25. BILLY GRAHAM
I first met Billy Graham in the spring of 1971 in Vero Beach, Florida. He invited me to spend a day with him talking and praying. My friend from Fred Roach from Miami had flown me in his plane to meet Billy and his wife, Ruth. This was the beginning of a wonderful relationship based on mutual love and respect.
Billy Graham wanted to come to Northern Ireland in May of 1972. He planned for me to take him on the streets in the battle areas of the city so he could meet the people. I agreed on the condition that the news media not be alerted until after we had completed our walk. We had wonderful fellowship and prayer on Saturday, May 27.
Billy Graham and Arthur Blessitt. What a team! Only his private photographer came along with us. The greatest crusade evangelist of our time, Billy Graham, with perhaps the most radical street evangelist, Arthur Blessitt.
I gave him a supply of little red peel-off Jesus stickers that you could stick on. He pulled off the one I stuck on him to see what it read. He read the words, “God Loves You” softly and smiled, then stuck it back on himself rather low, just about stomach level.
“Oh, no! No!” I said. “Don’t put it there.”
“Because if you get shot at by a sniper, they’ll use that red dot as a target. If you get hit, it’ll take you all day to die, but if you put it here,” I said, pointing to his heart, “you’ll go just like that,” and snapped my fingers.
He grabbed the sticker and stuck it over his heart. It stayed there all day. Soon, Billy Graham was feeling at home, putting Jesus stickers and gospel tracts in the pill boxes of the British troops, speaking to them about Christ and walking along the streets.
Around 10:00am I heard a shout, “Hey, preacher! Come over here and preach to us. It’s Sunday morning and we’re all inside.”
I saw an old bombed-out building. Inside was an illegal bar with about 45 people drinking and smoking, their tables littered with empty beer bottles.
“I want you to meet Billy Graham,” I said.
Most of them knew who he was, and they all stood and shook his hand. I turned to Billy and said, “I know this is not the usual crusade for you to preach, but I’d like to give you the opportunity to preach to these men.”
He laughed and replied, “Oh, no, no, Arthur. You go ahead. “This is more your style. I want to hear you preach, I’ll pray.”
Just as I was about to begin, an old drunk called out, “Preacher, I want to sing a song before you preach. It’s a gospel song.”
“Okay,” I said.
He began to beat rhythmically on the table, and then in his drunken voice began to sing “Devil Woman,” not quite a George Beverly Shea song. It wasn’t really a gospel song, but an old country song that was from the man’s heart. The song started this off-beat Sunday morning in style.
After the singing, I read from John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
When I finished preaching, everyone in the bar applauded. Afterwards I said a prayer and invited everyone who wanted to receive Jesus to pray along with me. It was an indescribable situation. It was certainly memorable, Billy Graham sharing Jesus in an illegal bar on Sunday morning in the heart of war-torn Belfast.
“Billy,” I said with a smile as we left, “Maybe you could get George Beverly Shea to sing that song, ‘Devil Woman,’ in one of your crusades.”
We both laughed and we started along the streets again.
Billy and I knelt to pray in the middle of the barbed wire and barricades at the Peace Line. Our hearts were broken with the war, yet here were God’s servants in the midst of the conflict, seeking to change hearts and hold forth hope, love and good news.
From the Protestant side we met a man on the street, and as Billy started to share with him about receiving Jesus, the man said to us. “Well, if I ever met Billy Graham I think I’d get saved. He’s the only one that gets to me. I’d like to meet him.”
I spoke up, “Sir today is your day of salvation. I want you to meet Billy Graham.”
Billy took off his hat and sunglasses. The man fell under deep conviction. It was so glorious to see Billy kneel with a man and see the man converted to Christ. It was a wonderful moment.
I was carrying the cross in Belfast during the long year. A good Christian teacher and her class saw one of her young boys wearing a Jesus sticker. She thought she’d give a good witness to the class, so she asked, “What is that?”
“Oh, it’s a wee badge.”
“Well, where did you get it?”
“The man stuck it on me.”
“What was the man doing?” she pressed.
“Dragging half of a barricade down the road.”
The war did not end because of my five trips through that troubled land, but we were obedient to the call of God. I preached all over Northern Ireland in every major town and city. I shall never forget the faithful service of my good friend, Mike Parrott, and the wonderful rallies we had at the YMCA.
We saw thousands of people come to Christ. Many surrendered to preach and serve Christ with all their hearts. We loved the people. It was a wonderful place where one day I do believe that love will prevail and peace will be a reality, where the sounds of the street will be of children playing and lovers walking hand-in-hand, not the sound of bombs and hands clutched in strife. The words of the angels at the birth of Christ still produce hope. “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace and good will toward men.”-Luke 2:14.
This is my prayer.