Kansas City pastor remembers powerful legacy of famed evangelist Billy Graham

KANSAS CITY, MO -- Millions of people around the world are remembering evangelist Billy Graham who died Wednesday at his home in North Carolina.

The globe-trotting preacher brought three of his crusades to Kansas City –- the most recent being in 2004.

Thomas Johnston, pastor at Bethany Baptist Church in KCMO and evangelism professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, attended the crusade at Arrowhead Stadium in 2004.

“It was a very fascinating crusade,” Johnston said. “I had never been inside Arrowhead before, and seeing how low the field was — it’s like a bowl — and the all the people that were there. It was an amazing thing.”

Johnston had a connection with Graham at a young age. He said his father served on a board for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Billy Graham

“A couple of times I answered the phone when he called for my father,” Johnston said. “He was winsome, warm and friendly.”

While pursuing his doctorate degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, Johnston completed a dissertation, titled “Examining Billy Graham’s Theology of Evangelism,” in 2001.

“I had to define what theology of evangelism is opposed to just theology, in general,” Johnston said. “My assessment of Graham was that he was a wonderful man, mightily used by God.”

Johnston believes people were drawn to Graham because he was warm, friendly and forward-thinking.

“He had a charming personality," Johnston said. "He was a warm friendly individual. He genuinely cared for people, and he was savvy. Given the period he was in, he definitely was way ahead of the curve on a lot of communications methodology.”

Johnston is convinced Graham’s legacy will live on.

“He leaves a huge legacy that very few people will be able to emulate,” Johnston said.

Graham was responsible for converting more than 3 million people to Christianity, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. His messages were heard in 185 of the world’s 195 countries.