Thousands nationwide are mourning the death of America’s pastor, Christian evangelist Billy Graham, and people around the world are celebrating his life and legacy. Rev. Graham, who died at his North Carolina home Wednesday morning at 99 years old got his start in Northeast Florida giving his first sermon in Palatka at just 18 years old.
In the early 2000s, he preached in Jacksonville, turning our football stadium into a bible study class. Pastor Ryan Stone of Church of Eleven 22 Baymeadows campus remembers attending this crusade with thousands.
“Dr. Graham had this ability to reach people whether young or old, black or white, or rich or poor,” said Pastor Stone.
As a confidant to presidents and a guiding light to generations, Graham was known for being a purposeful pastor.
“I think one of the reasons he was able to bring all people together is because his message was very simple. It’s a fact that Jesus Christ died to save sinners. We are all sinners in need of a savior," said Stone.
Sometime it only takes one person to move a mountain and Graham’s impact has been felt in churches across Jacksonville -- even at Impact Church, where they’re working to renovate their newest location. Senior Pastor George Davis told us Dr. Graham's life was dedicated to serving people and helping young people discover their calling.
“Billy Graham really kinda paved the way and set the tone to reach for the community and letting people know you love them right where they are,” said Pastor Davis.
Graham is reported to have persuaded more than 3 million people to commit their lives to Christ and his preaching was heard in 185 countries.
“I’m sure one of the things he’d love to see is the next generation of young people just really finding their purpose – like, who knew when Bill Graham was 14 that Bill Graham was going to be Bill Graham,” said Pastor Davis.
Graham had ties to Mayo Clinic; in 2004, he underwent a partial hip replacement there.
Mayo Clinic sent us the statement below from Dr. John Noseworthy, president & CEO:
“All of us at Mayo Clinic are deeply saddened at the passing of Rev. Billy Graham. We are grateful to him for his warm, genuine friendship and love for our employees. He viewed himself as part of the Mayo Clinic family.
"Rev. Graham had a special calling and a tremendous outreach. He often said he drew energy from the people at Mayo Clinic. When he was at Mayo for care, he would talk to other patients and staff and visit with people in our lobbies. Every day was a chance for him to reach one more person. He never lost that vocation.
"Rev. Graham delivered the keynote address at the opening of our campus in Florida, Mayo’s first group practice outside of Rochester, Minn. At the event in 1986, he talked about Mayo’s timeless values and how crucial it was to use the latest technologies to serve and heal the people. More than 30 years later, his loving tribute still resonates throughout our hallways, and is a message we at Mayo will always cherish and fervently strive to adhere to.”