 185 countries and territories spanning five continents around the globe. Hundreds of millions more have heard his message on television, radio and via satellite. Today, sermons he delivered as long as fifty years ago have been lip-synced into more than eighty different languages and dialects. These translations flow beyond any boundaries of culture, tradition or restrictions on religious expression.

Even as his physical energy wanes, Billy’s mind remains sharp. He continues to write books, pray for those in need, and plan yet another major outreach of God’s love. This one is tied to his upcoming ninety-fifth birthday year.

As I read through the stories by so many familiar names in Billy Graham & Me, from the good folks at Chicken Soup for the Soul, the words to describe this humble man sound like a massive choir singing a chorus of trust, respect and faithfulness. That simply is who he is.

When I served as publisher of The Miami Herald, I met regularly with Billy Graham. For me Billy was an enormous source of inspiration, love and commitment. With his insight and encouragement — and what an encourager he is — we greatly expanded our newspaper’s coverage of religion news and ran interesting profiles on individuals who led faith-based programs in South Florida.

I cherish my personal friendship with Billy, which dates back to early 1969 when I served as a key assistant to the then Secretary of Defense Mel Laird. Billy traveled to Washington and came to the Pentagon to dedicate the Memorial Chapel in the Pentagon. From that time forward our association has grown closer.

At my invitation Billy met with dozens of families of Vietnam POWS and missing men, a cause I led while in government. His involvement was comforting to all those affected by this prolonged war that we worked hard to end.

Over the years Billy sought my advice on media matters and issues of international diplomacy. He asked for my help in reaching more of the senior media executives in America, whom he believed could do much more to underscore the faith-based foundation of our nation.

At his invitation, I have served for many years on the board of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the organization he founded in 1950. He insisted that his ministry be managed with absolute integrity. At that time, 215 million dollars or more was raised annually from ordinary people who gave on average about thirty dollars a year in support of his ministry. His dedicated volunteer board of men and women usually had to plead with him to accept even modest increases in salary.

In 1992, despite recovering from a major illness, Billy insisted on flying to Washington to pray with some 500 friends and government leaders who had gathered at the State Department for my swearing-in ceremony as U.S. Ambassador to Spain. My wife Joan held for this occasion a special leather-bound Bible that he had given us years earlier. Billy, President George H. W. Bush and Juan Carlos, the King of Spain, each signed that Bible in honor of my appointment.

Billy and I have prayed together in both good times and bad. When our grandson died five years ago, he was one of the first to step forward and offer prayer for our family. He is always there for his friends and family, especially in times of loss or illness, showing sincere warmth and concern.

Billy contributed the foreword for my book on faith and personal values, Finish Strong. When I ran The Miami Herald, the annual convention of newspaper publishers was held in South Florida. This is an organization accustomed to hearing from world leaders, including heads of state, corporate chiefs and the like. But inviting a religious leader on their program? Never in my memory. Billy’s keynote address was a first for the group — and for Billy. To this day, almost thirty years later, publishers recall Billy’s presentation as one of the most inspiring ever.

I have attended many of Billy’s evangelistic crusades over the years. On several occasions, I was invited to sit on the infield platform behind him. It was overwhelming to look out at the overflowing crowd of as many as 90,000 people packed into the stadium from ground level on up to the third upper deck. Many came with needs and deep hurt. They listened intently as Billy spoke. Part of Billy’s gift rests in the sense that one gets that he is speaking directly to you.

It is a powerful moment when those present are invited to step forward in front of the podium to make a faith commitment. Hundreds — sometimes thousands — make that long walk from high above, down dozens of steps and through long hallways, onto the field to humbly confess their decision to follow Jesus. Billy has touched each soul. In the span of his public ministry, more than three million individuals have come to The Lord in this way.

Untold millions more watching these meetings as they are broadcast on network and syndicated television get on their knees in the privacy of their living rooms to similarly accept God’s offer of love and forgiveness. Billy has spoken directly to them too, all through the powerful, yet humble, message delivered by one of the most charismatic preachers of all time.

For over fifty years Billy Graham has lived in a small log home located on a remote mountain in western North Carolina. This is where his wife Ruth committed early in their marriage to provide him with a loving home and family while he evangelized the world. Today he lives there alone with caregivers. Ruth died several years ago and her loss to Billy is profound.

Though in his mid-nineties, each day — with the help of his incredibly devoted assistant Reverend David Bruce — Billy prays, reads the Bible and works on the manuscript for his next book. He finds his greatest joy in knowing that Jesus Christ has promised him eternal life, one without pain, where he will one day be united forever with his Savior and his beloved partner, Ruth.

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