At the end of Billy Graham’s messages you heard the song. It was a song pleading for lost sinners to come home. Just as I am with just one plea, but that thou blood was shed for me. Billy Graham preached to millions over his lifetime! His messages were hope to the lost. They were about how God could take a life that was broken and fix it! “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”, he would invariably say. I remember so well watching his crusades on TV. After the services it seemed like thousands were going up front to accept God’s gift of salvation! Billy Graham was a revered leader to those who believed in his message and even those who didn’t. He was frequently in the company of leaders and presidents! He was always in the conversation as one of the most respected people of his time! Yet, for all of the success that Billy Graham had bringing people to Christ he had a rebellious son who was lost and living a life far from God.
In 1952 William Franklin Graham entered the world. Franklin made the comment in the opening line of his book Rebel With A Cause, that “If I had understood the messages people were sending me on the day I was born, I might just have crawled right back where I’d come from and taken a rain check!” Of course he was joking but here is a sample of sentiments that came that day. A Western Union telegram read “Welcome to this sin-sick world and the challenge you have to walk in your daddy’s footsteps.” A card read “May his great father’s mantle fall on him.” A note to the Grahams stated, “We heard that your daddy has new help for preaching God’s truth. Praise the Lord! Grow up fast!” “Good luck and best wishes to the young preacher”, another card encouraged. One Catholic admirer stated “I’ll bet that your new boy will be a Catholic some day, maybe priest, bishop, or cardinal, possibly pope. He would then be infallible in matters of faith and morals. Franklin stated that he was sure that all of the people who applauded his birth meant well. They would not knowingly put pressure on him to live up to his powerful father’s image. Yet at an early age he realized that being the first son of a legend would be both a blessing and a burden.
Franklin grew up loving the mountains. They were settled in Montreat, North Carolina which is 15 miles east of Asheville. The mountainous region was just the setting that made Franklin love the outdoors. Sightseers frequently visited their first house wanting to get a glimpse of where the great Billy Graham lived. Many times they would come right up to the door. Franklin’s mom Ruth valued their privacy and when another group of tourists left one day she proclaimed “that’s enough.” “We need our privacy.” They bought some land in the mountains just outside of Montreat and she named it “Little Piney Cove.” To Franklin it was a place he loved and always referred to as home. Ruth’s idea was to be practical and build a log cabin home. Buying three different abandoned log shacks and using the logs on each one to build their new home was practical in her mind. She was the daughter of missionaries to China and almost didn’t marry Billy Graham because she had her heart on becoming a missionary too.
Franklin naturally looked for a father figure. His father Billy Graham was a world figure and was often away. Later in his ministry Billy would be able to fly to his crusades and fly back home the next day. In those earlier years though Billy Graham could be gone weeks or months at a time. When preaching the gospel overseas his mode of travel back then was often times ships. Adding to the travel time was the many countries that welcomed Billy Graham and his message. The result was salvation to thousands across the world yet also a missing father to his own family. Young Franklin used to go with his mother as she supervised the new construction. Franklin was fascinated by the teamwork and precision these men displayed. He was also fascinated by their smoking. Invariably he would pick up their cigarette butts and try to smoke them too. It was an inward cry I’m sure of being like men he admired. The workers got a kick out of young Franklin and sometimes dropped half smoked cigarettes in his path just to watch him delightfully pick them up and smoke. His mother would invariably catch and reprimand him not to do that, but that didn’t stop Franklin. One day his mother tried to break him of his habit of smoking used butts. Their caretaker Floyd Roberts stopped by to make sure everything was alright. Ruth asked Floyd if she could have the cigarettes in his front pocket. “I’m going to teach Franklin a lesson”, she offered. With the cigarettes in hand she called Franklin down to the kitchen in front of the fireplace. “What is she up to?”, Franklin wondered. She pulled out one of the cigarettes and handed it to Franklin. “Now light it up and smoke it and make sure you inhale.” Franklin couldn’t believe his mother was giving him permission to smoke! Ruth on the other hand thought that the smoking would make Franklin throw up and rid his habit for good. Well she was partially right! Franklin did run to the bathroom and threw up but to her surprise he came back and smoked some more! After breaking for the bathroom 5 or 6 times he had finished the pack. Instead of teaching him a lesson the activity showed just how determined Franklin could be to do the unexpected and not conform. It was obviously not the results that his loving mother had wanted.
Franklin loved the great outdoors and spent many an hour finding his entertainment in the mountains. He didn’t like being cooped up inside and to him school was just that. While in school his mind was invariably on adventures instead of what it should have been on. As a result his grades were never what they could have been. Comments would always suggest that Franklin could be such a better student if he only applied himself. When he was thirteen he heard his father’s distinct voice calling him. “Franklin, I need to talk to you.” As he entered the room Franklin wondered “What now?” “Your going to Stony Brook”, Billy Graham said in that forceful distinct way that he made his points when he preached. Franklin knew that it was pointless to argue because the decision was already made.
Franklin felt a dull ache in his chest. If his parents were going to send him away why didn’t they choose a school in the south? He was a southern boy and hated the idea of going to school with Yankees from the north. Stony Brook was a Christian boarding school on Long Island in New York. Franklin felt lost right away as the schools academic expectations were very high. Discipline however seemed to be rule number one at the school. Students were required to dress up in shirt, tie, and jacket. Since Franklin didn’t have proper clothes for the school his father took him shopping just before he left and bought him a wardrobe of proper clothes. Franklin was used to wearing his casual jeans and shirts around his mountain home and school. Now he was required to wear clothing that he simply didn’t like. Living in the dorm was another challenge to Franklin. He felt like his freedom had been taken away, much like being sent to prison. He was a loner in many ways and now he had a roommate. Although his roommate was nice enough it wasn’t a comfortable living situation for him. To top it all off Franklin’s southern accent made him different from most of the other kids. He simply didn’t feel like he belonged.
Franklin felt that the school put it’s values in the wrong places. For instance they were very disciplined as far as the student dress code went. However, when it came to respect that the students showed for their teachers they seemed very relaxed. Franklin, though rebellious, had grown up learning to respect his elders. It seemed that the school let kids get away with mouthing off all of the time. In his former school, if he caused problems he was hit with a paddle. At Stony Brook they just accumulated demerits. If they reached a certain level they were forced to sit in a study hall. “Big deal”, Franklin thought of what he perceived as soft punishment for multiple offenders.
Franklin discovered a deli and became friends with some of the guys who worked there. They let him in the back room where he could smoke and drink a beer or two whenever he wanted to. Later because he made it known that he would like to live alone the school gave him a single room. It wasn’t very big but he liked the fact that he could go out on the ledge and smoke! Of course smoking was illegal at the school and when asked if he did he would always lie. When someone would state that he smelled like smoke he might reply that he just came out of the kitchen and the cook was smoking and blew smoke on him. Still in his heart he knew that he was walking a tight rope. He was hard and callused and didn’t care what happened. He was determined to be rebellious and he went against everything the school was trying to stand for. On the other hand he didn’t want to bring a bad light on his famous father. Mixed up and confused all he really wanted to do was come home.
By Thanksgiving of his junior year Franklin summoned up enough courage to confront his dad about his situation. “Daddy”, he stated “I’d like to finish school here in Black Mountain.” His father quickly stated, “Stick it out Franklin, next year you will graduate.” Undaunted Franklin made his point. “Daddy, if you don’t let me come home by Christmas they will probably kick me out sometime this year! Don’t you think it would be better for me to bring it to an end gracefully?” Deep down he knew that his dad knew he was breaking rules and rebelling against authority at every turn. He had become very cynical and hard hearted. “Let me talk it over with your mom and pray about it”, was his fathers response. The next day Franklin was pleasantly surprised. “Stay at Stony Brook until Christmas and you can come home.” Franklin could hardly hide his excitement and delight! He would be coming home from a place he despised to his beloved mountains!
When Franklin got back to his home school he was pleasantly surprised again! Since Stony Brook had such high academic standards Franklin was already way ahead of his class. He was promoted to the senior class and allowed to graduate with them. Still things did not go smoothly that year. He was suspended from school for getting into a fight with another student. The other student was much bigger than Franklin and was used to picking on the other students without recourse. Franklin wouldn’t take abuse from anyone and stood up for himself. He was told that one more altercation like that and he would be out the door. He had another incident but fortunately it wasn’t with the school. Franklin loved to drive fast and usually the local police officer let it go. One time however as Franklin breezed by him the officer started a chase. Franklin seeing the police car with lights flashing in his rear view mirror and knowing that the police cars in his town were ill equipped to keep up with him didn’t stop. He hit the accelerator and quickly ditched the officer pulling into the house property and quickly shutting the gate. A few minutes later his fathers voice called for him. “Franklin, come down here immediately!” Confronting him was the officer and his father. Franklin was surprised when his father said that he supported the officer and if he wanted to take Franklin to jail he backed it 100%. Fortunately he was just given a stern warning about the dangers he was causing by his reckless behavior.
Fortunately Franklin was able to complete the year without further trouble. It was discovered after he was accepted to a college in Texas that he was one credit short of graduation. His father stepped in on his behalf and they made an agreement that he would finish his high school credit at the same time that he was taking freshman classes in college. His famous father went to bat for Franklin and he was grateful! You would think that Franklin would be satisfied. However, he went to his father again telling him that he would like to go to Alaska. Wanting to see new sights he sold his father on the idea. Making contacts and using his influence with people he knew Billy Graham got Franklin and a friend named Jim jobs on the Alaskan pipeline. Unfortunately when they arrived their jobs were not available due to protests from environmentalists. Franklin wasn’t worried because the same company had other jobs. Unfortunately he was split up from Jim and didn’t see him again. Jim ended up going back after a few weeks but Franklin remained in Nome the rest of the summer. He loved being outdoors and working his 12 hour shifts. He had never felt so free and he was making all kinds of money! He also flew with his bosses son. He was always excited about motorized things and was always interested in taking things apart and putting them back together. Being that close to the pilot and seeing how he navigated the big aircraft enhanced his desire to learn to fly himself.
LeTourneau College was Franklin’s college of choice. LeTourneau was named after R. G. Letourneau, a prominant Christian businessman who had been an early supporter of Billy Graham crusades. R.G. loved flying and had a heavy desire to spread the gospel. He realized that so much more could be accomplished through the air and he founded the technical school to train students to be pilots and engineers for missionary service. LeTourneau also trained other tradesmen such as welders and machinists. Franklin was assigned a roommate named Bill. Right away Franklin and Bill really got along well. Even though Bill was totally focused and Franklin was not, the two hit it off! Bill wanted to be a pilot for the missionaries and his life was totally dedicated to God. Even though he was a born again Christian, Franklin noticed that Bill was not the stuffy kind of Christian that he had noticed many were. Bill was fun loving and adventurous. Franklin learned a lot from Bill. Bill took Franklin up in his little plane. Bill’s plane was small and kind of junky, but Franklin loved that plane and the rides they took. Bill was one of the big reasons that Franklin was happy at the college. The other was the classes he was taking. He could see that the things he was learning could be beneficial to him later in life!
Franklin was fascinated with flying and received his pilots license. That led to a mishap that detoured him from flying for awhile. He borrowed a plane and took a few friends on a trip. As they were landing on the flight home he misjudged his speed and the length of the landing strip. He couldn’t stop the plane in time and ran off of the runway. The plane was severely damaged but nobody was hurt. Feeling embarrassed by what had happened Franklin avoided people for as long as he could. Finally Bill encouraged him to go up again. Bill from his own experiences knew that mishaps can happen and the best remedy is to be fearless. When his father wanted Franklin to join him in Vero Beach Florida where they were vacationing Franklin took some friends and rented a turbo jet. At the airport in Florida Franklin made a perfect landing as his dad watched intently. After visiting for a few days they were flying back in the fog and the plane had lost it’s radio signal. They could see the lights to the city and found the airport. Since they couldn’t radio they circled hoping that somehow someone would notice them and give permission to land. Just as they were about to give up hope the green light came on. Franklin was delighted and lowered the plane carefully. Just then all of the airport lights went on and he could see very clearly and was able to land the plane perfectly! As soon as he landed the plane and coasted to a stop all of the lights went out. As they were walking away from the plane someone encountered Franklin. “Is that your plane?”, he wanted to know “and did you just land?” When Franklin acknowledged that he did the man wanted to know who gave him clearance? Franklin and his passengers all confirmed that the green light had come on as an indicator for him to land. Before they left Florida Billy Graham had prayed for Franklin and his passengers that God would give them safe flying and a good landing. Franklin saw the results of that prayer that night. He would find out that someone was touring the airport and the officials showed him what the signal would look like if they signaled a plane to land. He also showed him the view of the airport with all of the lights on in case a plane had lost it’s power and didn’t have lights. Even though he wasn’t a Christian at that time Franklin knew that the hand of God had to have been on them and their safety.
Franklin’s idea of what a missionary looked like drastically changed on his next summer job. He was able to get a job through his fathers ministry of setting up travel arrangements for tours of the middle east. In Franklin’s mind missionaries were just old people because that is what he was exposed to as they came to speak at his church growing up. Franklin was astonished that two ladies were running a hospital in Mafraq. In the middle east men dominate the culture. Yet here was these two women doing great things for God in the middle of this male oriented society. They were in the process of building a new hospital when Franklin met them. He heard them talking about a need to expand their work. The more he heard them share their messages to tour groups the more he wanted to help them in some way. When he got back home he told his dad that he had been praying about the mission field. Of course it wasn’t true. Franklin didn’t pray much and never about becoming a missionary. However the statement got his fathers attention. He told him about those two ladies and how they were struggling and that they needed a land rover fully equipped to navigate in the desert. If the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association would purchase this for them he said that he would sacrifice his education for a semester and pick the land rover up in England. Then he would deliver it to them and stick around to supervise the building of the hospital. Billy Graham was stunned by his sons statement. Franklin admitted that he had never laid quite this big of a whopper on him before. “I’ll talk to your mother and pray about it”, he replied. A few days later they talked again. “You can go Franklin”, was his reply “the organization will pay for you the land rover and gas to get to Jordan, but you will have to pay with your own spending money for everything else.”
Franklin wrestled with the situation. Was this trip important to him at all? If so how would he raise the necessary money? One option was to sell his Triumph TR-6 automobile. He loved that car and a friend of his fathers ministry gave him $1,000 to help him buy it on the promise that he would quit smoking. He did quit for a week but found himself smoking again. In the end he decided to sell the car. Driving a land rover across the middle east was an adventure he couldn’t pass up. His parents were concerned about him going alone so he called his friend Bill. Bill was up for the adventure and everyone felt better that Franklin would not be traveling by himself. Throughout all of the ordeals they went through Franklin felt he was having the time of his life. He was smoking and drinking and having a ball across the middle east. Bill on the other hand had a friend in his Bible. He was such a dedicated Christian that Franklin was affected. Bill didn’t preach to Franklin about his life style. He just lived his life around Franklin and let that preach to him.
We fast forward to age 22 and Franklin had just graduated from college. It wasn’t LeTourneau though. He had been expelled from that school for failing to get a co-ed back in time after a flying trip with her met bad weather conditions. He had called the school and explained the situation but it didn’t matter. It seems that being Billy Grahams son he was judged on a higher standard. He graduated from a college close to home and he was at a conference at his fathers ministry in Switzerland. After dinner his father confronted him. “Franklin, your mother and I sense that there is a struggle in your life. Franklin wondered how his father knew and he was caught totally off guard. “You can’t continue to play the middle ground”, he continued. “You have to either accept Christ or reject him.” “I want you to know Franklin that we are very proud of you and we will love you no matter what you do with your life and our door is always opened, but you will have to make a choice.” Billy Graham patted his son on the back and said no more. Franklin had prided himself on being so clever but he realized he wasn’t fooling anyone. He was in the midst of some of the most beautiful scenery in the world yet he felt so empty and lost.
The congress in Switzerland ended a few days later and Franklin bolted off to help a friend of the Graham organization on his last tour through the middle east. Traveling with him was a young Christian named David Hill. David Hill was very committed to his faith and was always reading his Bible. The demands of the job kept Franklin very busy. When they reached Jerusalem David shared with Franklin from Romans about how there was no condemnation for those who believed in Christ. Also scripture from the apostle Paul on how he was trying to do right but kept doing wrong. Franklin began to sweat and lit up a cigarette to break the tension. Instead of going to the bar for a couple of beers that night Franklin found himself alone in his room. He found a Bible and was reading it. The words of his father about making a decision were ringing in his ears. He knew that something was desperately missing in his life and he felt so empty. He found that although he was the son of Billy Graham, went to church, and memorized scripture for years he was totally empty inside. Franklin Graham was saved that night. It wasn’t at one of his fathers big crusades with thousands of people watching. It wasn’t when someone was right there leading him to the Lord. It was kneeling by the bed in a far away hotel room pouring out his confession and sorrow for the wayward life he was living.
Since that day Franklin got married, had four children, became the head of an organization called Samaritan’s Purse, and later ran his fathers organization. Franklin found his calling in helping people with needs. Billy Graham’s ministry dealt with the final phase where people accepted Christ. Franklin’s calling was to prepare people to get to that point. “How can people listen and accept Christ when they are hungry and without essential clothing?” People will always compare Franklin to his famous father. “Franklin does not have the smooth eloquent way of expressing himself that his father did”, they would say. “There will never be another Billy Graham”, it was said through the years. The fact is that there will never be another Franklin Graham either. We all are different and have special unique qualities that God can use! Just like Franklin couldn’t get by on his fathers legacy the same holds true for us. No matter who our parents are good or bad, we have to come to God on our own. Franklin found that it doesn’t matter to God what everyone else expected. What is important is what God expects from him. As he hears the song lyrics “Just As I Am”, I’m sure he often thinks about his own situation. Growing up with expectations made Franklin rebel. Now he realized that God didn’t expect him to be Billy Graham. He was expected to be Franklin Graham! When Franklin had remorse for his sins God looked down and saved him just like he was! He felt freedom for the first time realizing that he was his own man and felt comfort knowing that God would help him create his own shadow!
Franklin & Billy
When I Stand Before God
by Lewis Hamilton from the book “The Gardener and My Garden” c1997
When I stand before God
to give an account of my life
my church won’t be there
not even my wife
Not family nor friends
to condemn or condone
When I stand before God
I’ll stand thee alone
Will God be pleased
if I give him the line
I would have prayed more
but couldn’t find the time?
There’ll be no one to blame
as reason number one
for my failure to do
what should have been done
So Why should I worry
and why should I care
about what others think
who will not be there?
Yes, God in his fairness
will ask only me,
How have you invested
what was given to thee?
There’s time on the clock,
to still set the tone
for my appointment with God
when I meet him alone.
So then, each of us will give
an account of himself to God.