57: John Lewis

57: John Lewis

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 57 •
JOHN LEWIS

U.S. Representative (Georgia), civil rights leader and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient

I grew up in Alabama in a very religious Baptist family. We attended Sunday school and went to church every Sunday. I went to college in Nashville, Tennessee, and studied for the ministry there. This was between 1957 and 1963, and it was during this time that I first saw Billy Graham in person. He was conducting a crusade in Nashville, and I was able to speak briefly with him. It wasn’t the first time I had encountered his message. I had watched him on television and heard him on the radio, and I readily identified with him. He was so inspiring and uplifting as he preached his message of hope. I saw him as a man of God, a teacher, and a preacher of the Word. He was very convincing.

Many years later, in 1992, I again met Billy Graham briefly. This was in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Reverend Graham had been invited to the dedication of the Georgia Dome. He talked about the Dome as being one of the wonders of the world. Afterward, I had an opportunity to chat with him. I told him how much I admired his work and all of the good things he had done.

I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but that was not to be the last time I would meet Dr. Graham. And it was the third time that was the real treat.

Three years ago I was invited to Montreat, North Carolina, to speak to a group of Presbyterian college students from all over the Southeast. A member of Billy Graham’s staff saw me there and asked if I would like to meet Billy Graham. Naturally, since my previous meetings with him had been so brief, I said yes, and so arrangements were made for me to visit him at his home in North Carolina.

When he greeted me at his house he still had a solid voice and was very deliberate, hopeful, and optimistic. I felt like I had gone to heaven to be in his presence. He knew everything about me. I kept thanking him for the contribution he had made to create a better society, a better world, and for his sense of faith and hope and for preaching the good news. He kept saying to me, “Thank you, and thank you for all you’ve done.”

We sat in his living room and talked and talked. It’s a beautiful place with a beautiful view of the mountains. He told me everything about the house and how long he had lived there. It was very inspiring. I had met the Pope and the Dalai Lama, but to meet Billy Graham and to talk with him was even more of a blessing because I felt a deeply personal spiritual connection. You see, Billy Graham and I grew up in the same region of the country. We come from the same material, the same part of the world. We saw people divided by race and color, and we lived to see unbelievable changes.

I remember saying to him at our meeting, “Dr. Graham, pray for me, pray for our nation, pray for the people, and pray for the world. We all need you. We need you now.” It’s his faith in God Almighty that is his strength. We all have to respond to the trumpet call. That’s what Billy Graham did. He responded to a calling.

Sometimes I see old newsreels of Billy Graham preaching during those unbelievable crusades. I’m always struck by how he had the capacity to bring human beings together. Almost every American president in the post-World War II era has sought his message, his prayers. What made him so great and so powerful is his belief in the future.

When I came down from being up on that mountain at his home, I felt elevated. I felt deeply moved and deeply inspired. Billy Graham is a man who stood up and spoke out about some of the great concerns of our time, and he lives the life that he preached. He is at home with himself. He is anchored in his faith. He is the embodiment, the essence, and the personification of the best of the human spirit.

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