More than a million people from all over the world have visited the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, since it opened in 2007.
Not many, however, have traveled 1,000 miles to give their time and energy for a two-night volunteer stint at Christmastime.
Doris Self and her daughter Kenda Burgett blended right in with hundreds of local volunteers who served during the month-long Christmas at the Library celebration this year. But Doris and Kenda were anything but local.
As a surprise gift to her 72-year-old mom, Kenda planned a December road trip through seven states—from their home in the southeastern corner of Oklahoma to Charlotte—to fulfill a dream Doris has had for many years.
“She said, ‘Mom, we’re going to Billy Graham’s Library,’” Doris recalled. “I said, ‘Fantastic!’ and she said, ‘Furthermore, I have a place for you to work where your heart is.’
“I said, ‘It’s got to be with the kids,’ Doris guessed. “And she said, ‘Yes, you’re going to be able to read to the kids.’ And I just had goose bumps. I just was so thankful and excited that she would put this all together for me.”
Kenda and Doris made the long trek to Charlotte and spent two evenings serving as Christmas volunteers. Kenda, who loves horses, helped with the horse-drawn carriage rides. Doris, who loves children, read stories to the youngest visitors.
“What a special gift,” Doris said. “I still can’t get over it.”
Doris’ trip to Charlotte was a long time in the making. She has followed the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for the better part of 60 years.
“In the ’50s, I read an article about an evangelist that was really getting started,” Doris said. “And the one thing that I remember from that article was that he preached so fervently that he would have to change clothes about three times a day.
“Because his heart was so into it. And I could tell that. And so all through the years I’ve followed him.”
In addition to devouring Mr. Graham’s televised messages and books (her late husband built her a whole bookshelf dedicated to the Graham family, including Franklin Graham and Anne Graham Lotz), Doris attended two Crusades in Oklahoma City (1983 and 2003).
During 2003’s Mission Oklahoma City, she sang in the choir and remembers the thrill of working with Cliff Barrows, BGEA’s longtime music leader.
The way she talks about her love for God and people, it’s hard to believe Doris wasn’t always singing praises. But she spent many years being fearful and confused.
“I can remember having so many doubts,” she said. “I look back and see the fear I had. I would have so much anxiety in the evening.
“I could hardly go through the evening. I can remember not knowing if I was saved or not. I thought you had to have a feeling. I couldn’t feel saved, so therefore I [thought I] wasn’t saved.”
Through the years, God worked through several Christians in Doris’ life—including her loving husband, her pastor and Billy Graham—to show her that God’s perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18).
“I knew that Billy Graham preached truth, and when his Crusades would come on, I was being affected by his preaching,” Doris said. “The Holy Spirit used him to reach my heart.
“He preached on love, and that’s what I needed to hear. That’s what I missed [in church] as a kid. I missed out on God’s love.”
Now a great-grandmother, Doris still remembers a crystallizing moment when she was a young mother. She was praying by herself one day when she sensed God’s presence. She didn’t hear an audible voice, but it seemed like God was right there.
These eight words echoed in her heart: Now you’ve got to learn to trust Me.
“And that’s all I needed to do all this time was trust,” Doris said. “I will never forget that.
“From then on, I have just grown and matured, and I’m still learning so much. And experiencing the love and the awesomeness of God. Words just cannot explain how awesome, how majestic God is. And God never gives up on you.”
Doris described her time at the Billy Graham Library as “a dream come true.”
During the day, she explored every corner of the Journey of Faith tour, which tells the story of how God used Billy Graham to share the Gospel around the world.
At night, she took her place in a wooden rocking chair on the Library’s heated patio and read Christmas books to children, several of whom made themselves at home on her lap as though she was their own grandma.
She was also invited to visit the nearby BGEA headquarters, where she had the chance to meet 92-year-old Cliff Barrows. He chatted with her and Kenda and even sang them a song about Oklahoma.
“It’s just been wonderful,” Doris said.
A longtime supporter of the BGEA, Doris continues to give monthly to the work of the ministry, out of “respect for Billy Graham and the desire for his work to continue on.”
Mr. Graham’s work does continue, as Franklin Graham and Will Graham preach the Gospel around the world, and the Internet evangelism ministry reaches millions online.
Doris’ prayers, gifts and service make her part of the legacy of sharing the hope of Jesus. And she says her visit to Charlotte has only inspired her to give more of herself to the cause of Christ.
“The one thing I am so amazed by is what one man completely given, 100 percent to the Lord, can do. How God can use one man to go—it’s mind-boggling to think—all over the world.
“It’s just made me desire even further to let my life in some small way be an influence. It just deepened that desire to be even closer to the Lord, to let the Lord make my life count.”