- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2007

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — To the Rev. Billy Graham, a new library celebrating the more than 60 years of his ministry contains too much of one thing: Billy Graham.

But to former Presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush and Jimmy Carter, no amount of praise can match the evangelist’s worldwide spiritual influence.

The former presidents were among 1,500 guests who yesterday paid homage to Mr. Graham at a dedication ceremony for the Billy Graham Library, a $27 million presidential-style museum portraying his life and ministry.

“I feel like I’ve been attending my own funeral,” the 88-year-old minister joked. “I feel terribly small and humbled by it all, because it’s been a whole team of people that have worked together, prayed together, traveled together, believed that God was going to do wonderful things together.’

The 40,000-square-foot museum, on the grounds of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Charlotte, is scheduled to open Tuesday.

“This building behind me is just a building,” Mr. Graham said. “It’s an instrument; it’s a tool for the Gospel.”

In his dedicatory address, Mr. Bush praised Mr. Graham and his wife, Ruth Bell Graham, 86, who is bedridden with osteoarthritis.

“We’re gathered here today because Billy Graham — the man, the preacher, the humble farmer’s son who helped change the world — is a spiritual gift to all of us,” Mr. Bush said to applause. “Today we not only celebrate his life’s inspiring work in carrying the Gospel to millions around the world, we also give thanks to a loving God for the example that Ruth and he have set with their singular lives.”

All three former presidents shared personal anecdotes about Mr. Graham’s influence on their lives — from attending interracial services in packed football stadiums to private counsel on the brink of war.

Also present were former first lady Barbara Bush, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, all Republicans, and North Carolina Gov. Michael F. Easley, a Democrat.

The museum is meant to be an extension of Mr. Graham’s ministry — not a tourist attraction, said the Rev. Franklin Graham, his son and president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

“This library is not about Billy Graham, but it’s about the message that Billy Graham has preached for the last 60-plus years — and that is the message of the Cross,” Franklin Graham said.

The museum’s exterior looks like a barn — a nod to the elder Mr. Graham’s childhood on a humble dairy farm four miles away — with a 40-foot-high, cross-shaped, glass entrance.

“It is my prayer that every person who comes through that door will hear and understand that Jesus Christ died for their sins,” Franklin Graham said. “I want every person who comes through that library to know that God can change their lives. He can forgive them, cleanse them and he can set them free of their guilty chains.”

The museum, five years in the making, includes a self-guided, 90-minute tour of multimedia displays, photographs and other memorabilia. The lobby is decorated with high, wood-beamed ceilings, bales of hay, milk cans and a 1930s-era farm truck.

Visitors are greeted by an animatronic cow named Bessie that tells the story of a young William Franklin Graham.

“Billy Frank went on to preach the good news,” the cow drawls in a Southern accent. “Some people call him God’s ambassador.’

In video testimonials, Christians share their experiences of welcoming Jesus Christ into their lives. The free tour continues through six exhibits, four galleries and two theaters portraying Billy Graham’s ministry, which association officials say has reached more than 210 million people on six continents.

The museum eventually will house the evangelist’s personal papers, while official documents will remain archived at Wheaton College in Illinois, the evangelical school where he met his wife.

One exhibit, which Franklin Graham said is his father’s favorite, is dedicated to Mrs. Graham, who has not seen the facility. Rare public events such as yesterday’s dedication aside, Billy Graham is largely confined to their Montreat home with fluid on the brain, prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

Another exhibit is modeled after a 1949 Los Angeles tent revival, dubbed the “Canvas Cathedral,” during which a young Billy Graham preached for eight weeks. The final theater broadcasts a seven-minute video montage of Billy Graham Crusades, sermons to thousands of people — some brought to tears by his message — packed into stadiums.

And if just one of those people accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, Mr. Graham would famously say, the crusade’s mission was accomplished.

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