CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Evangelist Billy Graham returned to the North Carolina library that bears his name to celebrate its reopening after it was closed for months for upgrades and additions.
Graham's appearance Tuesday night was his first public appearance in Charlotte since May 2007, when three former presidents -- Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush -- joined him in dedicating the Billy Graham Library.
At the dinner Tuesday night, Graham thanked everyone, said a prayer and spoke about how memories of his Charlotte childhood are still with him: "I still dream about milking cows," he said to laughter from the crowd. "The other night I woke up and I was milking cows!"
The library, which has attracted about 288,000 visitors, traces Graham's journey from son of a dairy farmer in Charlotte to a preacher to presidents and millions around the world.
The library has been closed since January for upgrades and additions. It was scheduled to reopen to the public Wednesday.
The 91-year-old Graham, whose hearing and eyesight are failing, got a private tour Monday night of the renovated library, then attended the dinner Tuesday night at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association next door.
Those with him Monday night said he liked the changes, which included improving the sound, displaying many of the 12,000 books in Graham's personal library and showcasing his first desk and Dictaphone machine.
"This library, which has been largely the vision and the work of Franklin, has gone far beyond our expectations... It was decided to renovate it and make it a different type of Library that would totally and completely honor the Lord Jesus Christ, and that people could find Christ almost every place here. And I m grateful to those that have worked and prayed, and I believe that God is going to use it in the future," Graham said.
Those with Graham said they said they left him alone as he lingered in Ruth's Room, a section devoted to his late wife, and then sat by her grave.
Whatever he said in those private moments, son Franklin reported Tuesday, is between the Lord and my mama. Daddy misses her very much.
After he left the graveside, Graham told his longtime assistant, David Bruce, that's he's pleased that the library was being used as a continuation of his ministry rather than just a memorial to him.
"He said he left with the feeling that the Gospel permeates the library," Bruce said. "That was his wish: that it be a testimony to all that he preached about."
At the dinner, Graham got a kiss from his younger sister, Jean Ford of Charlotte, and the two held hands during the before-meal prayer.
Our Father, we come to you with all humility. We love you. We thank God for you. You are our Father. And you have saved us out of so many situations and given us life. You give us air to breath, water to drink, friends that come into our lives that support us and help us and love us. And families, Lord, I thank you for the family that I have, and I pray for each one of them. And I pray for you, all the people here that have families. Bless them, and their children and children s children, and may we be a part of what Franklin describes with My Hope [a ministry of BGEA], people that have been trained and have a burden to serve you. We thank God for them, and that privilege. We pray thy blessing upon this Library in a new way as its reopened today. Bless Franklin, as he leads our whole organization and Samaritan s Purse, and Lord I pray that you bless the people that work here. We commit this Library and museum to you. In Jesus name, Amen.
Graham was determined to make the dinner and share a few words from his heart, Bruce said.
"I want to take this opportunity to thank everybody for being here," Graham said at the dinner. "We have so many people here that I ve known for many years, and I love you all."
"I think he's doing very well," Bruce said. "He does deal with the challenges of advanced age. But he's sharp of mind and heart."
Graham's last crusade was in 2005 in New York. Since his wife's death nearly three years ago, he has spent most of his time at his home in Montreat.
Public appearances have been rare. He attended his own 90th birthday party, at a West Virginia resort, in 2008. Last year, he was in Asheville to help celebrate the 100th birthday of George Beverly Shea, the soloist at Graham crusades.
The library officially reopens to the public on Wednesday.
For more information, visit www.billygraham.org/.