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Benny Tate recalls visit with Billy Graham

By Walter Geiger Upon hearing of the passing of Billy Graham last week, Benny Tate’s recollections were dominated by a visit he made to Graham’s home in Montreat, N.C. in March, 2011. A spirit-filled, evangelical preacher in his own right, Dr. Tate, senior pastor at Rock Springs Church in Milner, immediately sensed he was in the presence of a man of God. ’He had Parkinson’s. His daughter Gigi was in the room with us. I picked up on his spirit; his genuine humility. I could sense the presence of the Lord,’ Tate said. Tate went to the austere, mountaintop cabin as president of the Congregational Methodist Denomination. He was accompanied by Dr. James Merritt of Duluth who was serving at the time as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. ’When we got there I thought to myself ‘˜this is it?’. It was a very simple cabin way up on the top of the mountain. It was austere. I was told they once had a pool but Billy had it filled it in because he did not want it to seem too extravagant,’ Tate continued. Graham was wearing blue jeans, a denim shirt and a sweater vest. He had on tennis shoes fastened with velcro. ‘For some reason, he needed an elevated chair. They just took his regular chair and put it up on two by fours. There was absolutely no pretension in the man,’ Tate said. Graham was known as the pastor to U.S. presidents. Tate asked Graham about Ronald Reagan and he started crying. ‘I was closer to him than any of them,’ Graham replied. Tate was surprised to hear Graham’s account of his relationship with Lyndon Johnson. Graham related that every time he went to Washington LBJ would call his room and say, ‘You don’t stay in a hotel in this town. You stay at the White House. Now pack up your stuff and someone will be over there to get you.’ At night, President Johnson asked Graham to kneel by the bed with him and pray for him, Tate learned on his visit. Tate was accompanied by Franklin Graham on a trip to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C. and asked the son how his father felt about the facility. ‘Franklin said when they took his dad through it it he told them there was too much about him and not enough about God. To him, one picture of himself was too much,’ Tate recalled. During his visit to the Graham cabin, Tate got to ask a few questions. The first was what advice Graham would have for young preachers like himself. ‘Preach the cross. Stick to the cross,’ Graham replied. Tate also asked what Graham would ask God when he finally saw him face-to-face. ’I will ask him why He used a farm boy from North Carolina to reach so many people,’ the great evangelist answered. That question was answered Feb. 21 as Graham died at age 99 at the simple mountaintop cabin he called home.

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