Local pastors remember Billy Graham as humble, inspiring

Published 12:19 am Saturday, February 24, 2018

NATCHEZ — The reach of the Rev. Billy Graham’s ministry extended around the globe and made an impact in the Miss-Lou.

Local ministers reacted Friday to the passing of “America’s Pastor” Wednesday, and they commended Graham for not only molding their own ministries, but also practicing what he preached.

Pastor at First Baptist Church of Natchez the Rev. Doug Broome said part of what made Graham so impactful was the transcendent nature of his ministry.

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“He was a pioneer when it came to crossing all these cultural, denominational and racial lines,” Broome said.

Broome said Graham tailored his message so that anyone could come to accept Christ, no matter race, religious denomination, intelligence nor socioeconomic status. Especially considering the era in which Graham emphasized tolerance and getting over our differences, Broome said the pastor’s ministry was all the more amazing.

“He probably touched more lives than anybody in the history of the world, and I think I’m accurate in that statement,” Broome said.

Others admired Graham living up to the words he spoke when the same often cannot be said of many personalities who achieved that level of fame.

First Baptist Church of Vidalia Senior Pastor the Rev. Wes Faulk said he once was part of a planning committee for one of Graham’s crusades in San Antonio, and one of the most impressive attributes in Graham he saw was his authenticity.

“He would not just be a man who changed people’s lives, but he was a man of integrity,” Faulk said. “When he walked away, there was not a scandal about him … Billy Graham was the real deal.”

Faulk recalled an oft-repeated message of Graham’s about redemption in that anyone, regardless of who you are or what you have done, could be forgiven of their sins.

Even at just age 36, Faulk said Graham impacted his life, and Faulk even said he had five or six friends who “came to trust Jesus” directly because of Graham’s preaching.

“The biggest legacy that he leaves behind is the millions of people that trusted Jesus because of the message he brought,” Faulk said.

One such person is Concordia Parish Clerk of Court the Rev. Clyde Ray Webber Jr., who said he felt true inspiration from Graham when Webber was preparing to graduate high school in 1955.

“I went into the ministry largely because of him,” Webber said. “60 years later, I still have two churches.”

Webber began his ministry in 1957 at a First Baptist Church in Monterey, and he said Graham served as a model for an upstart pastor.

“As a young preacher, 18 years old, I felt like maybe I’d be the next Billy Graham,” Webber said with a laugh.

But even with all the deep admiration Graham received, many noted his refusal to put himself above others or his faith.

Like Faulk, Community Chapel Church of God Pastor the Rev. Bo Swilley said he also admired Graham for his integrity, but Swilley also said one of the attributes he most admired about Graham was his humility.

“There was never a single controversy in his life,” Swilley said. “He made sure he focused on his ministry and sharing Christ and made sure that nothing got in the way of that.”

Recalling a day when television had far less options than today, Swilley said while growing up his mother and grandparents had Graham turned on almost constantly. Swilley took away a message of selflessness that he said everyone should strive to emulate.

Swilley said Graham embodied a passage from Matthew 22:36-40, which lists the two greatest commandments: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

“Billy Graham was a great example of that,” Swilley said. “I’m happy for him, but saddened for his family, saddened for us that he’s gone … because he’s a spiritual icon.”