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Thousands pay their respects to the Rev. Billy Graham

CHARLOTTE, N. C. – Thousands of people from all walks of life filed slowly past the coffin of the Rev. Billy Graham on Monday for their last respects to a man who millions of people with his message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

The heavy rain overnight build to a light, occasional drizzle around 8 a.m. Monday when the doors opened to the hometown of the famous evangelist, who died Wednesday at the age of 99.

Mourners of all races, young and old, some in suits and some in T-shirts and flip-flops, walked through the living room, where his closed casket lay on a black pedestal. They ran along family photos and a cross made of white lilies in the simple plywood container made by prisoners. And at the door for the first few hours it was Graham’s grandson, Roy, shaking the hand of every person who came to see his grandfather.

“I just wanted to tell them how much I appreciate the love for my family,” Roy Graham said.

And they came with stories. Roy Graham said what moved him the most on Monday were the dozens who have interrupted and told him the exact time and place Billy Graham came in their life by means of his hundreds of crusades all over the world.

Cecily Turner is one of them. Her mother was at Billy Graham’s 1957 New York crusade, and she said he led her mother to the salvation of that day.

“I know that they are in heaven to thank him now,” she said.

Mother passed her faith on to a daughter, and the singer said she gave it over to the five children, and four great-grandchildren.

“That’s great,” she said.

The public will continue on Monday and Tuesday at Graham’s Charlotte library on the campus of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. His body will then be taken to the Capitol, where, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday he will be the first private citizen to lie in honor there since civil rights hero Rosa Parks in 2005.

Graham’s funeral is Friday, and President Donald Trump said that he will attend. Invitations were sent to all ex-presidents of the USA George W. Bush that his respect Monday because he had a scheduling conflict with the funeral.

The funeral will be held in a giant tent as a nod to Graham’s 1949 Los Angeles crusade. That revival, Graham said driven him worldwide fame, was held in a circus tent, called the “Canvas Cathedral.” The man called “America’s Pastor” would eventually preach to an estimate of 210 million people in person and many more through his pioneering use of prime-time broadcasts, network radio, daily newspaper, christian movies, and satellite TV connections.

Billy Wayne Arrington was a boy when he first encountered Graham on a TV screen in Kingsport, Tennessee. He is now doing the Christian theatre. Arrington, with tears in his eyes as he left after saying a prayer for Graham and for the world he leaves behind.

“I’m just overwhelmed, not by sorrow — just overwhelmed to see so many lives touched,” Arrington said.

Graham will be buried next to his wife, Ruth, who died in 2007, at the foot of a cross-shaped walkway at the Graham’s library in Charlotte.

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Online: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association: http://www.billygraham.org

Billy Graham Center archives: http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/archhp1.html

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter and see his work on apnews.com

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