By Jose Kavi
New Delhi: Church leaders in India have mourned the death of world renowned evangelist, Reverend Billy Graham.
“We express our heartfelt condolences on the sad demise of this great pastor, evangelist and missionary,” says Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India in a condolence message.
Reverend Graham died on February 21 at his home in North Carolina in the United States, aged 99.
The Catholic prelate said the Protestant preacher had taught the world through his life and ministry what it means to be a follower of Christ.
“Much before others took to Mass Media he led from the front in using radio and television for proclaiming the Gospel message. The world will be poorer place without him. May God reward him for all the services this great man rendered to His kingdom,” said Bishop Mascarenhas, who is currently on Lenten preaching ministry in Germany.
Reverend Vijesh Lal, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, says the world has lost “a missionary statesman, a man who inspired millions and a humble servant of God who has set an example for all of us, on what it means to follow Christ and to obey Him.”
Reverend Graham had addressed meetings in India at least thrice in 1956, 1972 and 1977 during which he also met the country’s top leaders, including first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
According to Reverend Lal, the American preacher lived the Gospel values and challenged racism, brought “the hope of the Word of God even in closed countries, counseled presidents and people in important positions and yet remained in essence ‘The Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ’.”
In 1974 he along with others, Reverend Graham initiated the Lausanne Conference for world mission which has played an important role in uniting Evangelicals “in the common task of total evangelization of the whole world.”
The Indian Evangelical leader acknowledges Reverend Graham as one of his heroes. “I was brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through his book ‘Peace with God’ and have read his books and heard his sermons countless times. I had a desire to meet him someday. Now I will, on the other side. I am sure the Lord Jesus Christ, whom he loved and professed, would have welcomed him with the words all of us want to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
John Dayal, a senior journalist and former president of the All India Catholic Union, hailed Reverend Graham as “a moral authority and a voice of calm reassurance.”
According to the Catholic lay leader, most Catholics and Protestants agree that Reverend Graham witnessed the Word of God in a world ravaged by war and pestilence, nuclear weapons and famine. “His classic patricidal visage will live long in the minds of the people,” Dayal added.
Shibu Thomas, founder of Persecution Relief, says Reverend Graham was “a powerful beacon for Jesus Christ,” who had unashamed allegiance to the absolute sovereignty and centrality of God. “His vision of the advance of the gospel was breathtaking,” Thomas told Matters India.
“What a gift he was to the Church, to the world. Nobody in the area of missions had a greater impact on this world. Never has the world seen such an exemplary life lived over nine decades,” he added.
Thomas said although Reverend Graham was not from his time, he drew inspiration from the evangelist’s unmistakable and simple sermons, reverence for the holiness of God, and love for Jesus Christ.”