William F. Graham, Jr., was born on November 7, 1918, to William Franklin and Morrow Coffey Graham near Charlotte, North Carolina.
He was the first of four children. His parents were both Christians and regularly attended the Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church, but it wasn't until 1934 through a series of revival meetings lead by evangelist Mordecai Fowler, that Billy Graham personally dedicated his life to Christ.
In 1937, he began attending Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College) and 3 years later graduated with a Th.B. He was also baptized while attending FBI and began his life time involvement with the Southern Baptist Convention. From 1940 to 1943 Graham attended Wheaton College and graduated with an A.B. in anthropology. He became the pastor of the United Gospel Tabernacle while still in college.
It was while attending Wheaton that Billy Graham met his future wife, Ruth Bell. Ruth was the daughter of a Southern Presbyterian missionary and had spent her childhood in China and Korea. Ruth and Billy were married on August 13, 1943, after graduation. It was while pastoring a Baptist church in Chicago, that Graham took over a religious radio program, Songs in the Night, and began preaching every Sunday evening. Only a few months later, Graham left both the radio program and the church to become vice president of Youth for Christ, an organization which held rallies for servicemen and young people. In 1945, the local Youth for Christ organizations came together to form one organization under the leadership of Torrey Johnson. Johnson hired Graham as his helper and for the next four years, Graham traveled the country and Europe speaking and organizing chapters.
Graham eventually began holding evangelistic rallies of his own. He traveled the country and became quite well known within evangelist communities. In 1949, he came into national prominence through an evangelistic campaign he was leading in Los Angeles. Lead by the conversion of a prominent disc jockey and a local underworld figure, newspapers around the country spread the name of the evangelist, and the rally that was scheduled to last three weeks, lasted more than seven.
In the decades to come, Graham would hold evangelistic campaigns in all the major U.S. cities as well as around the world. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) was born in the late 1950's and it was also at this time that Grahan began his weekly radio program, The Hour of Decision. After 1957, Graham generally held three to five crusades a year, while a number of his associate evangelists led crusades in smaller cities and churches.
In addition to the crusades, BGEA began work on other evangelistic projects. As mentioned above, the Hour of Decision radio program was one of the first projects, and from 1951 to 1954 there was also an Hour of Decision television show with a similar format with the appearance of special guests. In the early fifties, BGEA bought out a film company and began producing films about the association and the crusades. This film company is currently known as World Wide Pictures. Around the same time BGEA also began a magazine called Decision which had a circulation of approximately two million in 1988.
Another project taken on by the BGEA, involved Billy Graham's deep interest in education and training of Christians in the methods of evangelism. In 1974, the BGEA agreed to donate funds to create the Billy Graham Center on the campus of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. The Center included a library, museum, archives, and an Institute of Evangelism. In 1980 Graham dedicated the Center. A similar project was completed in the late 1980's. Located in western North Carolina, the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove was created to teach and equip laypersons to serve more effectively in their local church. Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son, became chairman of the board of trustees for the center.
Billy Graham has written well over a dozen books with How To Be Born Again (1977) having the largest first printing in publishing history. Angels: God's Secret Agents (1975) sold one million copies within 90 days, and The Jesus Generation (1971) sold 200,000 copies in the first two weeks. His most recent book is an autobiography entitled, Just As I Am.
Billy Graham has been listed by the Gallup organization as one of the "Ten Most Admired Men in the World" an unparalleled 37 times. Good Housekeeping named him as #1 in the "Most Admired Men" poll three years in a row, and 14 times in the top ten. He has been on the covers of Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report. In addition to the many awards he has received in his years of evangelism, Graham was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in May of 1996.
Since his career began over fifty years ago, Billy Graham has preached the Gospel to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history--over 210 million people. Hundreds of millions more have been reached through television, video and film.
Billy and Ruth Graham live in the mountains of North Carolina. They have five children, 19 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. In 1996, William Franklin Graham III, Graham's oldest son, was made vice chairman of the BGEA board. He will be his father's successor when the time comes for Billy Graham to leave the ministry.