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In the spring of 1952, Billy Graham preached a crusade in Rice Stadium, on the campus of Rice University in Houston, Texas.

I was eleven years old and lived only blocks away from that 70,000 seat football stadium. My father was on one of the committees that served the crusade, and I attended the meetings. I was impressed with the fact that Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were on the stage, but more impressed with Graham’s style of preaching the Gospel.

Seven years later I would respond to a call from God to preach the same Gospel, and would preach my first sermon. I tried hard to imitate Billy Graham – a soft covered, floppy Bible in one hand, one foot behind the other, and index finger of the other hand pointing toward heaven. I even worked on a North Carolina accent. Somehow phrases like, “from all over this vast crowd, people are going to come to the altar” and “the buses will wait” never seemed to fit the small groups to which I preached.

By my senior year in college I had become pastor of my first church, and had decided that God called one Billy Graham, and one Dan Crawford, each unique, each gifted, each with a special ministry. But he remained a hero, and the past few days have been mixed with grief over his death and joy over his heavenly arrival. He and my father were the same age.

I hope by now they have has an opportunity to re-new their acquaintance in heaven. Engraved in Billy Graham’s tombstone are the words of Jesus, recorded in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” I will continue to proclaim that truth, minus one more earthly hero.

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