On Feb 21, the world lost Billy Graham, a man who was respected by world leaders, characterized by his love for humanity, and remembered by hundreds of millions of people who listened to him preach.
If he were able to describe the day of his death, however, he’d likely say simply that the world lost only a man. Described by those who knew him best as humble, he is remembered for his passionate yet simple delivery of a message that millions would attribute to changing their lives for the better. Nicknamed “America’s Pastor”, he brought his crusades to hundreds of U.S. and international cities and was considered by Democrat and Republican presidents alike to be a friend and counselor.
Graham was a trusted voice through six unstable decades of post WWII uncertainty to the events of 9/11 that stunned the world, and through it all he never wavered in his belief that no one is a lost cause, and that there is hope and a way for any person to have a life of peace and happiness.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Franklin Graham is bringing the same message to the next generation in his 10-city “Decision America: California Tour” that started in Escondido on May 20 and concludes in Redding on June 5. Already over 20,000 people in the three cities Graham has visited so far have showed up to hear what Graham calls “a message of hope.” It’s a message he believes can breathe life into people, and considering how many great and complicated problems we face as a society today, perhaps it’s true that hope is what is lacking in our conversations about fixing society’s problems.
From news headlines to social feeds, we are daily reminded about the problems that exist in our society. Statistics speak more loudly than words on this and have some sad things to say about the current state of the American people.
Studies show that the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 34 is suicide. Over a million children ages 1 to 6 are on psychiatric drugs as well as 1 in 6 adults. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness, and it is not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression. Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. The majority of Americans claim to be unhappy at work, and 80% of Americans are drowning in debt. It was even recently found that young people aged 18-22 are believed to be lonelier than senior citizens, and almost half of Americans report feeling alone or left out sometimes or all of the time. Within California there is an unprecedented amount of people enslaved in human trafficking, and potentially hundreds of thousands of people are trapped in it in America overall.
While these are just a few of the issues we face today, the problems couldn’t be mentioned without recognizing the plethora of humanitarian and government programs working hard to help people who are ensnared in these circumstances. California alone has hundreds of such programs. I volunteer through a nonprofit that aids people in difficult circumstances and am in awe of the people who daily sacrifice themselves to help those in need. I’m proud to be part of a country of such people who care about the needy and hurting, both within our borders and beyond, and we should continue to support them and their causes in any way we can.
Franklin Graham has also contributed greatly to humanitarian efforts. Perhaps inspired by watching his father live to help people, he has spent 40 years engaging with real people with real problems through his organization Samaritan’s Purse. The organization focuses its efforts on providing food, water, shelter, and medicine to people who are “victims of war, poverty, disaster, disease, and famine.”
Yet for as much good that’s being done through these organizations, the statistics still show that the well-being of Americans is only on the decline. And I can’t stop thinking about the people behind those statistics. I think about recent conversations I’ve had with people—some going through the worst of circumstances, and others who at first seemed put together on the outside but soon could no longer hide how wrecked they are on the inside—and I can’t help but think that we must be missing something.
We are unafraid to talk about the physical, psychological, and mental ailments of people (which indeed is an important conversation), but why do we seem so afraid to talk seriously about the issues of the heart? We’re so quick to inspire young graduates to follow their hearts as they go out into the world or to be moved by romance movies whose characters listened to their heart, but then we shy away from recognizing that people have broken hearts. I’ve noticed that it’s especially when you spend time engaging with people in your community that you soon realize how broken and hurting so many people are today.
And yet when it comes to talking about solving society’s problems, we don’t seem to bring our hearts into the conversation. But what if the problems in our society are actually a symptom of a deeper problem going on within hurting hearts?
It’s not unreasonable to consider that perhaps one of the reasons so many people are hurting is because of the way we treat each other. For instance, it’s frightening to see how socially acceptable it has become in our society–most especially seen through various media/tv outlets and on online commenting sections–to publicly ridicule, humiliate, tear apart, bully, mock, shame, verbally abuse, and/or express outright hatred for another person. No person deserves to be treated like that.
But hatred only seems to be growing stronger between political parties, races, people of differing opinions, and in relationships. Could it be that hatred is stemming from people’s hurting hearts–that hurt people are hurting other people, that hatred is contributing to society’s problems? We don’t seem to have a solution to stop it, and no matter what angle we look at it, damaged and hurting hearts exist in people today.
I’m a Millennial and even in my lifetime I’ve seen hatred, divisiveness, and hopelessness drastically increase. And it is heartbreaking to watch. I’ve lost a friend to suicide, and think about how for all our efforts to argue about how to fix society, those arguments aren’t fruitful in healing hurting people. There are deeper needs within people’s hearts that are not being addressed or met. So I can’t help but ask: Why are so many people hopeless? Why do so many people have broken hearts? How do we help them? Why can’t we talk about the issues of the heart as a solution to helping people (and society)?
One thing I’ve noticed is that both Billy and Franklin Graham are unashamed to talk about issues of the heart and unafraid to offer help. In his book God’s Ambassador, Billy Graham said, “I am often asked, ‘Do you have any hope for the future of the human race?’ Yes, I have hope! I don’t think people can live without hope. What oxygen is to the lungs, hope is to our survival in this world.” Graham went on to say that the Bible is filled with hope, which is why he spent his life teaching from that book–because he believed that’s what would help the masses of people he cared so much about.
A generation later, Franklin Graham is bringing that same message to the table as a way to help the hearts of people. He invites people to listen and to judge for themselves whether this message can change their life for the better. As much hurt and hate and problems that remain in our society, maybe we are not, as Billy Graham would say, a lost cause. Maybe bleakness doesn’t need to define our future. Maybe hope is the solution our society is looking for.
If you’d like to visit one of Graham’s remaining seven events, the dates and locations are:
Friday, May 25 — Bakersfield
Monday, May 28 — Fresno
Tuesday, May 29 — Modesto
Thursday, May 31 — Santa Clara
Friday, June 1 — Berkeley
Sunday, June 3 — Chico
Tuesday, June 5 — Redding
For more information on his Decision America: California Tour, visit california.billygraham.org.