CHARLOTTE, N.C. (KT) - Famed evangelist Billy Graham celebrated his 99th birthday on Tuesday with lemon cake while sermons from his prolific international ministry run around the clock.
Social media swarmed with birthday greetings to Graham, who lives with nursing care at the same home in Montreat, N.C., where he and his late wife Ruth Bell Graham reared their five children.
"Wishing a very happy 99th birthday to @BillyGraham," wrote Adam Greenway, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. "Grateful to carry on his legacy as dean of the only graduate school that bears his name."
In evangelistic outreaches and crusades, Graham preached to nearly 215 million people in live audiences across 185 countries and territories.
“I am not a great preacher, and I don’t claim to be a great preacher,” he once said. “I’m an ordinary preacher, just communicating the Gospel in the best way I know how.”
Graham's son, Franklin, said a special celebration will be held at the Billy Graham Library.
"We'll have birthday cake for everyone who comes by," he said.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is hosting the Billy Graham Channel through Nov. 17 at Channel 145 on SiriusXM Radio, featuring sermons from Graham's six decades of evangelism, as well as salvation invitations and reflections from family and friends.
A companion website, TheBillyGrahamChannel.com, will offer companion resources.
"During this 12-day period, between 10 and 20 percent of the U.S. population will have access 24 hours a day to Billy Graham's timeless, Christ-focused messages," said Jim Kirkland, director of audio media services for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. "We're praying that it'll be a gift of life-changing magnitude for many listeners."
Concurrently, Zondervan Publishing announced the upcoming Graham biography, "A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story," set for a March, 2018 release. Graham personally chose as the book’s author William Martin, a Rice University religion and public policy professor, Zondervan said.
The book will expound on Graham's autobiography "Just As I Am," Zondervan said, by going “further behind the scenes to explain the conditions that made it possible for Graham to achieve his spectacular success and to reveal how sometimes he succeeded in spite of himself.”
Additional celebration plans include a public event at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., a private party with family members at his home in Montreat, and literary commemorations throughout 2018 in Decision magazine.
"His mind is good but he's quieter these days," Graham's son, Franklin, said of his father. "He can't see or hear well, but his health is stable. As a family, we are just so very grateful that he is still with us."
The Billy Graham Channel continues a legacy of radio ministry the patriarch launched 67 years ago with The Hour of Decision broadcast, which was designed to continue only if sufficient financial contributions came, Kirkland said. The unexpected influx of monetary support birthed the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Kirkland said, because Graham needed a mechanism to handle the funds.
"This channel will provide the gift of messages that point people to the gift of hope found in Jesus Christ," Kirkland said of the SiriusXM debut. "Mr. Graham is having the birthday, yet the people listening receive the present."
Billy Graham's daughter and noted speaker Anne Graham Lotz will join Franklin Graham in offering reflections during the 12-day broadcast, Kirkland said. Remarks from former U.S. presidents will also be featured.
When Billy Graham was 15, his father and other businessmen in their hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, gathered on the Grahams' dairy farm to pray for revival in their city—specifically that God would raise up someone from Charlotte to spread the Gospel worldwide.
It wasn’t until later that year, 1934, that Billy Graham dedicated his life to Jesus Christ after hearing traveling evangelist Mordecai Ham.
By the time he graduated high school, the young Billy Graham wrote in his yearbook, “My hopes and plans for the future is to serve God and do His will as a minister of the Gospel.”