Every Billy Graham crusade, every Billy Graham outreach of any kind, begins with the same unnamable ache. That ache is discovered when people from every walk of life come to the end of their resources—finding themselves lost.
There is a pause, a sigh, a groan and they look up from an empty bottle of pills, or they step outside and begin a listless ramble along the highway, or they come trembling to the brink of suicide. And at that moment—at just the right moment—a message comes to them.
Perhaps they scan a few words from a crumpled booklet in the half light of an airplane reading lamp, or they hear a clear voice ringing out from the car radio, or they see the fl ickering image of a man at a podium in a sea of people on the television. And somehow that message breaks through to their deepest need and speaks straight to the ache with words from God on the lips or from the pen of Billy Graham.
The ache—that sense of emptiness, of having no purpose—is where many of our stories begin. Millions of people ached. And Billy Graham—arms outstretched, eyes brimming with compassion— gave them an invitation.
Tricia, from Southern California, felt the ache. Actually, she felt it twice. The first time she was only sixteen, pregnant, and strung-out on drugs. Tricia was hurting deep within—in heart and body. She wandered into a tent set up on the beach and listened to Billy Graham speak about things she had never heard of before, about truths she had never dared imagine—unconditional acceptance, a free gift of peace with God, a new life. There was something here! Something true. Something for her.
Minutes later, Tricia found herself at the altar, kneeling awkwardly in the sand. She describes the moment: “I gave my life to Christ. A former prostitute with mascara running down her tear- streaked cheeks counseled me. I left wondering what had just happened.”
What had happened? There, face-to-face with a woman she had never met, Tricia gave the life she had never wanted to the God she had always needed. She will never forget those mascara streaks, the gentle burn of sand beneath her knees, the crescendo of waves crashing just outside with the voices of hundreds praying, and the feeling of good news washing over her—at last, something for the ache!
But as real and powerful as that moment was, Tricia soon found herself caught up in a struggle with her old ways. “Th ere was always that still small voice in my deepest parts,” she writes, “but I tried to bury it in rebellious living. I was successful almost to the point of death, deep despair and heartache driving me to the very edge of suicide. I think God was saying, ‘Your mouth says no—no, but your heart is saying yes—yes.’ And it was true, because that ever-present, never-ending love of God finally captured me.”
It’s as if that same invitation echoed in her soul. After several stops and starts, Tricia’s life was finally filled with purpose and hope. She surrendered her life to Christ and discovered the remedy for her deepest need. What stands out in Tricia’s memory of her journey is that humble starting place: “It all began in a tent on a beach forty years ago, when I listened to a man named Billy Graham!”
Tricia's story is not uncommon. Th e remainder of this book is filled with stories very much like it. An invitation goes out. Regardless of life’s circumstances, people hear it and answer, “Yes—yes.” The whole thing may seem a little ordinary. But what we miss is that the invitation is a kind of seed. A very powerful and wonderful kind of seed. Once sown, it replants a life. Th e result is a beautiful harvest that yields eternal fruit.
We hope to help you see Billy Graham as he really is. A farm boy from North Carolina who had but one crop to sow, one kind of seed. Up and down the length of this great United States and across oceans abroad, he sowed the seed of the gospel to the aching, to throngs of ordinary, life-worn people.
Viewed this way, these humble stories as the true record of a harvest on a scale never before seen. For whether in person or by book, radio, television, or film, Billy Graham has been able to proclaim God’s invitation to more than 2 billion people in 185 countries.
Just getting there, though, getting to that invitation, is often the problem. But sometimes running away brings people to the very thing they were longing for.
One night Sandra from Wisconsin decided to leave everything behind. After a day of drinking and arguing with her husband, Sandra went out to the road and started walking. No one came after her. As she paced alongside the highway, Sandra took an inventory of her disappointing life thus far: Family, friends, and acquaintances had all let her down. She had let herself down. Most devastating, though, was the belief that God had abandoned her. Her life was a mess, a bottomless pit of sadness and despair.
She was walking away from the pain because it hurt so badly. But then something extraordinary
happened. “As I was walking,” Sandra explains, “I remember looking up at the stars, and in my half
stupor, I said, ‘God, help me.’ Those three words saved my life.”
A couple of people she didn’t know picked Sandra up and dropped her off at a restaurant, and she eventually made it back home. But the gloom— that dark swirling void that seemed to swallow her—simply got worse. “I was feeling really bad about myself and concluded that my husband and children would be better off without me, so I decided to leave them. I got some friends to take me to a bus station, and I purchased a ticket to Las Vegas. At this point, no one knew where I was.”
No one, perhaps, except God.
Sandra got off the bus in Salt Lake City and encountered a woman named Nancy handing out pieces of paper. She stopped and asked about them. The woman explained that she was representing the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and was simply telling people about Jesus. Jesus?
Sandra wondered. I grew up in church. What does Jesus have to do with this? Besides
, she thought, I know everything there is to know about Jesus.
But for the next two hours time stopped for Sandra. She stood on that noisy street corner listening to the woman tell her about Jesus, hanging on to every word for hope. As Sandra left, her new friend gave her a New Testament and some of Billy Graham’s books. Sandra treasured that New Testament and began to read it for herself.
The seed that had been planted on the streets of Salt Lake City was about to blossom in ways Sandra never could’ve imagined. Sandra describes her transformation: “In the front part of the Bible, Billy Graham had inserted a page called ‘How to Become a Christian.’ He had written out the four spiritual laws. I read them and then came to the Sinner’s Prayer”:Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner and need Your forgiveness. I believe that You died for my sins. I want to turn from my sins. I now invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as Lord and Savior. In Jesus’s name, amen.
“I read through it and thought, What does that mean?
” Sandra says. “So I read it again, and all of a sudden the light came on. Oh, that’s what it means!
” Sandra’s life was never the same.
Drawn as it is from Scripture, the Sinner’s Prayer has a simple power. Embracing the words for yourself is an amazing experience. In a few sentences you come to know yourself as never before, and you come to know God as you never imagined Him to be.
Sandra describes what happened next. “My living room came alive with the presence of the Lord. He was so real. What was happening to me was so real. I could feel the burden of sin being lifted from me, and my whole being was changed in an instant. I will always have that sweet woman, Nancy, to thank for taking the time to talk to me. My salvation was sealed on June 25, 1972.”
As she looked for something to fill the bottomless pit, Sandra took herself on a long journey that eventually led her to the cross of Christ and to peace with God. Th e seed had taken root and was
beginning to grow.
The roar of Niagara Falls was not enough to drown out the question raging in Carolyn’s mind: Is life worth living?
The answer seemed evident because of the very fact that she was here. She had not come to sightsee.
She sat in her car, working up the courage to throw herself over the falls. It seemed like the only answer for Carolyn. There was a kind of hope in simply being at the end of her rope.
But Carolyn didn’t realize there was a knot at the end of her rope, one that would keep her from jumping over the edge. That knot was a book filled with stories of people whose lives had been dramatically changed by God at a Billy Graham crusade.
What a strange irony! To read about glimpses of hope on the brink of the cliff. Carolyn’s fingers
trembled as she tried to hold the book steady enough to see if anything in it could pull her off her deadly course.
As she began to read, something wonderful happened. Carolyn caught a glimmer of hope—many of the stories began just like hers but ended far differently. Listen: “As I read the testimonies, I thought that maybe Jesus could change my life. I could always come back next week and jump. I also had a tract and prayed the prayer on the back and asked Jesus to forgive my sins. God changed my life that day.”
The ending had been rewritten! A message came...an invitation. The ache was answered. Carolyn has no explanation for why she is still alive other than the fact that God brought her to Himself that day many years ago at the edge of Niagara Falls. And while Billy Graham has never met Carolyn, he would no doubt be gratifi ed to know that God’s message continues to rewrite stories. And that those stories, often coming out of very dark places, are now filled with light and hope, a hope that is embodied in the gospel as preached by Billy Graham.
Countless people have discovered that when they begin to reach out to God, He has already been
reaching out to them.
Not all senses of need are caused by bad actions. Millions feel, as a philosopher once put it, that there is a “God-shaped vacuum” in their heart. Th ey know that something big is missing from their lives and that something is gnawing at them, prompting them to search for some way to feed that hunger. Many begin searching early in life for the missing piece and ultimately discover that it is actually a relationship. A relationship with God.
Stephan grew up in the idyllic mountains of Switzerland. He was surrounded by a loving family yet found himself yearning for something he could not name. “As I reached my early teens,” he says, “I grew restless in my heart, not knowing why. I had all the world could possibly off er and yet no peace, no contentment, no joy.” He searched, looking to family and even his church to give him that elusive peace. “Gradually I realized that my need was spiritual.”
But Stephan grew weary with the search. “With quiet desperation, I pursued answers on my own but could never seem to hold the truth in my hand—as a handful of sand, it always seemed to slip through my fingers, leaving me frustrated and discouraged. And there was no one to help, nowhere to turn.”
Or so he thought.
One day Stephan’s father gathered the family and shared that he had established a personal relationship with God. At first no one understood. The family attended church; they were good people. Of course, they knew about God. But Stephan’s father described a book he had been reading called Peace with God,
written by an American evangelist named Billy Graham. Th e family could see the tremendous change in the father, so young Stephan asked to borrow the book.
As Stephan read, the words seem to lift off the page and blow across the cold embers of his heart.
Soon those embers became a living fi re that seared away the sense of emptiness he had known. He had found what the title promised—peace with God.
Stephan spoke of that experience as if talking directly to the book’s author: “You gave me the words that would forever quench the thirst in my soul. You told me how to be born again according to the Scriptures. That night, a fifteen-year-old knelt by his bed, alone with God, and invited his Savior, Jesus Christ, to forgive his sins and live forever in his heart. Peace finally filled my soul.”
Stephan had no way of knowing at that time how radically his life would change. Years later he
had the privilege of getting to know the American evangelist that had changed his life. In fact, Stephan Tchividjian married one of Billy Graham’s daughters and became the father of the authors of this book!
Stephan concludes, “Thank you, Billy Graham. You have been a father to me and the grandfather to my children and a friend who is and forever will be closer than a brother. But above all, you introduced me to our God and showed me what it means to honor Him and walk with Him.”
Every person has that God-shaped vacuum. Some discover early in life that God longs to fill that space and invite Him in. Others flail around for years, getting nowhere but deeper into loneliness and despair. But the ultimate answer for life’s most central needs are found in the gospel Billy Graham has spent a lifetime sharing: “God loves you and wants to have a relationship with you.”
Seldom do two people start out on exactly the same paths in life. The most important thing, however, is not the starting place but the finish line. Though the people who share their stories in this book have their own personal experiences, all have moved forward to find purpose and hope in this life and in the life to come.
Many began with an ache that seemed to have no name. Was it loneliness? Despair? Worthlessness? Whatever the name or the cause, these people experienced what countless others have discovered as well. That ache has only one lasting remedy—the embracing love of God in Jesus Christ.
Billy Graham has devoted his life sowing the seeds of this precious message called the gospel. No one will ever know the personal sacrifi ces he endured so that others—millions of others—would hear of God’s amazing love. Billy Graham has been able to invite these seekers to find the answer to the most important question they have ever asked—“Is there any hope?”
The answer is “Yes, there is hope!”
Excerpted from Invitation by Stories of Real People Transformed by God: Basyle and Aram Tchividjian, Grandsons of Billy Graham. Copyright © 2008 by Stories of Real People Transformed by God: Basyle and Aram Tchividjian, Grandsons of Billy Graham. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.