Well, in honor of the Billy Graham Museum opening in Charlotte, NC today, I thought I would share my story about the day I met Billy Graham in person. (Thank you to those of you who shared your stories here.)
It was 1987, and I was in my first year serving as youth pastor at Calvary Baptist Church, in Burbank CA. This was an interesting position, because at the time, Calvary Baptist was a church without any youth. So, our “youth group” was made up of non-churched teens from the neighborhoods, none of whom had as of yet professed Christ.
I received a call from a woman at Billy Graham’s World Wide Pictures telling me about an advanced screening for their new movie, Caught. They were holding the screening at Universal Studios, and she wanted to know if I would bring my youth group to the screening. She told me that they especially wanted the reactions of non-Christians to the movie, and she asked me to encourage my Christian youth to invite their non-Christian friends. I told her I didn’t actually have any Christians in my youth group, but I would ask them to invite their friends anyways.
The night of the screening was a hoot. My friend Martin and I brought eight teen boys from the neighborhood to the screening. Other church youth groups were arriving by bus, dressed nicely for the occasion, walking quietly and politely in groups to the theater. Our guys were all over the place. They were loud and obnoxious, dressed for the street, running pell-mell here and there, excitedly checking out the grounds of Universal Studios after hours. We stuck out like sore thumbs in an elegant hand gallery.
After we finally gathered them all (and got them to put out their cigarettes), we made our way into the screening theater. It was a first-class theater with high-backed chairs that reclined all the way back. Our guys naturally pushed their way to the front of the theater where they proudly sat down front and center in full view of everybody.
One of them asked me where there was a water fountain. So, instead of releasing him now that we finally had them all together and sitting, I told him I would check. I walked up to a man in the back of the theater who looked official to ask him about the water fountain. He turned out to be Bill Brown, the president of World Wide Pictures at the time.
He asked me my name and said, “I have someone I would like you to meet.” Then he tapped the shoulder of a man who was standing with his back towards us and said, “Billy, I would like you to meet Ray.”
Billy turned around, and sure enough, it was Billy Graham. I had no idea he was even going to be there that night and was caught totally off-guard. I think I managed to squeak out something brilliant like, “Hello. Nice to meet you. I’ve heard you speak.”
Billy shook my hand, smiled at me, and, with a twinkle in his eye, nodded towards the front of the theater. “Are those your boys?” he asked.
I looked to the front of the theater where Martin was doing his best to contain eight overly exuberant boys who were rocking all the way back and up again in their high-backed reclining chairs as fast as they could go. They looked like eight alternating levers in some wildy gyrating machine. I said, “Excuse me,” and raced back to the front of the theater where we finally got the boys calmed down in time for the movie.
So that was the one and only time I got to meet Billy Graham in person. I got the impression he was glad that I had brought my wild “youth group” to the screening, and when he came up front after the movie to talk, he smiled at the whole lot of them. Of course, they were completely freaked out to see this man they had only seen on TV before suddenly standing in front of them talking about Christ. All in all it was a great night, and definitely one for the youth pastor books.
Feel free to share any more Billy Graham stories you might have in the comments section!
- Billy Graham – The Song
- Ruth Bell Graham – Poems
- A Quote from Billy and a Quote from Ruth
- Billy Graham Museum Opens in Charlotte, NC