By Tiffany Jothen
“I have found many world leaders who sense that our problems today are so complex that they defy solution,” Billy Graham once said. “They know the only answer is to be found in God.”
The Billy Graham Library is hosting a new exhibit called Billy Graham: Ambassador to World Leaders. For the past six decades, Graham has counseled every U.S. president since Harry Truman, as well as top leaders from countries such as China, Russia, India, Germany, North Korea, Japan and Great Britain. The exhibit showcases personal letters from many of these leaders, along with photos, gifts and a tuxedo Graham wore to accept an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth in 2001.
At the Library dedication in 2007, former president George H.W. Bush called Graham a “spiritual gift to us all.” Leaders from all walks of life have looked to him over the years for guidance, and many have maintained a lifelong friendship. Queen Elizabeth still writes to Graham, and one letter in the exhibit translates birthday wishes from German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Leaders continue to seek Graham’s advice, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said, not because he tells them what to do but because he adds a new dimension by showing them how to think about a problem.
“We sometimes forget that some of the loneliest people in the world are those who are constantly in the public eye,” Graham has said. “They have spiritual needs just like everyone else.”
Graham toured Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the 1980s during the Cold War. A picture in the Library’s exhibit shows 150,000 people who, despite government restrictions, crowded around a church in Romania’s town square where Graham preached in 1985.
Graham’s son, Franklin, recalls meetings between his father and Communist officials. “At the end of these meetings,” he said, “they would be sitting there in stone silence, listening to every word that my father said. And when my father finished speaking, they would say, ‘Oh, but Dr. Graham, we have also wondered if there was a God. Talk to us more about how we can know God.’”
Fern and Norman Mier, who recently moved to Charlotte from Louisiana, visited the Library with their daughter, Kathy Roth, to see the exhibit. Norman didn’t realize how close Graham is with some of the world’s most influential leaders, he said.
Fern, 90, grew up watching Graham on TV and was particularly interested to learn more about his contact with former presidents. Graham has counseled presidents from both sides of the ticket including John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.
It strengthened Fern’s own faith to see how God has continued to watch over Graham as he counsels these leaders, she said, even through some of the most difficult circumstances. And he has never changed his message, Kathy added.
The day the family visited, Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai also toured the Library.
“That proves that Billy Graham’s influence continues,” Kathy said.
Graham had opportunities to hold public office himself, but always declined to continue his full-time service to God. Yet, he has always supported those in authority. They face tremendous responsibility, he said, and need fervent prayer.
In a personal note to Graham, former president Lyndon Johnson wrote, “My mind went back to those lonely occasions at the White House when your friendship helped to sustain a president in an hour of trial. No one will ever know how you helped to lighten my load or how much warmth you brought into our house. But I know.”
Other memorabilia includes a telegram from Graham to Mamie Eisenhower when her husband died in 1969. Graham was in Israel at the time and rearranged his schedule to pay his respects. Another photo shows Graham with President Barack Obama when the two met at Graham’s home in 2010.
The exhibit runs through Oct. 31. Both Library admission and the exhibit are free. The Library is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
To see more pictures from the exhibit, click here. To read more exhibit highlights or to view more pictures of Graham with world leaders, click here. Find pictures under “Multimedia” on the left.