The news of Billy Graham’s passing has impacted thousands of people who have been touched and changed by the work God did through this man called by God. The news brought back a wonderful memory for me; a time when his ministry changed my life, as it has so many others.

In spite of the 1960s culture in which I grew up, my story is not dramatic or riddled with protest marches and drugs. I was a straight, clean-cut kid from El Cajon, California. I was pretty un-cool.

One hot, humid Saturday in 1967, when I was eleven, my mom rewarded hours of backbreaking, cruel yard work by allowing my brothers and me to go to a movie. We were excited to get out of the heat—but mostly to see the new James Bond flick. The old El Cajon Theater was glamorous and inviting, with its twirling spire, bold marquees, and cool, dark interior.

Imagine our adolescent disappointment when we skimmed the newspaper movie section and discovered James Bond had been replaced by some special showing for the weekend. What could be so special? We grumbled, but when my dad said, “There’s always more chores to do,” we headed for the car.

As we settled into our seats with popcorn and candy, we looked up to see Billy Graham loom above us on the silver screen. It was even more disconcerting to realize he was a preacher! An evangelist. I heard my one of my brothers groan. No James Bond. No fast cars and girls. Some sappy story that ended in a stadium. We’d been dropped off, so we were stuck.

We slouched down in our seats, eyes rolling in a sullen pout. In spite of myself, the story and the words reached me. When Billy, with those piercing blue eyes, looked straight into the camera, and seemingly into me, asked people to “come to Christ,” I stood up, right there in the theater.

I walked, alone, down to the front to ask Jesus into my life and talk to the lone counselor waiting. No one else responded. The walk back was long, and I avoided looking my brothers in the eyes. But I also knew something very real had happened between God and me.

Billy Graham continued to impact my life as the example of a man of God with integrity, passion, and an unwavering calling and purpose. I continue still to draw inspiration from his life and example.

Years later my wife, Vicki, and I became friends with Anne Graham Lotz, Billy’s gifted daughter, through Vicki’s work in bringing Anne to San Diego to teach. I love what Anne posted about her father today:

“When I think of him, I don’t think of Billy Graham, the public figure. I think of my Daddy. The one who was always a farmer at heart. Who loved his dogs and his cat. Who followed the weather patterns almost as closely as he did world events. Who wore old blue jeans, comfortable sweaters, and a baseball cap. Who loved lukewarm coffee, sweet ice tea, one scoop of ice cream, and a plain hamburger from McDonald’s. Who was interested in everything and everyone, from the small to the great. Whose mind remembered details that even a computer would have trouble recalling. But when I think of him I also think of his message because he was immersed in it. Saturated in it. He was his message…a simple man who had responded to God’s love by placing his faith in Jesus.” (You can read her whole post HERE.)

Today we honor and thank God for His great and generous servant, Billy Graham. We rejoice to think of him face to face with his Heavenly Father, home in Heaven, hearing those wonderful words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I will always be grateful and humbled by the way God used Billy Graham in my life.