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'Well done good and faithful servant': Motorcade carrying Billy Graham's body leaves Black Mountain
BLACK MOUNTAIN – Thousands of people lined city streets and interstate freeways Saturday to pay their respects to the Rev. Billy Graham as a motorcade took his body from The Cove outside Asheville to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.
People along the road adopted all sorts of postures as the Graham motorcade passed. Most commonly, people simply held up their smart phone to get video or a photo.
But clearly for many people, seeing the hearse carrying Graham’s body was much more than a matter of curiosity.
Graham died Wednesday at his home in Montreat at age 99. The faces of those along the motorcade route made it clear that the evangelist had touched thousands of people in North Carolina, not to mention the lives of millions he affected during crusades around the world.
One woman in Black Mountain held both arms high over her head, her eyes full of tears, and said, “Thank you God.”
Some held Bibles aloft, some raised an arm with their palm toward the hearse in worship and a couple of people held up wooden crosses. Many people doffed their hats or caps and held them over their hearts, often with a phone or camera in their other hand.
Church was in session along State Street in Black Mountain. People read from Bibles and sang hymns. They quoted scripture and talked about their favorite memories from Graham's crusades.
An evangelistic Christian men's group of 29 happened to be in town for their annual retreat, which takes place in Montreat. The "interdenominational, inter-generational, interracial" group was honored to say goodbye to Graham, said member Robert Cely.
"He was a great evangelist, a great man and a great American," he said. "You can't really be a believer today without having been influenced in some way by Billy Graham, even if you don't realize it."
One man held his palms together as if in prayer. Another appeared to be crossing himself. Many saluted, some wearing uniforms, some not. Some waved. Two women knelt by the side of the road in Black Mountain.
Lynda Davis, 69, a gospel singer who has lived in Black Mountain her entire life, says she met Billy Graham after singing at the funeral of one of his groundskeepers 22 years ago.
Today she came to sing for Billy, she said.
“What a blessing," Davis said through tears as the motorcade drew near. "My heart is pounding. It’s bittersweet, but I know I’ll see him again.”
Some people looked solemn. Others, like Davis, were jubilant. Davis had planned to sing "Just As I Am," one of Graham's favorite songs with which he closed many of his crusades, as the motorcade passed.
When the people around her began singing "Amazing Grace" instead, Davis joined them.
"I'm not going to holler at him," she said. "I'm going to sing to pay my respect to the greatest preacher who ever lived."
Davis and her husband, Terry, carried with them a neon yellow sign that said Graham's new address was heaven.
About 250 family, friends and staffers attended a private prayer service at The Cove Saturday morning before the motorcade left the facility, also called the Billy Graham Training Center, at about 11:05 a.m. Saturday.
The motorcade passed through both downtown Black Mountain and downtown Charlotte.
Jim Spencer, an employee of Town Hardware in Black Mountain, said he'd never seen so many people lining the streets. Not even the Christmas parade could compete, he said.
"He was a man that the world loved, that's for sure," Spencer said.
The crowds were largest in Black Mountain and Charlotte, where Graham grew up, but they were big in most places along the route. It is difficult to estimate the total number of people, but 10,000 is a reasonable guess and the figure could easily be larger.
The motorcade did not pass under a bridge where fewer than two or three people had gathered, and 50 or 100 people gathered on and around some. There was at least one fire engine parked on most bridges, sometimes more.
There were 500 or more people gathered at several interchanges in the Hickory area and many people simply stopped at random places beside I-40, U.S. 321 and I-85.
At one bridge, signs reading "Thank you for preaching in ..." were attached to the side of the bridge. Below hung signs from perhaps a dozen countries around the globe where Graham had led a crusade.
A man played the bagpipes on the shoulder of I-40 at a rest area outside Marion.
A few people clapped, some gave a thumbs up or flashed a peace sign and many just stood solemnly.
Many American and Christian flags were along the route and there were all sorts of signs: "#Welldone," "We love Billy," "Thank you God for Billy Graham," "Thank you for teaching us to love Christ," and in Charlotte, "Welcome Home."
In Charlotte, a couple and their young children each held a sign with a word from the most common message seen: "Well done good and faithful servant."
It was undoubtedly written on the hearts of many who watched the motorcade as well.
Graham is to be buried at the Billy Graham Library March 2. His body will first lie in state in the rotunda of the Capitol in Washington next week.