Wheaton College students learning about Graham's influence

 
 
Updated 2/21/2018 6:22 PM
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  • A museum display in his namesake building at Wheaton College documents Billy Graham's early ministry. Graham graduated from the Christian school in 1943.

      A museum display in his namesake building at Wheaton College documents Billy Graham's early ministry. Graham graduated from the Christian school in 1943. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Inside his namesake building at Wheaton College are images of the Rev. Billy Graham on the covers of every major magazine, shaking hands with world leaders and posing with friends like Johnny Cash.

But sophomore Michael Melter gravitated toward pictures of Graham preaching to the masses.

"He's always been an inspiration for anyone who wants to go into ministry," the 20-year-old from Naperville said.

Melter and other underclassmen born long after the height of Graham's ministry still felt compelled to visit the Billy Graham Center Museum at his alma mater hours after the evangelist died at 99.

Students prayed for Graham during chapel service and remembered stories from their grandparents who were on hand for Graham's crusades and kept his books in family libraries. But the museum became a source for some seeking a deeper understanding of the school's most famous graduate.

"I feel like that's the best way to honor him," freshman Julia DiBiase said.

DiBiase had never visited the museum but wanted to go with her classmates, Sara Beth Thomas and Samantha Wolf. The exhibits trace the history of Christian evangelism, Graham's childhood on a North Carolina dairy farm, his embrace of the media and his global reach.

Wolf was particularly struck by Graham's crusade in South Korea's capital in 1973.

"That's so far from Wheaton, but he's been able to spread the gospel throughout the whole world, which is really a call to all of us as Wheaton College students to do the same wherever we go to help spread the word of Jesus," Wolf said.

Jordan Wear, vice president of the student government board, called Graham's influence on campus inescapable. The senior from Ohio lives next to the center in the Billy Graham House, where Graham's portrait hangs on a mantel.

Graham's trajectory from preaching in tent revivals to stadium crowds around the world inspires students to "dream big," Wear said.

"If the word is good and if the message is right and if your heart is in the right place, anything can happen," Wear said. "And I think that's a lot of excitement that millennials, not even just Christian millennials, but millennials in general can really jump on board with."

Wheaton College President Philip Ryken said Graham "will be regarded as one of the greatest Christian leaders of the 20th century."

"Perpetuating the legacy of Billy Graham is a long-term responsibility for Wheaton College," Ryken said. "We're the home of the Billy Graham papers and sermons, and so people will be coming to Wheaton College, specifically to the Billy Graham Center, to be learning about and learning from Billy Graham for generations to come."

Melter, meanwhile, spent time between classes studying photos of the man who inspired his own hopes of becoming a pastor.

"We still cite his sermons. We write papers on him," Melter said. "After a while you kind of get a connection with him, just hearing what he's writing about, what he's preaching to the world. Those connections -- they don't break down."

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