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Billy Graham, Globalizer of Christian Evangelism, Turns 90

Friday, 07 Nov 2008 10:12 AM

Billy Graham, the American preacher who harnessed the media and made Christian evangelism a global phenomenon, will celebrate his 90th birthday.

"I never expected to live this long... it is hard to believe I have reached the age of 90," Graham said in a statement posted on the website of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), which he founded in 1950.

Graham was born on November 7, 1918, four days before the end of World War I, on a farm in Charlotte, North Carolina, and grew up during the Great Depression.

At age 16, he met a traveling evangelist in Charlotte and "made a personal commitment to Christ," BGEA says on its website.

He was ordained a Baptist minister in 1939 and, after graduating from Wheaton College in Illinois in 1943, was pastor at a Baptist church before joining Youth for Christ, an organization which ministered to youth and servicemen during World War II.

But it was a "crusade" -- a festival of evangelism -- in Los Angeles in 1949 that propelled Graham to global prominence. A year later he founded BGEA.

From the start of the association that bears his name, Graham harnessed the media to spread his message of evangelism around the world.

His weekly "Hour of Decision" radio program has been broadcast around the world for more than 50 years, and television specials featuring Graham and his son Franklin, who took over at the head of BGEA in 2000, are aired during peak viewing hours several times a year.

In 2002, BGEA launched "My Hope", a project to reach 60 countries around the world through television with Graham's message of evangelism.

BGEA also spreads its Christian message online, and in 2006, nearly 7,000 people around the world found Jesus Christ online, the association says on its website.

The evangelical dynasty begun by Graham and carried on by his son Franklin and grandson Will, also takes its message of Christianity to the masses through an internationally syndicated newspaper column, a 600,000-circulation magazine published in German and English, and more than 125 films.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, BGEA set up the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, which administers spiritual aid in times of crisis.

The Rapid Response Team now has a database of more than 2,800 chaplains and volunteers who are specifically trained to deal with emergency situations.

Said by a spokeswoman for BGEA to be in good health for his age, Graham will celebrate his birthday with a private family dinner near his mountainside home in North Carolina.

Graham still plays a role in the running of BGEA and keeps abreast of current affairs.

He closely followed the US presidential election, and urged Americans to pray for President-elect Barack Obama, saying he "faces many challenges."

"I urge everyone to join me in pledging our support and prayers as he begins the difficult task ahead," Graham said.

© 2008 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.


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