CHARLOTTE, N.C. A crowd of 1,500 people, including three former presidents, gathered in Charlotte, N.C., May 31 to dedicate the Billy Graham Library, something the evangelist called "just a building" and an instrument to share the Gospel.
The 40,000-square-foot, $27 million facility sits on 63 acres just four miles from the farm where Graham grew up. It will open to the public June 5 for 90-minute self-guided tours with no cost for admission.
"I feel like I've been attending my own funeral with all these speeches," Graham, 88, said during the dedication. "I know they all meant it. But I feel terribly small and humbled by it all, and I feel I don't deserve it because it's been a whole team of people that have worked together, prayed together, traveled together, believed God was going to do wonderful things together."
Graham had asked former President George H.W. Bush to deliver the 12-minute keynote address for the dedication, while former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter spoke for about five minutes each. President George W. Bush, Graham said, sent a handwritten letter in recognition of the library's opening.
In addition to remarks by his son Franklin Graham, North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley and others, Graham's longtime ministry partners George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows sang a hymn.
A tour of the library begins in a barn representing Graham's humble beginnings and expands into exhibits covering the eight-week tent revival in Los Angeles in 1949 that catapulted his ministry; his trips to Asia, Africa and communist Eastern Europe; and his sermons offering hope in troubled times of American history, according to The Charlotte Observer.
Towering above the six exhibits, four galleries of more than 350 photographs and two theaters is a 24-by-40-foot cross-shaped glass window embedded in the front of the barn-shaped building.
"This library is not about Billy Graham, but it's about the message that Billy Graham has preached for the last 60-plus years," Franklin Graham said at the dedication. "And that is the message of the cross. And if you look at the library, what you see is a cross. My father's name is not on the building, but the cross. The only way that you can come into the library is through the foot of the cross."
Billy Graham said his favorite part of the library is the room devoted to his wife, Ruth Bell Graham, who has been bedridden for six months and could not attend the dedication. Franklin Graham said the room brought tears to his father's eyes because it reminded him of who she was 30 years ago.
"More than me, she deserves to be here today, and I'm so glad that some of our friends are here that have known her," Graham said of his wife. "Barbara Bush, what a wonderful friend you have been to us these years. How many times you have entertained us and loved Ruth. Made speeches about Ruth. And one of your speeches is recorded in here and when people go through that, they'll hear what you have to say about her, and I'm deeply grateful to you."
Before the dedication, Graham dined in the library café with the presidents, the former first lady, his son Franklin and Franklin's wife, Jane, according to The Observer. The menu reflected Graham's roots: barbeque ribs and pulled pork sandwiches, apple pie and sweet tea.
The Billy Graham Library will be the repository for Graham's personal papers, including his correspondence, ministry records and sermon manuscripts. For children, there is a scavenger hunt on the self-guided tour, starting with an animatronic cow named Bessie that tells of Graham as a young boy. "It's a tool for ministry for years to come," Franklin Graham said of the library. "It's a tool for evangelism. And long after my father and mother are in heaven, people are going to come to know the Lord Jesus Christ because of the message they hear inside those doors."
BP News Compiled by Erin Roach.