Thursday, March 1, 2018

Honoring the Legacy of Rev. Billy Graham

"America's Pastor" the Rev. Billy Graham died a week ago. Yesterday, the nation honored him as the first religious leader to lie in honor at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington. President Trump described Graham as "an ambassador for Christ who reminded the world of the power of prayer and the gift of God's grace." May such be said of all of us at LeTourneau University!

Billy Graham was the most significant religious figure of the 20th century. He preached the gospel to an estimated 215 million in his lifetime, according to media sources this week. Decades of his faithful service to preaching the gospel have led to untold numbers of decisions for Christ.

Billy Graham didn't just belong to the nation; he belonged to LeTourneau University.

There was a unique friendship between Graham and R.G. and Evelyn LeTourneau. As many people know, the LeTourneaus put 90% of their corporation stock into a foundation to support Christian work around the world. Funds from that foundation enabled Evelyn to establish Camp Bethany in Winona Lake, Indiana, where a young Billy Graham worked as camp counselor. A friendship formed.

As World War II was ending in 1946 and the LeTourneaus launched their manufacturing plant in Longview, Texas, and began the LeTourneau Technical School to educate returning war veterans, the young Rev. Billy Graham was drawing huge crowds to Youth For Christ rallies as YFC's first paid evangelist.

The young evangelist came up short in 1947 on finances, and he reached out to R.G. LeTourneau to ask for $7,000 to provide the finances he needed to finish his European tour. Not only did LeTourneau provide a cashier's check a few weeks later, he flew overseas to attend one of the meetings in Birmingham, England. LeTourneau would become a supporter of Graham's evangelism rallies for years thereafter.

In a 1953 letter from Graham to Evelyn LeTourneau, he wrote. "I love you and Mr. R.G. more than any two people in the world," describing the LeTourneau's as "more like a father and mother to me."

Later that year, R.G. LeTourneau designed a domed structure for Billy Graham to use as for revival meetings during his upcoming speaking campaign in Great Britain. In a letter from the Billy Graham Crusade Committee dated in May of 1953, the structure was referred to as "the Billy Graham Crusade tabernacle." While it never was used for its original purpose due to problems with the London city council, the domed structure went on to be used for several years for graduation ceremonies for LeTourneau Technical School students. It stands in south Longview to this day, at the Longview plant now owned by Komatsu.

From 1961 to 1975, Graham served on the LeTourneau College Board of Trustees. He was a featured speaker at the college's 25th anniversary in 1971. Graham was a supporter of faith-based education, and his own son, Franklin Graham, attended school at LeTourneau.

Franklin was back in Longview and on campus just this last October 19th. As the nation mourns Billy Graham, we pray for Franklin and family and their very personal loss.