Several well-known Christian singers have issued statements remembering the late Rev. Billy Graham, who died Wednesday at the age of 99. The memories they share give us more insight into the greatness of the world-renowned evangelist.
Graham, a Southern Baptist, died peacefully at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, after struggling with various health problems linked to his advanced age. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association estimates that he has preached live to nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories, and hundreds of millions of more people through television, video, film and webcasts.
Here's what Christian singers Matthew West, TobyMac, Bart Millard, Mallary Hope and Amy Grant have shared about the inspiring moments they spent with Graham and what he told them.
1. Contemporary Christian singer Amy Grant
"The last crusade I did with Billy was in San Antonio in 1997. As always, I was honored to be invited but I also knew that my marriage was falling apart and that it might not survive. ... Billy knew what was going on with me personally, so I asked if I could speak with him before my performance.
"I nervously explained what was going on in my life and he listened without ever losing the kindness in his eyes. He then said to me 'Amy, I have children and grandchildren who love the Lord ... but some of them take the long way home.'
She continues, "He asked to pray for me and my struggling family. I never shared the stage with him again after my performance that night. Billy is now home where he has longed to be ... reunited with his beloved Ruth and in the presence of the loving God he proclaimed around the world. We are all heading home too ... some of us just take the long way. I look forward to seeing Billy again on the other side."
2. Contemporary Christian singer-songwriter Matthew West
"The first thing I thought of was root beer," he says, referring to the passing away of Rev. Graham.
"At the age of 13 I was a preacher's kid who was pretty sure he would just get to Heaven because he had family connections. I remember sitting down in the basement of my childhood home one afternoon and turning on the TV in the hopes of finding a Chicago Cubs game. Instead, I found a Billy Graham Crusade.
"I remember the choir singing, 'Just as I Am.' I was sitting on that old blue couch ... with the feeling that this would be the moment I would answer the question Reverend Graham had just asked, 'What will you do with Jesus?'
"My mom was doing a load of laundry and walked past me with a basket on her hip. 'Matthew, do you want me to pray with you?' I whispered, 'yes.' Together we prayed and that was the hour I first believed.
"Now here I was, all these years later walking into Billy's home and shaking his hand. I was invited to sit at a large, round, wooden table in the kitchen. ... Billy's drink of choice? Root beer.
"That afternoon a singer and a preacher sat and swapped stories over a couple of root beers. Well, mostly I just listened. I'll end this with words from a text message I received from Billy's grandson. He reminded me of something Billy used to say. 'One day you will hear that Billy Graham is dead. But don't you believe it. For on that day I will be more alive than ever.'
"Tonight, I'm going to drink a root beer with my family at dinner and I'm going to tell my daughters about the life of this man who is now seeing the Heaven he has showed so many the way to. A man who is now more alive than ever."
3. Bart Millard, leader of the band MercyMe
"Finally home. I loved Billy Graham so much," he says.
"Mostly from afar, but @themercyme had the privilege of playing at his last three crusades. The one at the Rose bowl in Pasadena stands out the most.
"My 2-year-old son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes about a week before, and I struggled with wanting to stay with my son rather than heading to Pasadena. We informed Graham's people of my dilemma, and they totally supported my decision to stay home. Then we got a call back asking if I'd be willing to have a plane fly to Texas and get me because Graham wanted to 'hug my neck and pray for my son.'"
"I looked at my wife who said, 'You've got to go!' So off I went.
"We watched Graham's security team congregate on the opposite side of the stage. I remember thinking, 'I flew this whole way and they're bringing him in from the other side?' Then all of a sudden, from behind us, a voice said, 'Sometimes you've got to create a distraction to get a second to yourself.' And there he was. This spiritual giant. It didn't matter how frail he was at that point in his life. To me, he stood 10 feet tall.
"He shook all of our hands, then placed his hand on the back of my neck, pulled me close and started praying over my son's life. I don't remember everything he prayed, I was too overwhelmed with what was taking place. But I'll never forget when he finished praying and looked up at me, he had tears in his eyes. I then walked on stage, sang 'Imagine,' walked off stage, headed back to the plane and was back with my son just after midnight.
"Of all the amazing things Billy Graham has done for the Kingdom of God, nothing will resonate more with me than that single moment. Thank you, God, for Billy Graham. And I rejoice knowing, after so many years of faithfulness, he is now truly seeing as Christ sees."
4. TobyMac, a Christian hip-hop recording artist, music producer and songwriter
"I was invited to do many festivals alongside Billy Graham ... it was my honor to have gotten those opportunities and I was always so moved by the way in which he operated," he recalls.
"Humility and class and focus and grace are the words that immediately come to mind. One of my heroes without a doubt. He will be dearly missed by myself, our nation and even the world. But I can hear the choir in Heaven singing 'welcome home!'"
5. Country music singer-songwriter Mallary Hope
Hope quoted Graham as saying, "I am not going to Heaven because I have preached to great crowds or read the Bible many times. I'm going to Heaven just like the thief on the cross who said in that last moment: 'Lord, remember me.'"
She comments, "I think that speaks volumes of the way he used his platform. ... What a homecoming he is receiving this morning."