Some 1,500 guests will witness the dedication of the Billy Graham Library on Thursday in Charlotte, N.C. Even the distinguished evangelist, Billy Graham, the nation's most famous religious figure, plans to be there.
Days before the 40,000-square-foot barn-shaped complex opens next week to the public, Graham, his family and former presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter will dedicate the Billy Graham Library in a private ceremony.
Although the library is not meant to serve as a memorial to the legacy of Graham, it presents more than six decades of Graham pursuing God's calling and preaching to more than 210 million people around the world.
The world renowned evangelist had agreed to the library only because it was to serve as an ongoing evangelistic ministry, pointing all who visit to Jesus Christ. It is expected to draw up to 250,000 visitors a year.
But after touring the museum, which features multi-media presentations, earlier this week, Graham told his son Franklin: "Too much Billy Graham," according to the Los Angeles Times.
"He doesn't want attention to go to him," said Graham's younger sister, Jean Ford, according to Religion News Service. "And yet it just does."
Nearly six decades ago, Graham was scheduled to preach in Los Angeles but the North Carolina hill-billy, as he would call himself, received no press coverage the day the LA revival began. And fellow evangelists believed his language was out of date. But his simple yet convicting message of sin and salvation soon drew some 3,000 people a night to the tent revival that went on for eight weeks and landed him on the front page of major newspapers by the end of the Greater Los Angeles Revival.
"Graham emerged a full-fledged celebrity," wrote Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy in The Preacher and the Presidents, slated for an August release. He was being invited to preach around the world and became a friend and counselor to world leaders and to every U.S. president since Harry Truman.
Today, 88 years old and suffering from prostate cancer and Parkinson's disease, Graham is retired but still a celebrity and still attracting major media. Moreover, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners declared Thursday Ruth and Billy Graham Day in celebration of the dedication of the library.
And the $27-million museum is expected to carry on his legacy.
"It's an opportunity to share the message that my father has preached to a different audience and a different group of people," said the Rev. Franklin Graham, who heads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. "Even after my father is in heaven, whenever that day will be, it will be an opportunity to extend his ministry for several generations."
While the younger Graham assures his father that the library is a ministry, not a monument, and about what he dedicated his life to, Ford says it's about him.
"Without God's hand on Billy, none of this would ever have happened," she said, according to RNS.
Billy Graham held his final crusade in June of 2005 at Flushing Meadows Park in New York City. He made one last appearance at the 2006 Festival of Hope with his son Franklin in New Orleans as the Gulf Coast was recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
The Billy Graham Library opens to the public with free admission on Tuesday, June 5.