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Will Graham speaks of his father & grandfather

EDITORS’ NOTE: This feature on Will Graham, grandson of evangelist Billy Graham, follows the conclusion of his first U.S. evangelistic campaign, Oct. 9-11 in Gastonia, N.C.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BP)–While growing up, Will Graham says he didn’t feel the pressure of being the grandson of Billy Graham.

His father, Franklin Graham, tried to make sure there was no pressure on him to enter the ministry. “Dad wanted to make sure that I wasn’t pressured and was doing it for the right reasons. He wanted to know that the Lord was leading me and not because of six letters,” Will said, referring to the famous Graham name.

Will Graham said people in Boone, N.C., where he grew up seem to like people for who they are, not who they’re related to. His father, meanwhile, tried to shield his four children from media exposure, controlling interview requests through their college days. “Dad made it clear, if you wanted to talk to Will, you had to go through him,” Will, now 31, said.

A smile instantly comes to his face when asked who his role model was while growing up. “By far and away, Dad,” Will said. “We did the manly things. We rode motorcycles, went hunting, shot guns in the backyard, just things that boys do.

“I loved to ride motorcycles, but I sold my bike when I turned 16 to buy my first car,” Will continued. “Somehow my dad’s got more motorcycles; he says he believes in trickle down economics, but they’ve trickled down around me. In other words, they’ve trickled to my brothers.”

Will said his personality comes from his mother. He feels comfortable talking to people, whereas both Franklin and Billy, in reality, are very shy. “For most people, the only time you see them is on TV when they’re talking,” Will said, noting, however, “They are so quiet, especially my granddaddy. He’ll sit in a room and never open his mouth.”

Will said his grandfather had a more indirect effect on his life. During Will’s youth, Billy was on the road much of the time preaching. But it was the influence Billy had on his dad and mom that helped shape his life, Will said.

Will said he did get to spend more time with Billy than many of the other Graham grandchildren for two reasons: first, his grandparents lived in Montreat, N.C., about two hours away, and second, because of Franklin’s close relationship to Billy, “If my granddaddy was in London, then I’d get to go to London.”

The past year has seen the two spending more time together, after Will moved to Montreat. “I’ve spent more time with him this past year than probably most of my life put together,” Will said. “It’s nice to open his door and see him sitting there.”

Will left the pastorate in July after hearing the Lord call him to help his dad. “The Lord’s called me to help my dad. Not to help the Billy Graham ministry, I’m here just to help my dad. My dad’s got a lot on his plate right now” as president of both the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse.

At BGEA, “I’ve got a lot to learn,” Will said. “The budget at my church was pretty small compared the budget around here.”

He works at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove as assistant director. He reports to several supervisors and considers himself an employee. Yet, he also wears two other “hats” at BGEA — as the son of Franklin, the current CEO, and being on the board of directors.

Will said juggling the various hats can be difficult at times. He doesn’t want to use his family and board influence to circumvent his job, yet he knows there may be a time when he needs to step up and use those avenues.

Will’s Oct. 9-11 Greater Gaston Celebration in Gastonia, N.C., prompted speculation that it was launching his own evangelistic ministry. Adding to that assumption was the final night of the campaign when longtime Billy Graham colleagues George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows had Will join them in a rendition of “This Little Light of Mine,” as Billy Graham often has done. Will stated that it simply was “two lifelong friends of my granddaddy came to support his grandson. They’ve been faithful to my granddaddy for 60 years. They extended that to my dad when he began.”

By the second night of the celebration, Will was being compared to the Billy Graham that people remembered in the 1970s and ’80s for the similarities in their voice, mannerisms, look and even preaching style. Will described the comparisons as “the greatest honor, to be compared to a man that you love so much, who means so much to other people.”

He agreed there are similarities with his grandfather; both are from North Carolina, which he says causes them to sound alike, were raised on a farm, and are built alike, though Billy is taller.

However, there are some differences, Will said. He is more conservative in his presentation at age 31 compared to Billy who was called “God’s machine gun” in his early ministry. His voice isn’t as strong as Billy’s was. “My voice is a little sore today,” Will said after the three-day outreach, whereas his grandfather “went 16 weeks preaching every night.”

Still, “It’s always wonderful to be compared to your granddaddy,” Will said. “I take that as a compliment.”

The comparisons also put him on the firing line. His stands on salvation through Jesus Christ alone and on abortion as murder have made him a target of the secular world. “It’s always going to affect you,” he said of the criticisms, “but it doesn’t matter.”

Will said he has no intention of being involved in politics or being politically correct, noting that Jesus never softened the truth or aimed for political correctness.

“I’m not here to please them. I’m here to please the King of kings,” Will said. “At the end of my life, I’m going to give an account of my life. And like my granddaddy and dad, I want to be faithful to Him.”

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  • Bob Carey