By Dr. Don Bierle, FaithSearch President
The passing of the world’s spiritual statesman and evangelist, Rev. Billy Graham, 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 many 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. This led to incredible excitement in class as students shared the joy they experienced in leading people in prayer to salvation in Jesus Christ. I have no doubt this propelled many of those students to a life of witness to the present day.
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 which 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. Their distribution of about 150,000 copies of my book propelled our fledgling ministry into immediate awareness among Christians across America. This year, 2018, FaithSearch is celebrating our fortieth year of ministry, without doubt helped immensely by God’s use of this great start.
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. The Billy Graham organization readily invited me to an extended conversation in which they shared how they did it. I incorporated their plan which has resulted in years free of evangelist greed and manipulation for personal gain. I would otherwise have had to learn by trial and error—and doubtless unnecessary pain.
In 2000, Vernee and I were invited by Billy Graham to Amsterdam 2000, a gathering of over 10,000 evangelists from around the world. I had the opportunity to present a workshop on the use of apologetics in evangelism. To interact and observe the worldwide work of God through people of every continent, race, color, and culture made a deep impression on us. Instead of only sharing the Gospel in the U.S., we began responding to opportunities to share the Gospel with evidence in India, the Philippines, Russia, and other countries. God prepared me to say “Yes” to His global prompting because of Amsterdam 2000. Today FaithSearch has shared the Gospel with evidence to hundreds of thousands in fifty countries on all the continents. My book Surprised by Faith has been translated into sixteen languages.
Finally, about ten years ago I was wrestling with the question of the FaithSearch mission of evangelism. 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 at their retreat center, The Cove. 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! God made this clear to me at that time: He had called us specifically to focus on His Word for salvation. The result was the formulation of our current mission statement: To proclaim the Gospel with evidence to all peoples everywhere.
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. We know right now the influence he had on me and FaithSearch International. I offer this brief summary as a tribute and a thank you—Billy Graham!