Ruth Graham, daughter of world-renowned evangelist Billy Graham, will never forget her visit to “Angola,” the Louisiana State Penitentiary.
She, along with several counselors, ministers, and a psychologist from Ruth Graham & Friends had been invited to visit the prison and Graham eagerly accepted, she told The Christian Post, “believing that the Gospel of Jesus Christ could make a huge difference in the lives of the inmates.”
During the visit, the group was asked to meet with several individuals on death row.
“I was terrified. I thought, ‘visiting prisoners is one thing, but going to death row is another,’” she recalled. “But I couldn’t say no. You see the razor wire gleaming in the sun, and we faced a long corridor of cells, and I stepped in. We divided up so we could talk to as many men as we could.”
Graham first met a man named Michael, a charming 30-something with brown eyes. He stuck out his hand, introduced himself, and asked, “Can I sing you a song?”
Graham agreed, and Michael launched into a rendition of the classic hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.”
“And I knew it was well with his soul,” Graham said. “I knew that there, on death row, it was well with his soul.”
After singing, Michael handed the evangelist a small, woven cross made from the threads of his bedsheet: “I still have it,” the evangelist shared. “It means so much to me.”
Local news outlets heard of Graham’s visit to the prison, so it wasn’t long before she received an email from an individual asking specifically about Michael.
“The man asked me, ‘do you know if Michael is a believer?’” In her response, Graham informed him that she believed Michael was indeed a believer.
“But why are you interested?” she asked. “Because,” the man responded. “Michael murdered my grandson in a brutal way.”
The man, who revealed he was a missionary in Nepal, had been praying for Michael’s salvation in the years following his grandson’s death. He told Graham he took no pleasure in Michael’s pending execution and hoped he would find salvation before his death.
“I just want to know that he’s going to be in Heaven with me one day,” the man wrote.
“I realized,” Graham told CP, “just how shallow my understanding of forgiveness was. I know that when Michael steps into Heaven, eventually that grandfather will join him. Forgiveness transforms. Forgiveness is holy. It’s an invitation to the very character of God.”
Journey of Forgiveness
Graham’s own journey of forgiveness has been anything but easy.
“Forgiveness is something I’ve struggled with most of my life,” she said. “Forgiving myself, forgiving others who have wounded me, asking forgiveness from those I have wounded, forgiving God, forgiving my own father.”
Growing up as the daughter of one of the most renowned evangelists in the world, Graham often felt the weight of her father’s ministry. She told CP there was no question her father loved her and her four siblings — “he is my hero, and I adored him,” she said, but his ministry was all-consuming.
“I grew up with a father who traveled a great deal, and as a little girl, I wanted a daddy to tuck me in bed, take me for walks in the woods, but he wasn’t home,” Graham recalled. “When I needed him most, he was the furthest away. I grew up with a sense of abandonment. All my life, I was looking for security, something to fill that spot.”
Seeking to fill the void within herself, Graham married her first husband at just 18 years old. When she discovered that her husband had been engaged in a long-running affair, she was devastated and soon after entered a “disastrous rebound marriage.” What followed were two more marriages, both of which also ended in divorce.
“I didn’t know why I kept making the same mistake; I didn’t know what was wrong with me,” Graham said. “I was talking to a good friend who said, ‘Ruth, you felt abandoned as a little girl.’”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Leah MarieAnn Klett