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The Night I Stood with a Nation

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Everybody has a Billy Graham story. Ruth (Bunny) Graham's statement at her father’s recent funeral takes me to the archives of my soul where I resurrect my own treasured memory.

Dark…cold…ominous…extraordinary. These words described feelings churning inside of me as Larry and I approached the front of Holy Trinity Church in downtown Warsaw, Poland. This October evening of 1978 the international political climate was every bit as cold as the night itself. The rumbling tram and the uneven wet sidewalk served as stage props for the drama playing out.

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Billy Graham, the outspoken global evangelist was making his debut behind the Iron Curtain, and Warsaw was on his itinerary. We could not help but attend. Yet, this historical gathering caused a world to wonder about the outcome. Would there be repercussions for those gathered? Would the evangelist himself be safe?

Looking around I noticed men wearing long trench coats and floppy brimmed Fedora hats. Even as a novice to the global Cold War tensions, I knew some of these figures were on our side, and some were on the other side.

I remember wearing a scarf on my head—of all things. Somehow I felt a scarf would serve to mask my identity.  This American—a child of NATO, a Christ follower, and now an attendee at this extraordinary event in an atheist nation—just ducked her head and clutched her husband’s arm and continue toward the ancient majestic structure.

The crowd spilled over to the dark outside steps telling us that the inside space was already jammed packed. Would we be able to get inside the doors or would we stand in the cold with the clusters of men in trench coats? (We squeezed inside.)

Without hope of a acquiring a seat, Larry inched us toward a spot in the backmost corner near a pillar. Even inside, it was quite cold, and everyone stayed bundled in coats. I soon realized there would be no heat.

Firmly stationed in our square of space, we began to wait. Long before the evangelist entered, my pregnant body grew weary. I leaned against Larry for support. No one spoke a word, and no one looked up or around to acknowledge those in close proximity. Every person there preferred anonymity.

While I waited, and since Larry and I would not dare open our English-speaking mouths to chat with each other, I fantasized about meeting the evangelist; I stood on my tiptoes and peered toward the front as I tried to catch a glimpse of other people in his entourage—Ruth Graham, Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, anyone of those associated with the same Cause that brought me to live as an undercover missionary. My efforts were to no avail; I could only see a sea of coats, hats, and other headscarves.

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Then, after what seemed like an eternity and without fanfare, the man Billy Graham entered from a small door in the front. With that entrance a holy hush descended. There would be no music, no choir, no solos, and no testimonies from celebrities, no, not in this setting. Just a man, his translator, his Bible, and his Message.

From my space in the back by the pillar, I witnessed a miracle. Into this setting of cold Communist darkness, the bright light of the love of God and Word of God exploded. With respect, but with authority, Billy Graham did what Billy Graham always did: he shared the gospel of Jesus for a nation starved to know the Truth. Standing in an unfamiliar cold church in an atheist country I felt so privileged to be a part of what this man believed.

And just like that, before I was ready, he was done. After asking for those deciding to receive Jesus to raise their hands, he closed his Bible, he turned, and he walked back through the same small side door, which carried him away from me. I felt sad and supremely happy at the same time. I desperately longed to talk to him and say, “Thank you for being so bold! Thank you for coming here! You brought Hope into a society that is desperate for hope. We are on the same team!”

Now as the world tells him goodbye, I thank God for my own Billy Graham story. I am deeply grateful for that one night when I stood with a nation as they experienced Hope.

Living with Eternal Intentionality

Do you, or someone close to you, have your own Billy Graham story?

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