Graham’s passing brings gratitude to mind

I was watching the news the morning of Feb. 21 when a news flash announced the death of the Rev. Billy Graham. They must have already had a tribute prepared, because they immediately aired a segment recounting the Rev. Graham’s life.

As I watched it, tears began to stream down my face. Billy, as he preferred being called, preached in person to more than 200 million people — maybe upward of 300 million. He was such a great man with a powerful message, and yet his message was so simple: God loves you, and you need Jesus!

A group from The Methodist Church in New Paris, Ohio, traveled to a Billy Graham Crusade in Columbus, Ohio. I believe I was 12 years old. I remember sitting in that baseball stadium listening to someone I knew was important, but I didn’t realize how important.

I listened to what he said, and as we sang “Just as I Am,” I walked down the aisle with hundreds of other people and gave my life to Jesus. It was around that time that I began to feel a call to pastoral ministry.

Years later, as the pastor of the Marengo United Methodist Church in southern Indiana, a group from my church traveled to the RCA Dome in 1999 to hear him preach.

My daughter came with me and my wife. Being a sophomore in high school, she wanted to go on the floor to the mosh pit. We had a bird’s eye view of Michael W. Smith and then Rev. Graham. It was an experience I have continually treasured, to see Billy Graham with my wife and daughter.

Think of all the people who came to Christ through his ministry. While my wife is in Heaven, my daughters and grandchildren are Christians and active in their churches.

While we grieve the loss of this saint, Heaven is rejoicing. Kathie Lee Gifford said that when she heard the news, she raised her hands to heaven and thanked Jesus. We can all thank Jesus for the Rev. Graham, for his ministry carried on by his son and daughter, and also thank all those who have influenced our lives as we walk on our Christian journey.

Mark Wesler is pastor of New Palestine United Methodist Church. This weekly column is written by local clergy members. Send comments to