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Graham’s children speak at funeral

Profile image for Tom Foreman Jr. and Jonathan Drew
Tom Foreman Jr. and Jonathan Drew, Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Rev. Billy Graham's children remembered "America's Pastor" on Friday as a man devoted to spreading the Gospel, living his life at home as he preached it in stadiums, with a personable humility and an unwavering focus on the Bible. As his oldest son told the funeral congregation, "There weren't two Billy Grahams."

His adult children -- all speakers or preachers in their own right -- recalled being taught by their parents how to read Scripture aloud and deliver sermons, but also taking quiet walks with their father and feeling his embrace even when they made mistakes.

Franklin Graham, who delivered the main funeral message, said all of those qualities were part of the whole.

"The Billy Graham that the world saw on television, the Billy Graham that the world saw in the big stadiums, was the same Billy Graham that we saw at home. There weren't two Billy Grahams," he said. "He loved his family. He stood by us. He comforted us."

Franklin Graham's funeral message, which included a Gospel call to repentance and salvation, followed shorter remarks by his siblings in a service that lasted just over an hour before an invitation-only crowd of approximately 2,000.

"I believe, from Heaven's perspective, that my father's death is as significant as his life. And his life was very significant. But I think when he died, that was something very strategic from Heaven's point of view," said his daughter Anne Graham Lotz, later adding: "I believe God is saying: 'Wake up church! Wake up world!'"

The congregation included President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and their wives.

Neither Pence nor Trump spoke during the service that was streamed live online, but they met privately with the family beforehand.

The funeral planning began a decade ago with Billy Graham himself. It also reflected his family's desire to capture the feeling of the crusades that made him the world's best-known Protestant preacher of his era.

Graham, who died last week at age 99, brought a message of salvation to millions during visits and live broadcasts to scores of countries.

The funeral served as a Billy Graham crusade told through his children. Lotz read Scripture, inserting her name into the passages to make her relationship with God more personal and breaking it down intellectually, like her father. Youngest daughter Ruth told about how she sinned and didn't listen to her father with a hasty marriage, but he was waiting for her with open arms when she realized her mistake.

And oldest son Franklin, now CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, wrapped up with his father's central theme: that the only path to salvation is to accept Jesus Christ.

While Franklin Graham steered clear of politics during his message, the Trumps and Pences were the first guests he welcomed as he began.

And his invitation to be saved by Jesus contained this barb: "The world, with all of its political correctness, would want you to believe that there are many roads to God. It's just not true."

Like Graham's famous crusades, the funeral featured singers who had shared his stage in years past: Linda McCrary-Fisher, Michael W. Smith and the Gaither Vocal Band.