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The Journey | Leighton Ford

The Journey: June 2024

June 27, 2024

“Today, North Carolina gives the nation a symbol representing one of our dearest treasures, the Rev. Billy Graham: a man of faith, a man of North Carolina,” said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. On May 16, the Graham family along with a room full of dignitaries, pastors, evangelists, and national leaders gathered in Washington, D.C., at the United States Capitol for the unveiling of my Uncle Billy’s statue.

Only four people in American history have received the Congressional Gold Medal, lied in state at the U.S. Capitol, and have their statue in the Capitol. Two of them were Presidents – Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. And now the other two are Rosa Parks and Billy Graham.

Caroline and I participated in the celebration in D.C. It was an incredible few days, as I believe the Lord was honored as was the memory of my uncle – and the Gospel of Jesus Christ was shared.

Years ago, my father, Leighton Ford, was speaking at Duke University’s Chapel when someone asked him about Billy, his brother-in-law. The image of an arrow came to Dad immediately, which he explained represents sharpness, breadth, and depth.

The Sharp Point

The tip of the arrow represented the sharpness of Billy’s focus on preaching the Gospel. He was unwavering for eight decades of public ministry in his laser-focus of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. He believed God had commissioned him with the most important news in the world, telling people how to have their sins forgiven and enter into a relationship with the Lord.

Uncle Billy once said, “During all my years as an evangelist, my message has always been the Gospel of Christ. It is not a Western religion, nor is it a message of one culture or political system . . . it is a message of life and hope for the world.”

Kingdom Breadth

The breadth of the arrowhead expressed his focus on the whole world and a breadth of injustices — from poverty to racism. After the unveiling, the family gathered for lunch with the sculptor, Chas Fagan. He spent the better part of nine years studying Uncle Billy. His movements. His eyes. His brow. As he described choosing the final image, he focused his choice of Uncle Billy’s hand — an inviting hand, not a pointing hand. He was known worldwide as a warm, welcoming ambassador. One congressman who spoke at the ceremony described him as the “leading ambassador of the Kingdom of our lifetimes” who “treated all with dignity and respect.”

In 1974, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) convened a gathering of evangelists from all over the world in Lausanne, Switzerland. Uncle Billy wrote in his autobiography, Just As I Am, “Care was taken to make it as representative as possible; the days of white, Western paternalism had to end. A committee of 28 people from sixteen nations was finally appointed; about half of them were from the Third World.” Lausanne ’74, with the theme of “Let the Earth Hear His Voice,” included 2473 delegates from over 150 countries.

In his opening address, he shared, “Never before have so many representatives of so many evangelical Christian churches in so many nations and from so many tribal and language groups gathered to worship, pray, and plan together for world evangelization.”

They had no way to know that this gathering would lead to a global movement that still operates today, some fifty years later. The Lausanne Committee was formed, which Uncle Billy said was established “to act as a catalyst for evangelistic strategies and programs on a continuing basis.” Twentiethcentury leaders like John Stott and my father became key influencers in this movement. Dad eventually served as their Chairperson and was later named lifetime Honorary Chair.

Lausanne’s passion is that evangelization requires the whole church to take the whole Gospel to the whole world. This September, Lausanne 4: The Fourth Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, meets in Seoul, South Korea. LFM’s own Mark Slaughter and Anne Grizzle will be delegates to Seoul.

Ruth Medallion, etched on the
Congressional Gold Medal

Billy once said, “Itinerant evangelists are the most important ambassadors and messengers on earth. They are a mighty army, spreading out across the world with a vision to reach their own people for Christ.” Uncle Billy’s passion was for the whole world. At the statuary ceremony, we experienced this breadth of the arrowhead. American Republicans and Democrats sat side by side. World leaders were present. We all experienced a sense of unity. That’s who Billy Graham was.

“During an era in the 1950s when leaders in the South openly embraced segregation, it was Billy Graham who spoke out against it,” shared one senator at the ceremony. “Rev. Graham was blessed with the gift that bridged differences . . . and brought us all together.”


Governor Cooper went on to say, “He brought together people of different faiths and different races.”

Billy Graham ranked as one of the most influential Christians of the 20th century. His presentation of the Gospel through a vast media and preaching outreach, coupled with a personal life of unquestioned integrity, established a vision of evangelicalism that was defined by its inclusiveness, simplicity, and personal faithfulness.

The world’s leading academic historian on Billy Graham, who wrote America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation and One Soul at a Time: The Story of Billy Graham

Biblical Depth

Finally, at the Duke Chapel address, my father said the arrow’s shaft represented depth. As they age, many ministers become too broad and lose their focus. Others become too narrow and lose their breadth. Billy Graham deepened in his understanding of the Word of God as time progressed. Always a student of the Bible, which he accepted by faith as God’s Word and spent his life learning, he once wrote, “The Bible is the constant fountain for faith, conduct, and inspiration from which we drink daily.”

A story is told of the first time he met Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators disciplemaking ministry. Uncle Billy was a student at Wheaton College, and when Dawson introduced himself, he asked him, “Young man, what did God give you in His Word this morning?”

Billy stammered and had to admit that he had not spent time with the Lord that morning. Uncle Billy vowed then there would never be another day in his life, as much as it depended on him, that he would not have a positive answer to that question. He believed the “Bible is a living Book and can be trusted for its advice and direction and knowledge of God.”

I remember visiting Uncle Billy in 1988, following my college graduation. I asked him what he would do if he could live his life over again. He paused and then said, “I’d read the Bible more and I’d pray more.”

I’m aware that I stand in the shadow of a man who was extraordinary by many standards. However, my embrace of his influence is less about the accomplishments but more about his simple surrender. His humility, his reach, his achievements and his failures all pointed to the heart of the Gospel. He lived the Gospel, not as a script, or quick prayer, or formula for influence, but as a personification of the Cross, which has become personal to me.
LFM Strategic Advisory Board Member, Founder and President of the National Christian Foundation of South Florida, and the eldest grandson of Billy Graham

A Flowing River

Billy Graham and Leighton Ford

His life was like that of a mighty river, and Uncle Billy’s impact will be for generations to come. The tributaries flowing out of that river will continue touching lives all over the globe – likely until Jesus comes.

That river touched my dad in a powerful way. As a young Youth for Christ leader in Canada, Dad invited Billy Graham to speak at one of their rallies in the 1940s. The two of them connected, though Billy was older. At that meeting, the elder preacher put an arm around my dad’s shoulder and said, “Leighton, God has given you a burden to see people come to know Christ. If you stay humble, I believe God will use you. And I will pray for you.”

Dad would eventually marry my mother, Billy Graham’s sister Jean, and Billy would invite a young Leighton to work with him at BGEA, where Dad served for more than thirty years. When Dad finally left the organization, with Uncle Billy’s blessing, he left with a burden to invest in the next generation of Kingdom leaders around the globe.


Kevin Graham Ford

Always Good News

The seven-foot statue pictures Graham preaching with an open Bible, revealing Galations 6:14, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” The base of the statue includes large inscriptions of John 3:16 and John 14:6, Scriptures that Graham often used while talking to other people about Jesus Christ. The statue has been installed in the Crypt, where every public tour of the Capitol begins, one level below the Rotunda. Only 13 statues are in the Crypt, representing each of the original 13 colonies. Thousands of visitors to the Capitol will read the Gospel daily as they pass his statue.

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