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Celebrities share Billy Graham stories

You can meet a lot of people in 94 years – especially if you’re Billy Graham, who pastored presidents, befriended celebrities, and took the Gospel to millions around the world.

Next month, 101 people – including all five living U.S. presidents – will offer their personal memories of the Charlotte-born evangelist in the pages of “Billy Graham & Me.”

This latest book in the popular “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series also features the words of famous musicians, pastors, sports figures and Graham family members. It hits bookstores Feb. 12, and can be pre-ordered online. Here’s an edited sampling of some of the reminiscences.

George H.W. Bush

The former president, on Graham’s role during first Iraq war: “Billy came to stay with Barbara and me at the White House on the eve of the air war against Iraq. I told him what I was then having to do—our diplomacy and quest for a peaceful solution having failed. I told him when the first cruise missiles would hit Baghdad, and we watched in wonder as the war to liberate Kuwait began. Just the three of us were there. Billy said a little prayer for our troops and for the innocents who might be killed.”

John Carter Cash

Singer Johnny Cash’s son, on Graham’s longtime friendship with his father: “Billy and my dad corresponded regularly. There were some tough times in my father’s life; when he was a bit lost and searching he knew he could always reach out to Billy, because Billy would never condemn him. That’s the kind of person Billy Graham is: a Christian in the real sense of the word.”

Charlie Daniels

The country rocker, who performed at some Graham crusades: “I remember a night in Charlotte when the governors of North and South Carolina were there to present proclamations honoring their local boy. Mr. Graham was gracious as always in accepting, but quick to tell one and all, ‘This is not about Billy Graham.’ He refused to let anything distract from the fact that he was on a mission to win souls – nothing else mattered, just the souls that would come forward to accept Jesus that night.”

Timothy Dolan

The Catholic cardinal and archbishop of New York, on the time Graham requested a meeting in Rome with Pope John Paul II – and got the kind of rapid response reserved for presidents: “Within two hours the wire came back from the Holy Father’s private priest secretary: ‘The Holy Father would be delighted to meet with Reverend Graham. What day would be most convenient?’ We could hardly believe it! We checked for a misprint. We had never seen this before!”

Jean Ford

Graham’s younger sister, who lives in Charlotte: “I participated in his wedding to Ruth. That was 69 years ago, and I doubt whether anyone else who was in it, other than Billy, is still alive. Billy and Ruth were married on Friday the 13th, and Ruth said that just as she walked up the steps of the church, a black cat ran across her path. But so much for superstition – they had a wonderful marriage!”

Bill Gaither

The gospel singer, on discussing with Graham their common experience of growing up on a dairy farm: “Before the invention of electric milkers, you milked the cow by hand. ‘Did you ever have cats in the barn?’ I asked him. ‘You did grow up on a farm, didn’t you?’ he replied. He knew there were always cats in the barn. ‘Did you ever give them a drink?’ I asked. ‘Oh, yes, straight from the source,’ he said.”

Kathie Lee Gifford

The co-host of NBC’s “Today” and a friend of Graham’s: “Billy doesn’t look back. He looks forward. And now I’m happy for him that he’s closer and closer to living in Paradise. If anyone has earned a place there, it’s Billy. Ruth will be waiting for him, and they’ll continue their romance with their loving eyes.”

Wynonna Judd

The country singer, who adopted Graham as a father figure: “One of the first times I saw Billy Graham he was like an action figure and seemed bigger than life. I thought, ‘Who is this character on TV?’ He spoke with such passion and conviction. I wondered what it would be like to be his daughter and what it would be like to have a dad like that … Because I didn’t have a father, he’s been a voice, sort of a whisper. They say the world yells and God whispers. He’s been a whisper in my life that has caused me to think deeper.”

John Lewis

The Georgia congressman and civil rights hero, on visiting Graham at his home in Montreat: “I had met the Pope and the Dalai Lama, but to meet Billy Graham and to talk with him was even more of a blessing because I felt a deeply personal spiritual connection. You see, Billy Graham and I grew up in the same region of the country. We come from the same material, the same part of the world. We saw people divided by race and color, and we lived to see unbelievable changes.”

William Martin

Graham’s biographer: “I conducted in-depth research on the way President Nixon’s administration used Billy Graham. I found evidence that clearly revealed their intent to manipulate him, including notes on the precise things they wanted him to say or write. He was not aware of any of this, and the information stunned him when I shared it. After our conversation, he stretched out his long arms, put his hands on the back of the couch and stated, ‘I knew what I had said to the President, and I knew what he had said to me, but when I saw all those memos that circulated in the background, I felt like a sheep led to the slaughter.’ ”

Barack Obama

The current president, on his thoughts after visiting Graham at his mountaintop home in 2010: “I thought about my own spiritual journey – growing up in a household that wasn’t particularly religious; going through my own period of doubt and confusion; finding Christ when I wasn’t even looking for him so many years ago; possessing so many shortcomings that have been overcome by the simple grace of God. And the fact that I would ever be on top of a mountain, saying a prayer for Billy Graham—a man whose faith had changed the world and that had sustained him through triumphs and tragedies, and movements and milestones – that simple fact humbled me to my core.”

Joel Osteen

The TV evangelist, recalling his visit to Graham’s home: “After a few minutes, Billy Graham appeared wearing a flannel shirt and house slippers. At that moment, I felt like Moses had just entered the room. Though he was slightly frail, in my eyes he stood 10 feet tall.”

Dan Rather

The TV journalist, on his and a friend’s plan during their youth to “expose” Graham during a Houston crusade: “By the end of the sermon, when Reverend Graham made his call to come down to the front and accept Jesus Christ into your life, it was all (my friend) and I could do to hold back from accepting the invitation! . . We had gone there as zealous investigative reporters. Now we were something else – we were actually open to Billy Graham’s message . . . Our cynicism had just melted away.”

Ricky Skaggs

The Bluegrass/Gospel singer, on his recent visit with Graham: “I saw him sitting at his desk, and he looked at me. ‘I’m asking God for one more time to preach. If even one more person would come, it would be worth it.’ That broke my heart, to see him in his 90s, with his heart and marrow still boiling for souls. I asked him, ‘If you could preach one more time, what would you say?’ Before I could get all the words out of my mouth, he said, ‘Oh, I’d tell them about the cross. I’d tell them that there is no heaven without the cross.’ ”

Jim Wallis

The editor of Sojourners, a liberal evangelical journal, on the time Graham answered questions after speaking at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government: “The first questioner said, ‘Dr. Graham, Jesus said I am the way, the truth and the life and no man cometh unto the Father but by me. Doesn’t that mean all non-Christians, including Jews, are going to hell?’ Billy replied, ‘God will judge us all. This is a God of love and mercy but also justice. We all will come before the judgment of God, and I am so glad that God has that job and I don’t.’ The second questioner was ready to try again. ‘At least Jews are monotheistic. What about Buddhists? They’re not.’ Billy replied, ‘I’ve been to Buddhist countries to preach the Gospel, and I’ve met a lot of Buddhists who, frankly, are more Christ-like than many of us as Christians are.’ ”

Rick Warren

The pastor and “The Purpose Driven Life” author, on what happened after he bought – then lost – the formal hat he’d planned to wear while giving the prayer at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration: “A week later, an unexpected package arrived at my home. Inside, carefully wrapped, was a beautiful black Homburg hat from Billy Graham! It was the hat Billy had worn at the inaugurations where he’d prayed! Attached was this note: ‘It’s your turn, Rick. It’s your hour. This is your hat now.’ Tears filled my eyes. Once again I saw the greatness of my mentor, his deep love for others, and his encouraging heart. I wore Billy’s hat when I prayed on the Capitol steps at that 2009 inauguration.”

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