Community reacts to passing of Rev. Billy Graham

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The community, and the world, reacted to the death of Charlotte-born evangelist Billy Graham Wednesday.

William Franklin "Billy" Graham Jr. died from natural causes at his family home in Montreat, NC, just outside Asheville, PR representative for Billy Graham Library confirmed. He turned 99 on Nov. 7.

Graham's message to all was simple and consistent: Encouraging people to commit their lives to Jesus.

"Heaven is where Jesus is and I am going to Him soon," Billy Graham's said to his son, Franklin Graham.

President Donald Trump said Graham will be missed by people from all religions.

"The Reverend Dr. Billy Graham gave us an inspiring example of a life lived in total dedication to Jesus Christ and His Gospel," Rev. Peter J Jugis, bishop of Charlotte said. "Through his ministry he taught the world that Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. May the Father of mercies now receive Dr. Graham into His loving embrace. The condolences and prayers of the Catholic Church are with the Graham family at this time," Jugis said.

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted that Graham's ministry "changed the lives of millions."

Former President Barack Obama tweeted that Graham "gave hope to generations of Americans."

Graham's obituary states that he "preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to some 215 million people who attended one of his more than 400 Crusades, simulcasts and evangelistic rallies in more than 185 countries and territories. He reached millions more through TV, video, film, the internet and 34 books.

Senator Richard Burr released this statement following Graham's passing:

"I was incredibly saddened to hear of the passing of Reverend Billy Graham this morning. America's Pastor was an inspiration to millions of Christians in our country and across the world. While his humility, faith, and booming voice will be sorely missed, today, he is at peace with God."

Rep. Richard Hudson released this statement:

"My wife Renee and I mourn with our community for the loss of America's pastor, Billy Graham. As the Lord's faithful servant, Billy Graham lived a simple life in North Carolina with his dear wife, Ruth. Yet he touched millions of people with his charisma and his ministry. We send our condolences to the entire Graham family, and we rejoice with them knowing Billy Graham is home with our Father in heaven."

Here's the statement U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham released:

"One of the greatest messengers of Christ has gone to his heavenly reward.  Dr. Graham spread the good news to millions across the world and led a life beyond reproach.

Vi Lyles, who is the mayor of Charlotte, tweeted that Graham is a monumental figure" who is "forever etched in the history of Charlotte."

"His compassion and selfless service changed the lives of millions and created a legacy of kindness and humanity for our region and all of North Carolina," Lyles said.

Pat McCrory said the evangelist was a "role model." "His actions reflected the words that he preached," McCrory said.

Congressman Robert Pittenger said he knew Graham since 1971."His focus remained on telling others about the love of Jesus," Pittenger said. "Billy Graham's message that God loves us and offers us new life was so simple, yet it powerfully impacted millions of lives around the world."

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis released this statement:

"Reverend Billy Graham, a proud North Carolinian, was truly America's Pastor and spiritual compass. He dedicated his life to preaching the Gospel and inspired millions of people in America and across the globe. He preached in favor of inclusiveness and viewed diversity in our society as a strength.  His counsel was sought by many Presidents – Republicans and Democrats alike – in no small part because of his unshakable moral clarity and convictions.

Peter J. Jugis, who is the bishop of Charlotte, released this statement:

"The Reverend Dr. Billy Graham gave us an inspiring example of a life lived in total dedication to Jesus Christ and His Gospel.  Through his ministry he taught the world that Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life.  May the Father of mercies now receive Dr. Graham into His loving embrace.  The condolences and prayers of the Catholic Church are with the Graham family at this time."

Reaction on social media has been swift, including a message from Elevation Church leader Steven Furtick who said: "You showed us how to leave the 99 for the 1. Thanks you Dr. Graham. Rest in Peace."

On Wednesday, Jim Puckett, who is the vice chairman of the Mecklenburg County Commission, said the Stephens Road Nature Preserve will be renamed to the Dr. Billy Graham Nature Preserve. Puckett said that area was "home to farmers and dairymen like the Grahams."

"It is quiet and doesn't have recreation centers or active facilities but is preserved completely as God designed it and through the wisdom of our county leadership will remain so," Puckett said.

Puckett released a statement stating that renaming the path in honor of Graham is "a fitting way to honor a great citizen of not only Mecklenburg County but of the world and yet will not present any connotation of exploitation of his name for promotion of events or active use."

"It should remain a spot in our county where all people of all faiths can go and escape the woes of man and find peace with their maker," Puckett said.  "While there, should they find the path promoted by the Rev. Graham in the glory of the silence then all the more appropriate."

Two North Carolina men, who both say Billy Graham had a profound impact on their lives and ministries, heard the call to ministry and ended up at a Salisbury church.

"It birthed within me a desire to share in some way what he was doing," Dr. Kenneth Lance said, "and that is proclaiming the gospel, ministering to souls that are broken, helping them to know that God loves them and has a better story written for them."

Many people in the area dropped flowers off Wednesday at the Billy Graham Library on Westmont Drive.

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