Richard Land, a longtime leader in the influential Southern Baptist Convention, has a very personal connection to the Rev. Billy Graham, who died Wednesday at his North Carolina home at age 99.
Land's father came to Christ at a Billy Graham Crusade at Rice Stadium at Rice University in Houston in the 1950s.
His son was 6 years old.
"Up until then, my father was not a church-going man," Land, now 71 and president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., told Newsmax in an exclusive interview.
"I was raised in a Christian home, with a Christian father, because Billy Graham asked him to get out of his seat and come forward and give his heart to Jesus."
"I know that my father was a changed man," Land said.
His father, who was a welder, later became a deacon at his church and headed its youth group. He died in 2011 at 92 years old.
"I grew up with a father who was a devout Christian as a result of Billy Graham — but he was also leading tens of thousands of other people to the Lord, for which I also was very grateful."
Mark DeMoss, Graham's spokesman, said that the world's most widely heard Christian evangelist in history died Wednesday morning in Montreat, N.C.
In recent years, Graham had been treated for cancer, pneumonia and other ailments.
His wife, Ruth, died in 2007.
Graham reached more than 200 million through his appearances and millions more through his pioneering use of radio and television.
His embracing of the broader society earned Graham the nickname "America's Pastor" and brought him into the service of U.S. presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush.
In 1995, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association designated his son, Franklin Graham, as the ministry’s leader.
Land, who earned his Ph.D. from Oxford University, is executive editor of The Christian Post.
He retired in 2013 as president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant body in the United States, with more than 16 million members.
In 2001, he was appointed by President Bush to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government body.
Land was reappointed five times before retiring in 2012.
"He was a tremendous preacher and so humble," he told Newsmax of Graham. "He'd say, 'When I get to heaven, the first question I'm going to ask is, "Why me?" — and he really meant it.
"That's the incredible thing.
"I doubt that there are many Americans who have been the object of much sustained adulation as Billy Graham," Land said.
"Most human beings would have been adversely impacted by it, but he wasn't."
Land, who later served as a counselor at a Graham crusade in the Houston Astrodome as a young minister, especially noted that the Charlotte-born evangelist effectively reached so many different people, all across the world.
"I don't think that there's any question that God's Holy Spirit anointed Billy Graham in a very special way," he told Newsmax.
"He was certainly the greatest preacher of the last century, and some would say the greatest preacher of the last millennium.
"He was the greatest evangelist in the Christian church since the Apostle Paul.
"God's hand was on him," Land continued. "One reason is that Billy Graham understood that it was God, not Billy Graham.
"When God calls you to preach, he makes it pretty clear that's what he wants you to do," he said. "It's just that God extraordinarily anointed Billy Graham to preach his gospel around the globe to reap an incredible harvest."
"He was anointed by God as few men have been.
"Billy was the kind of gift that God sends to church every so often — and for which we are to be grateful.
"We will not see his like again."
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