His eyes are clouded, his voice grainy and his famous wavy hair has turned snow-white.
But age has not robbed Billy Graham of his power – softer now – to preach the Gospel.
As the Charlotte-born evangelist turns 95 Thursday, millions of TV watchers and churchgoers will witness what could be his final public message.
Speaking into a camera at his log cabin-like home in Montreat, Graham calls for a spiritual reawakening in America and says that the cross of Christ “demands … a new lifestyle in all of us.”
“With all my heart, I want to leave you with the truth,” the grandfatherly Graham says about God. “He loves you, willing to forgive you of all your sins.”
Graham’s new but familiar words, recorded over the last year, are featured in a DVD that’s part of a national evangelical effort called “My Hope America, with Billy Graham.” The 28-minute program, which also includes archival footage of the younger Graham, will be shown at 10 p.m. Thursday on Fox News.
In the coming days, nearly 500 local TV stations will also show the program – including Charlotte’s WBTV (channel 3), which will air it Friday at 8 p.m. And more than 25,000 churches around the country are participating in the “My Hope” effort. Pastors of those churches are providing copies of the DVD to members who have been trained to host watch gatherings in their homes.
The DVD will also be shown Thursday night at a private birthday party for Graham at Asheville’s Omni Grove Park Inn.
About 800 people are expected to attend, including a slew of celebrities. Confirmed to be there: former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, real estate tycoon Donald Trump, pastor/author Rick Warren, media mogul Rupert Murdoch and musician Ricky Skaggs.
For Graham’s birthday, Christian singer Michael W. Smith has also written – and may perform – a song that imagines a conversation Graham might have with Jesus when he gets to heaven.
“Hello, old friend,” it begins. “You’ve walked beside me all these miles.”
Graham is planning to attend, but his fragile physical condition – his eyesight is failing, he’s hard of hearing and he will likely arrive in a wheelchair – means he’s not scheduled to speak.
People can also go to Charlotte’s Billy Graham Library through Saturday to sign “Happy Birthday” greetings for Graham, the boy born on a dairy farm who went on to pastor U.S. presidents and preach to millions around the globe.
Visitors all week will receive a copy of “God’s Ambassador,” a book celebrating Graham’s life and ministry. (Details: 704-401-3200.)
On Thursday, the library – at 4330 Westmont Drive – will serve cake.