26: Rich DeVos

26: Rich DeVos

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 26 •
RICH DEVOS

Businessman, author, co-founder of Amway and owner of the NBA Orlando Magic basketball team

I have been fortunate to meet many times with my very good friend Billy Graham and get to know him personally as a man of great wisdom and deep conviction, integrity, a talent for effectively raising funds to spread the Gospel, and, of course, a gift of a preacher’s voice that has reached millions of souls for Christ.

Despite his hectic schedule and heavy demands, Billy has always found time to share his wisdom with me in private talks that I will always cherish. I remember one particular meeting when Billy was in Edinburgh during a crusade, and I happened to be in Scotland’s capital at a hotel where Amway, the company I started with Jay Van Andel in 1959, was holding an event. Billy visited me at my hotel and suggested we meet for tea at “a nice quiet spot where we can just sit and chat for a couple of hours.” We spent that special time discussing evangelizing people worldwide, his methods versus other methods, how he raised money, and many other things. I also shared my thoughts about how the Amway business reaches out to new people and brings them in. Billy listens, is open to ideas, considers and discusses. He pays attention to details, which I believe is one of the reasons he has been so successful. Unlike some evangelists who simply want to preach to crowds, Billy takes great care with all the elements of his organization.

I also remember a meeting in my office when Billy was seeking financing for a worldwide evangelism program. As with many of his causes, I helped out because I knew him as a man of integrity. He wasn’t afraid to ask for money and to raise money. He is totally easy to talk to and deal with. He’s equally easy to say no to. Some fundraisers can almost make asking for money awkward — being pushy and making a potential donor feel guilty for not giving. Billy never makes anyone feel uncomfortable.

Billy is also smart enough to get really good people around him. Although he has played a role in fundraising, he never touched the money he raised. No one could question that money was sidetracked or going into Billy Graham’s pocket. Billy was smart enough to keep fundraising and fund management separate. He just received a salary. He set a new standard that way. He has always lived simply and humbly before the Lord.

Billy used to hold crusades in my hometown of Grand Rapids, which is a religious community where he had successful events. He once spoke in my town at a reception for President Gerald Ford, who also was from Grand Rapids. The reception was a big event for a lot of our friends, who were thrilled to meet Billy and shake his hand. President Ford highly respected Billy and was equally easy to chat with and be a friend to.

Like so many people, I also am captivated by Billy’s preaching voice. In person, Billy speaks quietly in a soft voice, but his preaching style reveals his extremely powerful, but still very pleasing, voice. A voice like Billy’s is a gift from God — sweet, strong, warm and enriched by that North Carolina twang.

Billy’s voice, his style and his conviction all make him a compelling preacher. He believes in his message and wants to deliver it to you without pushing it at you. His goal is for people to meet Jesus, but he wants his listeners to be the ones who make the decision. And that’s why he is a great preacher. He makes it easy for people to listen to him.

Billy is a very wise man in all that he does. He is what you would call a good old southern preacher — a great guy and a man of integrity. Everybody loves him, and it’s been my privilege to know him over the years.

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