‘He sought to unify, not divide’: McDowell pastors react to passing of Rev. Billy Graham

Top: Scott Hagaman of First Baptist Church in Marion

Middle, from left: Jerry Lewis, of Grace Community Church; Walter Pegues, of Addie's Chapel and Cross Mill UMC; Jacob Douylliez, of First Presbyterian Church.

Bottom: Bob Ritter of Nebo Crossing

Rev. Billy Graham was “America’s Pastor,” but he called North Carolina home. And in the wake of his passing Wednesday morning, religious leaders from different denominations in McDowell County recalled the impact he had on their lives and careers.

Wednesday morning Jerry Lewis, pastor Grace Community Church, said he texted one of Graham’s grandsons he knows personally to send his regrets about his grandfather. He said the text he got in return reminds him that Graham’s legacy will live on.

“He said for me to remember what his grandfather said, ‘One day you will hear that Billy Graham is dead, but don’t believe it, for on that day, I will be more alive than ever’,” Lewis said.

Several years back, Lewis said he took a group to one of Graham’s crusades in Charlotte.

“I was so impressed and impacted by the simple message, and the profound response of people to that simple message,” said Lewis. “The second thing that strikes me about him is his leadership. He is known for his crusades, but the Billy Graham Evangelical Association has numerous braches that run all over the world.”

Lewis is an adjunct professor at Montreat College, where Graham and his family were heavily involved in the town and school. Lewis teaches Old and New Testament, but was given the task of developing a program and courses strictly focused on the evangelism of Graham and his teaching methods, which he also uses in his own sermons.

“I watched crusade after crusade, and sermon after sermon, and videos of his leadership team, and what I gleaned from that was he had a unique ability to communicate,” Lewis said. “He preached in a very methodic evangelistic way, and every single sermon he opened up with some knowledge about where he was, whether it was Holland or California, that everybody would connect with. He would give an invitation and preached a simple Gospel. It wasn’t anything complex; it was a simple declaration of the Gospel. Those lessons were tremendous for me.”

Pastor Bob Ritter of Nebo Crossing said this moment of Graham’s “home-going” is a pivotal moment for a divided nation to take note that Jesus Christ is the answer to our brokenness.

“For decades, we have witnessed the comfort the words of the most prolific evangelist in history can bring to our great nation and leaders,” Ritter said in a prepared statement. “Billy’s message was simple: Jesus died on a cross to bring you a way back to a loving father. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ are still the cures for our fallen planet. Thank you, Billy Graham, a life well lived is celebrated today!”

Pastor Walter Pegues for Addie’s Chapel and Cross United Methodist Church said he reflected on Graham’s legacy Wednesday while driving home from a conference.

“I hope and pray all of the lives that he has touched will continue to stay close to Christ, try their best to follow the legacy he left, and get closer and closer to Jesus Christ,” he said.

Pastor Scott Hagaman with the First Baptist Church of Marion echoed Lewis' thoughts about how the Reverend conveyed the Gospel in a simple way.

"Billy Graham’s life story is remarkable, rising from humble beginnings to impact the world so dramatically in the name of Jesus Christ. I’m thankful for his gift to convey the Gospel in such simple, accessible terms to so many people. The church on earth and in heaven is bigger because of his service, preaching, and ministry," said Hagaman. "I have dear friends who came to know Christ through Rev. Graham’s evangelistic services."

Pastor Jacob Douylliez of the First Presbyterian Church in Marion said Graham sought to unify human beings, not divide.

“No one is more synonymous with evangelism than Billy Graham. He saw human beings rather than the political and theological positions they represented, and above all he preached the Gospel indiscriminately,” Douylliez said in an email to The McDowell News. “In the face of our current national polarization, he is a model for how the church and her leaders might engage with the world in an authentic and meaningful way.”

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