By Emily Wells
What do you say in the presence of greatness? When God’s most influential messenger of the last century is seven feet in front of you, what are the words that come to mind? These are the questions that ran through my head as I viewed the casket of Billy Graham on Monday, February 26, at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C. As I gazed at the simple yet elegant hand carved wooden box, I found myself to be at a loss for words. There was a wave of sadness that came over me as I realized what a great loss for the world Rev. Graham’s passing was, but there was also a simultaneous sensation of joy when I considered the celebration that must be taking place in heaven.
I did not know very much about Billy Graham until I came to Montreat College. I was not alive during his active years of ministry and am too young to remember his last public appearance. Prior to my college years, he was just a name on a book that sat on my grandmother’s end table or a quote I heard during a sermon. When I arrived at Montreat, I heard the stories of “the man at the top of the mountain” and saw the plaque that honors the Grahams outside of Graham Chapel. Even then, he was just a passing thought for me. I thought it was pretty cool that a famous preacher lived so close, but that was about it.
It wasn’t until I became involved with the Montreat student newspaper, The Whetstone, that I felt the impact Rev. Graham’s life. Two of my co-writers and I were given the task of covering his 99th birthday. Not quite knowing where to begin with my research, I headed to the first place any modern student would: Google. I found page after page of pictures and stories of Rev. Graham’s crusades at home and abroad as well as personal accounts of those who heard the Gospel through him. My friends and I were also able to tour Billy Graham’s Training Center at The Cove to see memorabilia and gifts from foreign countries that came straight out of the Graham attic. We were also able to learn about both Billy and Ruth Graham’s impact on the Montreat community and Montreat College. Through this process of learning and writing, he was no longer a mountain top stranger to us, he was our neighbor.
My co-writer Hayley Taylor went with me to the public viewing in Charlotte. As we exited Rev. Graham’s childhood home, she said, “I can’t believe that you and me, just two college girls, were blessed enough to be able to pay respects to someone so legendary. I feel like we just were a part of history.” I wholeheartedly agree with her. Although I was not able to find adequate words to express what I felt that day, what ran through my head was a quote by Rev. Graham that I’ve heard over and over in the last week: “My home is in heaven. I’m just passing through this world.” Heaven has certainly gained a good, faithful servant who humbly served Christ, the world, and his own home of Montreat in a way that now inspires me in my own Christian walk.