By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service
DALLAS — In 1953, Robert Jeffress’ mother, Judy, got saved at a Billy Graham crusade at Dallas’ Cotton Bowl.
After the crusade, Graham — the world-famous evangelist who died Wednesday at age 99 — gave a guest sermon at First Baptist Dallas.
“The day he preached, he also joined the church,” said Robert Jeffress, who grew up in the historic Dallas congregation — which will celebrate its 150th anniversary this year — and has served as its senior pastor since 2007.
Graham formally placed membership at First Baptist Dallas — where the late Rev. W.A. Criswell was the longtime pastor — even though he didn’t live in Texas. He never would. But Graham maintained that membership for more than 54 years.
On the day of Graham’s passing, Jeffress remembered his mother’s reasons for choosing First Baptist.
“My mom looked at my dad and said, ‘If it’s good enough for Billy Graham, it’s good enough for me,’” Jeffress told Religion News Service in a telephone interview from Jerusalem.
“And that’s the day she joined the church,” added Jeffress, who is one of President Trump’s evangelical advisers and part of a delegation of Christian leaders visiting Israel this week.
“A year later, I was born and grew up at First Baptist Dallas. So, in many ways, I’m a Christian — and I’m the pastor of my church — because of Billy Graham.”
In “A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story,” first published in 1991 and set for an updated, expanded release by Zondervan in March, Rice University biographer William Martin noted that Graham conducted crusades in half a dozen U.S. cities in 1953.
The four-week crusade in Dallas was the most successful: The climactic closing service drew a capacity crowd to the 75,000-seat Cotton Bowl, Martin wrote, making it “the largest evangelistic meeting ever held in America to that point.”
Why did Graham place membership at a church nearly 1,000 miles from his home in Montreat, N.C.?
Related: How major papers played Billy Graham’s death on front pages: These bylines will be familiar to many (via GetReligion.org)
Religion News Service is a national wire service whose media partners include The Associated Press, USA Today and the Washington Post.