Local pastor reflects on special connection with Billy Graham

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A San Diego pastor is reflecting Wednesday on his special personal connection with Reverend Billy Graham, who passed away at his home in North Carolina from natural causes at the age of 99.

Early in his career in 1949, Graham delivered a sermon at the Forest Home Christian Camp in the San Bernardino Mountains.  Bob Botsford's father ran the camp. Nearly two decades later during one of Graham's return visits to the camp - an excited, 5-year-old Bob interrupted his sermon.

"I remember yelling out 'Hi Billy!' And he yelled back, 'Hi Bobby,'" said Botsford.

By then, Graham had become a family friend.

"I recall bigger-than-life charisma.  He was the most gentle soul and most humble man I've ever met in my life.  He was bold yet caring," said Botsford.

Botsford says Graham inspired him to become a pastor at age 24.

"His invitation was for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and that's what I longed for," said Botsford.

Later, it was Botsford who flew to a revival in Kentucky to personally invite Graham to return to San Diego. His last revival was in San Diego almost 30 years before. 

"He said, 'Let's see if we can make that happen," said Botsford.

It did.  In May 2003, a record-breaking crowd packed Qualcomm Stadium to hear him speak.

"It was electric and just filled with hope," said Botsford.

After the event, there was a surprise in the mail.  Botsford received a bible from Graham in the mail, which included a message: "Bob Botsford. God Bless You and Keep You.  Amen.  Billy Graham."

"Definitely one of my most treasured possessions," said Botsford.

A decade and a half later, he must say goodbye to his friend.

"I'm sad for the world because we lost the greatest communicator of the gospel, but I'm happy for heaven because Billy is finally home," said Botsford.

Botsford is also remembering a legacy.  At Qualcomm Stadium that day, his own son met Graham.

"I saw my son's eyes light up," said Botsford.

The meeting inspired his son, who is now a youth pastor at Botsford's church, Horizon Christian Fellowship in Rancho Santa Fe.

"Third generation. Thrills my heart ... The message is going to outlive the messenger," said Botsford.

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