Billy Graham: Local Residents Remember Evangelist’s Final Crusade

February 22, 2018

Everything stopped when Rev. Billy Graham came on TV.

Bro. Tim Hawsey, youth pastor at the First Baptist Church of Bratt, remembers watching countless Billy Graham crusades on television over the years, and when everybody around would stop and watch as he preached the Word of God.

“You stopped what you were doing and gather around the TV to hear the Word,” Hawsey said.

The son of a farmer from North Carolina, Graham accepted God as a teen and set about to spread the Gospel, becoming pastor and spiritual adviser to presidents for 70 years while speaking for over 50 years to the hearts of hundreds of millions of people across the world. An altar call was followed by entire stadiums of people joining the song “Just As I Am” as countless people dedicated their lives to Jesus Christ.

But for Hawsey and a group of about 45 from the First Baptist Church of Bratt, watching on television was nothing like hearing America’s pastor in person as they attended his final crusade in June 2005 in New York City.

“There were so many people in that crowd,” Hawsey said Wednesday. “We were back a ways, but you could see him real well on these big screens.”

“The most amazing thing to me about the crowd was just the number of nationalities that were there and the languages that they spoke. They would gather around interpreters speaking their language,” Theresa Hanks of Bratt said.

Graham, age 86 at the time, used a walker to move across the stage and to the pulpit on that warm day.

“It was amazing. They had to help him up and across the stage, and it seemed like he was so fragile,” Hawsey said. “But when he grabbed ahold of that pulpit, it was like the Lord energized him again.”

Graham preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to some 215 million people who attended one of his more than 400 Crusades, simulcasts and evangelistic rallies in more than 185 countries and territories. He reached millions more through TV, video, film, the internet and 34 books.

In 2001, he comforted his country and the world when he spoke at the National Cathedral in Washington, following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“The power of God truly moved through him,” Hawsey said.

Hanks agreed. “You would get goose bumps on some of the things he said.

Devon (Fuller) Miller was 16 when she joined the First Baptist Church of Bratt on the trip to see Graham’s final crusade.

“His sermon was very straightforward when you heard him preach,” Miller said. “He didn’t beat around the bush, it was straight from the word of God.  “It was where anybody could understand. It was not fire and brimstone banging on the pulpit; and it was not about him either. It was all about Christ, not about this internationally famous man standing up there preaching.”

“That was the first time I truly saw the Holy Spirit at work in mass numbers of people at the same time,” said Marcella Wilson, an adult volunteer on the trip. “When Billy Graham gave the altar go people by the hundreds came down to altar to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. All ages of people and all kinds of different nationalities and skin colors were coming to the altar getting on their knees asking for forgiveness of their sins and to receive salvation … It was God being God.”

Raja Atalla and his wife Angie now live in Byrneville, but they were working as summer camp counselors in New Jersey in 2005. They attended the last day of Graham’s final crusade on June 26, 2005. He remembers the music that Sunday, traditional gospel songs heard often at Graham’s crusades — including “Amazing Grace,” “How Great Thou Art,” and “Because He Lives”.

“Finally Billy Graham took the pulpit and delivered a clear salvation message focusing on the ‘amazing love of God’ through Jesus. I recall seeing several go forward at the end of his message, though not as many as we expected at a Graham Crusade,” Atallah said.

“The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man,” President Donald Trump posted on Twitter Wednesday. And former president Barack Obama posted “Billy Graham was a humble servant who prayed for so many — and who, with wisdom and grace, gave hope and guidance to generations of Americans.”

“I have one message: that Jesus Christ came, he died on a cross, he rose again, and he asked us to repent of our sins and receive him by faith as Lord and Savior, and if we do, we have forgiveness of all of our sins,” said Graham at his final Crusade.

During the week of his 95th birthday in 2013, Graham delivered his final message via more than 480 television stations across the U.S. and Canada. More than 26,000 churches participated in this My Hope project, making it the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s largest evangelistic outreach ever in North America, as he proclaimed that America was “in great need of a spiritual awakening.”

But perhaps Billy Graham gets the last word on this death. In his autobiography “God’s Ambassador”, he wrote: “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

Pictured top and lower inset: Billy Graham’s final crusade June, 26, 2005, outside New York City. Photos by Raja Atallah. Pictured top inset: A flyer advertising the crusade, courtesy Tim Hawsey. Pictured below: A group from the First Baptist Church of Bratt in June 2005 at the site of the Billy Graham crusade, courtesy First Baptist Church of Bratt. Submitted for, click to enlarge.


9 Responses to “Billy Graham: Local Residents Remember Evangelist’s Final Crusade”

  1. Bruce on August 23rd, 2018 6:01 pm

    I remember Billy Graham coming to
    PHS or Escambia HS in 1967 or 1968.
    James Robison came downtown Pensacola
    Auditorium in about 1972 or 1973.

    Both are great men of God with the
    message of Salvation !

  2. shirley on February 23rd, 2018 7:44 pm

    yes it was an awesome trip in 2005 to be in the company of our youth and then being able to see and hear MR. GRAHAM I still have my tee shirt and the fan
    we were given I kept in touch with a young lady we met on the subway and a
    lady I had a chance to witness too at the altar call but after a while I could not
    reach them

  3. Sage2 on February 22nd, 2018 7:50 pm

    Truly a Man of God, showing others how to be a great Christian. Well done Bro. Billy Graham! The world of today needs more of your caliber to calm the waters.

  4. Barbara on February 22nd, 2018 6:09 pm

    I remember when he came to the Pensacola High School Stadium in 1953 on his Florida cities tour. We got to sit in chairs on the field because my Dad was an usher. I remember having paperback song books. Did see many paperbacks in the early 1950’s.

  5. No Excuses on February 22nd, 2018 5:22 pm

    Billy Graham was truly a man of God! I recently read the book “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s about Louie Zamperini, who was held as a POW in Japan by the Japanese army during WWII. Upon his return to civilian life after the war, he had many problems connected to his POW experience. His marriage was in shambles until….. His soon to be ex-wife literally dragged him to a Billy Graham crusade, where Louie ended up getting saved. The rest is history, and I found it a very interesting codicil to the story. The hair on my arms literally stood on end.

    I saw Billy Graham as a teen here in Pensacola, and I saw the aftereffects of his crusade in South Korea back in the 1970’s. Thousands were converted there, and Christianity is still a major religion in South Korea today. I know Billy is reunited with Ruth and others who have gone before him! Heaven was singing yesterday!

  6. cantonment girl on February 22nd, 2018 2:30 pm

    YES he was at the old Pensacola auditorium. I grew up in a small church in Ensley (ECMA) and we as a Youth Group attended two (I’m thinking) but certainly remember one as my Grandmother and great Aunt attended with us. They are celebrating with him now!!!
    I had never seen so many people and then so many gather at the alter. He was a true man of God.

  7. Honest John on February 22nd, 2018 11:57 am

    This country desperately needs another Billy Graham.

  8. Me on February 22nd, 2018 11:14 am

    Does anyone remember him coming to the old Pensacola Municipal Auditorium? I vaguely remember being there in 79, 80 or 81 to listen to a preacher. Can’t quite recall who it was. I was only 10 or 12 years old. I can only remember for sure that it was in the evening time.

  9. anne 1of2 on February 22nd, 2018 10:19 am

    Being raised in Detroit where the houses were 6 feet apart and everyone was proud of owning a TV that Billy Graham was on every one of them (one could see them from the sidewalk) whenever he spoke and these were homes of all faiths!

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