Local pastors share ‘personal connection’ with evangelist

MARSHALL — The late, world-famous evangelist Billy Graham will be remembered by many people because of his dynamic personality and the call of God on his life and death.

“I have a personal connection with him,” retired Grace Life Church pastor the Rev. Bernard “Bernie” Wing said Monday. “I first accepted the Lord while watching (Graham’s) first televised crusade in 1949 or ’50.”

Wing said he will always remember Graham’s altar call hymn of “Just As I Am.”

“Just as I Am’ strikes a real remembrance chord in me every time I hear it,” he said.

Retired Chaplain Tom Chopp agreed, saying “Just As I Am” is still one of his favorite hymns, and he recited the first verse over the telephone Monday.

“We sang that hymn (watching on TV) every crusade,” Chopp said. “During the 1960s, his voice was very reassuring to young Christians during all the rioting going on at the time.”

Chopp lived in Detroit at the time and said that whenever he went to see his grandparents, they would be watching Billy Graham on television.

“They would listen to him,” Chopp said. “He pointed people to the cross of Jesus. That’s what the Gospel is all about.”

“Just As I Am” was also popular with the Rev. Dave Christensen of Living Word Lutheran Church in Marshall.

“I was at one of his crusades in Minneapolis,” Christensen said. “My folks were on the follow-up crew in the mid-1990s. It was such an awesome thing.”

Christensen said he believes that God can use even Graham’s death to bring people to Christ.

“He was just an awesome man of faith with great impact, I have such great respect for him,” Christensen said. “Even in death, (Graham) will be glorifying God and bringing Jesus to others. Through his legacy and his death, there will be a pricked interest in checking out his sermons. I really believe it will bring another awakening.”

“Billy Graham is a great example for ministers to follow,” Wing said.” He was able to reach beyond doctrinal differences and political barriers, across political aisles, to bring people together. There was no hindrance. he preached to all people around the world. He required that wherever he worked in communities, to work as one church, one body.”

The country’s great respect for him is reflected in the fact that his body lies in state at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., Wing said.

“It shows how he was honored by people of all political and spiritual persuasions,” he said.