GRAND RAPIDS, MI – The Rev. Billy Graham has been described as the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, according to the Associated Press. He traveled to 185 countries worldwide spreading the Gospel, but his first ever crusade took place in Grand Rapids. It should then come as no surprise his ministry had an impact on many right here in Michigan. Graham's famous televised "Crusades" had Michigan roots. Hudsonville couple, Wendell and Grace Leathead, in an interview with The Grand Rapids Press years ago, remembered a message they heard from Graham at a Grand Rapids rally in September 1947. "It was the renowned evangelist's first 'crusade.'"
"That particular night impacted my whole life in terms of serving the Lord," said Grace Leathead. "He preached such a simple gospel message. I was really touched by that message, and opened my heart to the Lord and became a Christian." "He had a way of exciting you about the word of God when he preached and people responded to his message," Leathead said. "He was just a real inspiration to me and to so many thousands of people...He didn’t try to be showy or anything. He was just so convinced of what he knew to be the truth and expressed it very well." At the time, Wendell and Grace were teenage sweethearts, were among a group of kids from Grandville's Grace Bible Church who went to hear Graham speak at Calvary Church. They later married -- he worked in construction and she served many years as church secretary.
Their souls are among the countless ones touched by Graham, who went on from speaking to 6,000 people in that initial crusade in Grand Rapids to lead rallies involving millions of people across the globe, and upward of 1 billion television viewers.
Graham’s legacy also extends to the local chapter of Youth for Christ, an organization he helped create. "We stand on his shoulders as we continue to serve kids here in West Michigan," West Michigan Youth for Christ Executive Director Dan Kregel told 24 Hour News 8. "He started off as our first employee. He made $75 a week back in the day and we went all over the country at youth rallies, sharing the good news of the Gospel." Graham served as the first evangelist leader for the organization. Kregel said he set the tone for their continued mission. "It’s sad," Kregel said of his death. "Our world has lost somebody of such high integrity and such high character and just a deep calling to share the good news of the Gospel. His life purpose was to help every single person experience life in Jesus Christ and you know, that’s really the hope of the world."
Billy Graham was 99 years old and will be laid to rest in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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Tanda Gmiter serves as the newsroom leader for MLive in Grand Rapids. I have the pleasure of working with our wonderful staff of journalists and being immersed in West Michigan's news scene daily. I am proud of what we do here at MLive.
Lynsey Mukomel joined 24 Hour News 8 from Cadillac, where she anchored weekends and reported at the 10 News. Lynsey grew up east of beautiful West Michigan, in Troy. Lynsey attended Columbia College Chicago, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism and Latin American and Latino studies. Lynsey is thrilled to join West Michigan’s #1 news team and is passionate about sharing people’s stories, uncovering corruption and reporting breaking news.