85: Joe Stowell

85: Joe Stowell

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 85 •
JOE STOWELL

Host, Strength for the Journey ministry and president of Cornerstone University

I have been blessed to serve on the board of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for over a decade. In our board meetings, Billy was always focused on Christ and the Gospel. He consistently reminded us to uphold the name of Christ in all that we said and all that we did as an organization. He encouraged us to function with integrity and do nothing to damage the reputation of the Christ that we represent. Reaching the lost of this world was an unquenchable passion and foremost in his ministry. He not only had a great sense of his calling but was also a man of impeccable character.

He was driven by the need to rescue as many people for heaven as possible. In the early 1980s, he went to Russia and spoke in the major church in Moscow. Some people believed this was just a showcase church that was a front for the communist regime to cover their clamping down on religious freedom everywhere else. Hence, Billy was criticized for going to the Soviet Union at a time when the government persecuted and jailed Christians. But you have to understand Billy. It was an opportunity for the Gospel. For him to freely speak the Gospel to the Russian culture was a prevailing and compelling opportunity. He had a great love for the persecuted church, but he wasn’t deterred by the fact that the Soviet government was hostile to Christianity. If he had an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel in the heart of Moscow, he was not going to turn it down, even if others questioned the wisdom of his trip.

Sitting on Billy Graham’s board gave me many occasions to get to know him personally. I remember our first one-on-one talk. It was a striking moment for me. I was aware that I was sitting next to a world-famous, highly respected religious icon whom I had admired my whole life. So, I was fishing for something to say that would be of interest and came up with this question: “What have you enjoyed the most about your ministry?” His answer was so spontaneous. I will never forget it. He simply said, “By far and away, the best thing in my life has been my fellowship with Jesus, walking with Him, relying on His wisdom, and sensing His presence with me.” It was a stunning response. It was from the core of Billy. This was a man who has known presidents and frequented the White House, interacted with world leaders and been welcomed in all nations as a hero of the Church. But what has mattered most to him is his fellowship with Jesus. Just in case I had missed the point, he repeated to me what he said, almost word for word. It was a wonderful moment for me. I felt both challenged and convicted at the same time. Convicted, because I’m not sure that would have been my first response, and challenged, because I would love for that to be my first response.

His answer to that question showed me something that I have always noticed about him. Billy is not taken with himself. He’s almost embarrassed by himself. The humility of Billy Graham is striking. For a person at his level any measure of pride or arrogance would damage his work. God gave him stellar gifts and appointed him to a highly applauded position. I would like to think that God gave him the gift of humility to ensure that Billy didn’t injure the message. One time, when I was chatting with Billy in his home, he said, “Joe, sometimes I feel like such a failure.” I replied, “Billy, you’ve got to be kidding.” Billy then confided, “I sometimes feel I haven’t done all that I could for God, and maybe I should have done more.” It was that kind of humility that protected and empowered his life and ministry.

He always treated people, no matter who they were, with dignity and respect. No one ever sensed they were insignificant or unimportant when in his presence. Once when I was at a board meeting in Charlotte, I saw my friend Sam, who happened to be in the same building, and suggested, “Maybe I can get Billy to say hi to you since you came to know the Lord under his ministry.” I always wanted to be sensitive to Billy, because you can imagine how many people would love to touch even the hem of his garment. Just then, Billy happened to be walking down the hallway. I took the opportunity and said, “Hey Billy, Sam accepted Christ in your last crusade.” Billy lit up and talked with Sam like he had all the time in the world.

Billy Graham was not only uniquely chosen, called and anointed, but he also filled that calling with a depth of character and a clear reflection of the person and passion of Christ. I count it an honor to have known him.

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