By Bethany Peterson
Billy Graham, worldwide evangelist and “America’s Pastor, died this morning, Feb. 21, at age 99 at his home in North Carolina. Graham advised 11 presidents and preached to roughly 2.2 billion people for over six decades before retiring to his North Carolina home in 2005.
And where did this evangelical powerhouse get his start? Right here, at Wheaton College.
Graham graduated from Wheaton in 1943 with a degree in anthropology. He met and married his classmate, Ruth Bell, on Aug. 13, 1943.
While a full-time student, he preached at the United Gospel Tabernacle for $5 per hour; that church closed in 1950. After graduation, Graham became pastor of The Village Church in Western Springs, Illinois, near Wheaton, for 21 months. During this time, Graham hosted the radio broadcast, Songs in the Night, reaching the greater Chicago area. Afterwards, Graham left the Wheaton area as a Youth For Christ evangelist and began his global travels.
Yet Wheaton continues to be influenced by Graham’s work and legacy.
In 1950, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was formed, but Graham still felt that there was a need for a more permanent training center. Wheaton seemed like like the right place for that as a leading evangelical institution. In 1980, the Billy Graham Center (BGC) was dedicated.
According to the BGC website, “Rev. Billy Graham sought to develop a center for strategic planning, inspiration, and preparation of leaders to fuel the evangelism mission of the Church in the world. After completing two global conferences (Berlin 1966 and Lausanne 1974), he was convinced of the need for an institution to continually stimulate and accelerate the Great Commission.” The BGC was developed to act a center for evangelism and Christian leadership training.
In addition, Graham continued to be present on Wheaton’s campus for a number of years. He spoke in several chapel services, and acted as the keynote speaker for multiple commencement addresses, most recently in 1993.
During Wednesday morning chapel, Wheaton College President Philip Ryken commemorated Billy Graham’s legacy at Wheaton, saying “all his thoughts of the past were of Wheaton College, and all his thoughts of the future were of Jesus and heaven.”