Q&A with Will Graham about weekend Tri-Cities Celebration, influence of Billy Graham

Brandon Paykamian • Apr 26, 2018 at 11:53 PM

Will Graham — the grandson of iconic televangelist Billy Graham, who died in February — was busy getting ready Thursday morning for the first Billy Graham-type crusade since his grandfather’s passing.

On Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., and Sunday at 4 p.m., the younger Graham will host his free Tri-Cities Celebration at Freedom Hall Civic Center. 

The morning before the events began, he reflected on what these crusade events mean to him, and the life and influence of his grandfather, who was regarded as the most influential Christian evangelical figure of all time. 

Here are a few questions Graham answered about the upcoming event and the influence of his grandfather:

Q: First off, can you tell our readers a bit more about the Tri-Cities Celebration?

“Most people would be more familiar with a Billy Graham crusade. It’s going to feel very much similar to that. We’ll have music, we’ll have some testimonies and I’ll get up and preach from the Bible and give some people a chance to respond to God afterward. Then, we’ll have some time to follow up with people afterward and pray with people.

“I’d say the big difference would be that we don’t use choir music. I’m more my generation, and it’s more band-driven than choir music. That’s probably the biggest difference between my type of events and my grandfather’s type of events. There’s a lot of similarities, it’s just that styles change over time, but our teaching is the same.”

Q: Do you sometimes find yourself channeling Billy Graham when preparing for these events? 

“I try to be my own person. There’s going to be a lot of similarities between my grandfather and me, just because I’m his grandson. We grew up in the same neck of the woods. We’re all from Western North Carolina — he was from Charlotte. I grew up in Boone and now I live in Asheville.

“I’ve learned a lot from him, but I never try to emulate him or copy him. I just try to be me — it’s a lot more natural to do that than pretend to be someone else.”

Q: How has your grandfather influenced you?

“He was a Christian example. He lived a life of humility, and especially after his passing, a lot of people were studying him and listening to him and stuff like that, and they came to realize the things I already realized. He was a man of integrity. The man you saw on TV was the man at home.

“The only difference was, in front of the cameras, he was always preaching. But in person — like if he was here right now — he’d be doing all the listening and you’d be doing all the talking.

“In real life, he was somewhat of a quiet man.” 

Q: Can you tell us a bit more about what he was like in person? 

“His favorite show was ‘Larry King Live.’ When he would be at the White House or something, there would be another person he watched on Larry King, and he’d be like, ‘Hey, I remembered that you went to such and such high school, I dated a girl from that high school,’ or something like that. My granddaddy could always find a connection with that person.

“President Obama was the only (sitting) president to visit him in his home. These two men were, in a sense, polar opposites on everything from political to moral issues — a lot of differences and very few similarities.

“My grandfather said, ‘You know, we’ve got something in common.’ Obama was like, ‘What’s that?’ But my granddad learned he likes to play golf, and he loved playing golf. So my grandfather said, ‘I noticed you’re playing one of my favorite golf courses this week.’ Then he said, ‘You know, Mr. President, you and I have another thing in common. We both got our start up in Chicago.’ And that’s where some of his first preaching took place, his first church, his only church.

“My grandfather would learn (his similarities with people) by listening to other people tell their stories.”

Q: What do you hope attendees will take from this celebration event?

“I know a couple years ago, we had one lady who was thinking about suicide. But that night, she came, some friends brought her and she realized that God still has a purpose for her in life. She was a Christian, but she was going to give up. She had a baby, and she was going to kill her baby and kill herself. She was that lonely, but then she realized, ‘God still has a plan and purpose for me.’ This lady today is back with her husband, they have a Bible study, her daughter’s getting big and God restored everything she thought she had lost — her life wasn’t over. And there’s going to be people like that here in the Tri-Cities area, and I hope they’ll give their life to Christ.

“Hopefully we’ll leave this place better off than when we came.” 

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