Billy Graham remembered: Northern Ireland tributes as preacher dies at 99
Religious leaders in Northern Ireland have paid tribute to "one of the greatest evangelists of the modern age", Rev Billy Graham.
Mr Graham, who had been suffering from cancer, pneumonia and a number of other illnesses, died at his home in North Carolina yesterday at the age of 99.
He was a counsellor to American presidents, a friend of the Queen and travelled the globe to become perhaps the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history - with a number of successful appearances in the UK.
Many thousands of people in Northern Ireland either attended these rallies, often referred to as crusades, or watched them on televised relays.
He visited Northern Ireland in 1961, and again in 1972, during the worst of the Troubles.
His strong and clear preaching style influenced many other evangelists, including some leading preachers in Northern Ireland.
The hallmark of all his rallies was to invite people to come to the front and to commit themselves to Christ, and afterwards they were put in touch with trained stewards.
Presbyterian Moderator Dr Noble McNeely led local tributes, describing him as "one of the greatest evangelists of the modern age, who had a passion for Jesus, and a genuine love for people".
"Billy Graham was a remarkable man. He brought the Good News of the Gospel to millions of people around the world that over the best part of six decades," he said.
"It is a simple life-changing message that is as relevant today as the day the world first heard it - a message that God richly blessed Billy Graham in preaching, using him to bring many, many people to Christ. I give thanks for his life and memory."
Methodist President Dr Laurence Graham said: "The founder of Methodism John Wesley once declared 'The World is my parish', and this has been true of Dr Graham. He went to the four corners of the earth to share his Christian faith."
Peter Lynas, director of the Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland, said: "History will recall that Billy Graham was one of the most influential men of his generation.
"Many people, myself included, have been profoundly influenced by his love of Jesus and by his life and ministry.
"In large auditoriums and through broadcasts or watching on television, one could not help but be impacted by his passion for God, his commitment to the truth of the Gospel, and his life of dignity lived under intense scrutiny.
"The ministry of Billy Graham in the UK and the Evangelical Alliance have been uniquely intertwined in the second half of the 20th century.
"I am sure that his legacy will live on, and I will leave the last words to him: 'Some day you will read that Billy Graham is dead. Don't believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God'."
Mr Lynas added that discussions are underway to bring Dr Graham's grandson Will Graham to Ireland next year for evangelistic rallies in Londonderry, Belfast, Dublin and Cork.
Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson recalled attending a live broadcast in the Grosvenor Hall, Belfast, of one of Mr Graham's UK rallies.
He said: "I was then about 16 or 17, and I remember that it was a very exciting occasion. The Grosvenor Hall was jam-packed, and there was a long queue outside.
"I came from a Christian family and Dr Graham's name was already known to me. However, it was extra special to watch and listen to him live on television.
"He had great charisma and preaching ability, and that came across clearly to everyone in the Grosvenor Hall.
"All of that was very different to a traditional Presbyterian church service in those days.
"When I went to hear Dr Graham's television relay I was already a committed Christian.
"His preaching confirmed my faith and I had no doubt that the Holy Spirit was present in a packed Grosvenor Hall that evening."
Day I joined the crowds at a rally
My only direct experience of a Billy Graham mission was in 1984 when I reported for this newspaper from his rally at Liverpool Football Club’s ground in the summer of that year.
I stood on the Anfield pitch, which is a “sacred” ground to all Liverpool supporters, and listened to Dr Graham deliver an inspiring address to many thousands of people who had come to the rally from various parts of north-west England.
They were looked after by specially-trained stewards from local churches. After he had finished, Dr Graham departed the stadium quickly and left the religious harvesting work to his colleagues.
However, no one was in any doubt that with Billy Graham on the podium it had been a memorable occasion.