De Armas, 2-21-2018

Guest Column: Graham autographed my Bible. I treasure it: First Baptist Orlando pastor

By Danny de Armas

In 1983, Billy Graham came to Orlando to conduct one of his legendary crusades at what we now call Camping World Stadium. During that week I met Graham immediately before one of the services. For this 21-year-old son of a Baptist preacher, it was an awe-inspiring moment.

When he walked into the room, I remember thinking how much taller he was than I was expecting. He was a big man who made an even bigger impact. I’m not much of a collector of things, but I do still treasure the Bible in which he scribbled his autograph for me.

I had the joy of meeting Graham, but I didn’t know him. I did read his autobiography when it came out, but I don’t remember many details from the story. However, Billy Graham was a hero and role model for me and millions more.

Billy Graham was a gentleman. He didn’t force himself or his beliefs on others, and he didn’t argue or raise his voice in attacking another’s opinions or actions. In his writings, the Apostle Paul urges believers to always be ready to explain what we believe to others, but to do so, “with gentleness and respect.” Billy Graham epitomized that instruction. 

I remember seeing him years ago on a talk show being interviewed alongside someone who would have been considered an adversary. I was struck by his eye contact with the so-called adversary. And I was equally struck by his smile — a gentle, friendly and authentic smile — the kind of smile you see from someone you love and trust. Billy Graham was friendly and nice. He really was a gentle man.

Billy Graham lived with purpose. He stayed true to that purpose and stayed true to the person he was when he first came to faith. That evidenced itself in unusual ways.

He lived a celebrity’s life and yet he lived a humble life. He was a household name in the United States for most of his life and yet, somehow, he never personally capitalized on that fame.

He was an innovator and yet he was old school. He embraced the power of media to a degree that no preacher and few people before had done, and yet he didn’t use that platform for personal gain. 

He traveled the world over, and yet he died in the same town and in the same small home where he lived for most of his life.

He met with and enjoyed personal relationships with world leaders, and yet he never revealed any details of those private conversations.

He was financially supported by some of the wealthiest and most respected men and women in the world, and yet he spent the entirety of his life surrounded by the same small group of friends from the hills of North Carolina who came to faith together, felt called by God together, and embarked on their amazing journey of faith together.

One only does all this if you have the same purpose at 99 that you had at 19. And that was true for Billy Graham. His singular purpose was to help others to come to know the love and forgiveness of God through his son, Jesus Christ. While his style and methods adjusted over the years, his message never did.

His singularity of purpose offered him the freedom to stick to what he knew and who he was. When he signed my Bible, Billy Graham attached a relatively unknown, seldom quoted scripture verse. Psalms 16:11 begins with the phrase, “You make known to me the path of life…”

He knew his purpose and he lived always with that purpose in focus.

The imprint he left in my Bible is precious, but it pales in comparison to the imprint he left on my life.

Danny de Armas is the senior associate pastor at First Baptist Orlando. In addition to involvement in many other community activities and organizations, he is a member of the Executive Committee of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.