Like many the world over today, we at Greater Europe Mission (GEM) are both saddened by the loss of Billy Graham and yet are inspired by the life he lived well. GEM extends our heartfelt condolences to the family, friends, and associates of Billy Graham. May you take comfort knowing Billy is basking in the presence of Jesus.
Billy Graham was a friend of GEM since our organization’s earliest days. He and our founder, Bob Evans, were students together at Wheaton College. In 1948, Billy Graham, Bob Evans, and a veritable list of “who’s who” among twentieth-century evangelists and Christian leaders stood around a campfire in the mountains overlooking Interlaken, Switzerland and dreamed together of changing the world for Christ. In days and years following the campfire, they worked closely together with Youth for Christ to proclaim the Gospel to young people in America and Europe.
Following World War II, Billy, Bob, and many others went back to the U.K. and Europe, not as soldiers, but as preachers spreading the message of hope amidst the desolation of two consecutive World Wars. During the six months they spent holding Christian rallies in Europe, thousands responded to Billy’s compelling message of God’s love. In the midst of this response Bob recognized that, contrary to popular belief, Europe’s rich Christian heritage had dwindled away to nearly nothing. Shortly after those initial evangelistic “crusades,” Bob and Jeanette moved to Paris to establish the European Bible Institute to train up European evangelists, pastors, and Christian leaders, and Greater Europe Mission was born.
The trajectory of Billy’s ministry was solidified in the fall of 1949 when Billy went to Los Angeles. The campaign that he began there was intended to last three weeks. Eight weeks later when the event finally wrapped up thousands had responded to Billy’s invitation to follow Christ. The results were far greater than any had expected, and Los Angeles was a portent of what was to come in Billy Graham’s lifelong ministry.
Meanwhile, in Europe, Bob Evans recruited teachers and organized curriculum for the European Bible Institute, which was incorporated in 1949. In 1952, the name was changed to Greater Europe Mission. It has been said that Billy’s wife, Ruth, influenced the name change. When Ruth learned that the fledgling Mission planned to reach not only Europe but also North Africa, the Middle East, and Western Asia, she suggested to Bob and Jeanette that it was not just a mission to Europe but to “greater Europe.” The name stuck, and to this day, GEM has remained true to its early vision of reaching Europe and the surrounding countries.
During 1954 and 1955, Billy Graham, held 22 evangelistic campaigns in Holland, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Sweden, England, Scotland, Switzerland, and Norway—often supported by Bob Evans and his new students. As Billy’s ministry expanded worldwide, he, nevertheless, returned to Europe countless times, often assisted by the missionaries and students of GEM.
Greater Europe Mission praises God for Billy Graham’s life and for our partnership with him over many years in reaching people in Europe for the Lord Jesus Christ. Rest in peace, Billy, and savor the eternal joy as a generation of those whose lives you touched will someday join you in the everlasting presence of our Lord.