In six decades of public ministry, Billy Graham preached to 215-million people worldwide. That’s face to face. When you add in TV, radio, and the internet the number surely goes well above a billion. Linger on that for just a moment. Dr. Billy Graham told more than a billion people how they can have an eternity changing relationship with Jesus Christ.
Some of those people live near us. Perhaps even you. Dr. Billy Graham came to Baltimore three times for public ministry. It’s also possible he swung by for a crab cake on his way somewhere else, but publicly to tell people about Jesus that number will always be three visits.
The third, and most recent, time was in 2006. It was also the most significant historically. On the last day of the Metro Maryland Festival, Dr. Graham preached what would be his final public sermon. Dr. Graham was nearing 88 years old and it was publicized that he would speak only if his health permitted. Thankfully it did, and the largest crowd of the three day festival was on hand at Camden Yards to witness history and respond to the life-changing Gospel.
In 1981, Dr. Graham conducted a full-on Billy Graham Crusade at Memorial Stadium. Dr. Graham was 62 and at the peak of his public ministry. This was an event that had long been hoped for, but finding the right time and location delayed it for several years. It was generally agreed that the biggest impact would place the event at the Stadium, but the Orioles and Colts both played there and it was challenging finding a long enough stretch of time when those teams weren’t using it. When the 1981 baseball schedule was released, the Orioles had an extended road trip in June, so eight days between June 7-14 became the dates.
There was lots of planning in the months leading up to the Crusade. Hundreds of churches and thousands of volunteers were involved. They attended classes to prepare for on-field counseling each night of the Crusade.
Finally, Dr. Graham arrived in Baltimore on June 3. For the next two weeks Billy Graham was a resident of Charm City. He attended the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast at the Convention Center on June 5th. He met with local leaders and even ate lunch a time or two at McDonald’s. More than 234-thousand people heard Billy Graham preach at Memorial Stadium with more than 13-thousand accepting the invitation to begin a new life in Christ. The day after the Crusade ended, Dr. Graham and his wife Ruth left Baltimore for a vacation in Europe.
The first time Billy Graham preached in Baltimore was 1949. He was 30 and still a few months away from the Los Angeles Crusade that would change his public ministry and launch him towards worldwide fame. Before that, he was simply an unknown evangelist who was traveling around the country with Youth for Christ. That’s why his 12-day meetings at the Lyric were poorly attended. Nobody had heard of him and probably weren’t very compelled to attend.
It was during this first time in Baltimore that Billy Graham’s ministry would intersect with a pair of young brothers who also were going to be used in a big way by God in years to come. Peter and John Bisset, along with Paul Plack, hosted a live Gospel radio program on WFBR. It was on three nights a week at 11:15pm. Some friends of Youth for Christ asked if Billy Graham could be on their program to promote the meetings at the Lyric. They agreed. And so, one night in the spring of 1949, Billy Graham, along with George Beverly Shea, was on the radio, live with Peter, Paul and John. They talked, they preached, they sang… and then they went their separate ways.
Billy Graham to reach millions around the world… Peter and John to reach deep into a community through a radio station they bought and is now known as 95.1 SHINE-FM.