—By Dr. Don Bierle
The passing of the world’s spiritual statesman and evangelist, Rev. Billy Graham, certainly set my mind into reflection. Others will recount the impact he had on millions around the world. I just want to reveal that his influence was even greater than most people even imagine.
In the 1980s, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association headquarters were located in Minneapolis, MN. I was a college professor teaching about eighty students each year a course in personal evangelism. When crusades were televised, Billy Graham personnel trained all my students in telephone evangelism and invited them to serve as phone counselors, often several nights in a row. This led to incredible excitement in class as students shared the joy they experienced in praying a salvation prayer of new faith in Jesus Christ with people all over the country. I have no doubt that this propelled many of those students to a life of witness with multiplied salvation commitments to the present day. Thank you, Billy Graham!
In 1992, I left my college professorship, and with my wife, Vernee, responded to God’s call to a full time evangelism ministry. My first action was to write a book of my testimony: how I went from agnostic to believer, and the apologetic evidence that persuaded me of the truth of the Bible and the Christian faith. A year or so later, the Billy Graham Association reviewed my book, Surprised by Faith, and selected it to be used as a gift to their new converts and in appreciation of gifts given by their donors. They printed about 150,000 copies of my book for distribution! It propelled our fledgling ministry into immediate awareness to Christians across America. This year, 2018, both FaithSearch as well as Vernee and I, are celebrating our fortieth year of ministry, without doubt helped immensely by God’s use of this great start. Thank you Billy Graham!
By the mid-1990s, FaithSearch had grown and taken on several additional evangelists. As President of the ministry, I was concerned about structuring these proclaimers to minimize the chance for corruption in their financial dealings in the field. I went to the Billy Graham organization and asked for help. They readily invited me to an extended conversation where they shared how they did it. I incorporated their plan, which included the requirement that all monies must pass through our headquarters and not to allow associate evangelists to accept gifts of money for themselves. This FaithSearch policy resulted in years free of evangelist greed and manipulation for personal gain. I would have had to learn that by trial and error—and unnecessary pain. Thank you, Billy Graham!
In 2000, Vernee and I were invited by Billy Graham to Amsterdam 2000, a gathering of over 10,000 evangelists from around the world. Many of these evangelists were funded by the Association, the only way it would have been possible for them to be there. I had the opportunity to be a workshop presenter on the use of apologetics in evangelism. The opportunity to interact and observe the worldwide work of God through people of every continent, race, color, and culture made a deep impression on us. Up to that point, I had always said that the ministry of FaithSearch was to be shared only to reach Americans. Shortly after that, opportunities suddenly came from India, the Philippines, Russia, and other countries for us to proclaim the Gospel with evidence there. God had been preparing me to say “yes” because of Amsterdam 2000. Today FaithSearch has shared the Gospel with evidence to hundreds of thousands in more than fourteen countries on four continents. My book Surprised by Faith is in sixteen languages. Thank you Billy Graham!
Finally, about ten years ago I was wrestling with the question of the FaithSearch mission of evangelism. Should we broaden our focus? Did God really call us to exclusively preach the Gospel of salvation? At that time the Billy Graham ministry invited FaithSearch to join about seventy-five other ministries as guests of their retreat center, The Cove. Everyone shared and completed a profile of their ministry’s mission. The Holy Spirit revealed to me how few of them were dedicated primarily to evangelism. They dug wells, filled food shelves, taught English as a second language, provided recreation for inner city kids, etc. Important to be sure! But God made clear to me at that time that He called us specifically to proclaim His Word for salvation. The result was the formulation of our current mission statement: To proclaim the Gospel with evidence to all peoples everywhere. Thank you Billy Graham!
FaithSearch International owes a debt of gratitude to Billy Graham. We shall only know in eternity the influence this man of God had on everyone. But we know right now the influence he had on me and this ministry. I offer this brief reminder as a tribute and a thank you—Billy Graham!