General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, one-time president of Columbia University, two-term president of the United States, had the same needs and insecurities as the lowliest street boy in Bogotá has. Here’s the story.
In 1951 Mr. Billy Graham wrote General Eisenhower a letter which the General regarded as brash (page 189 on Graham’s autobiography Just As I Am). Yet Eisenhower asked the forward young man to see him. At that meeting, the general welcomed him warmly and shared some of his own religious upbringing — it was with the River Brethren, a group within the Mennonite tradition. Eisenhower’s family read the New Testament in the original Greek and taught their sons to memorize Scripture.
At the right moment, Mr. Graham asked, “General, do you still respect the religious teaching of your father and mother?” “Yes,” he said softly, “but I have gotten a long way from it” (page 191). Mr. Graham felt free to present the Gospel to him.
Eisenhower declined to join a church before the 1952 election, supposedly so he would not appear to be using a church for political gain. But he committed himself to join his wife’s church (Presbyterian) after the election.
The president elect wanted to quote Scripture in his inaugural address. Graham suggested II Chronicles 7:14. Stepping to the window of his Commodore Hotel in New York City, Mr. Eisenhower said to Mr. Graham, “I think one of the reasons I was elected was to help lead this country spiritually. We need a spiritual revival” (page 199).
At the conclusion of his inauguration, the new president did something others presidents had not done – he prayed. While it is normal to have clergy pray, a praying-his-own-prayer president is not normal.
True to his word, he joined a Presbyterian church — no perfunctory ritual since it required a one-hour-a-day-for-five-days catechism prior to baptism into church membership. He also initiated a National Day of Prayer.
Before taking decisive action to desegregate public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957, Eisenhower consulted Mr. Graham. The president suffered some heart problems in the late 50s. About this Mr. Graham said, “. . . I believe Eisenhower’s faith was deepened through these experiences” (page 203).
In 1955 Graham was called to the Eisenhower’s Gettysburg farm. The president opened Graham’s car door himself. At first, it looked like the president only wanted a social visit. Giving Mr. Graham a tour of the Gettysburg battlefield, Eisenhower showed Billy where his grandfather would have been engaged in the battle. That evening, the President paced in front of the fireplace in his small den and the real purpose of his invitation to the evangelist surfaced.
“Billy, do you believe in Heaven?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“Give me your reasons.”
With his New Testament in hand, Mr. Graham gave the President a guided tour through the Scriptures that spoke of the future life (page 204).
“How can a person know he is going to Heaven?” he asked.
Mr. Graham wrote: “I explained the Gospel to him all over again, as I had on previous occasions” (page 204).
Leap ahead a decade to 1968 when Mr. Eisenhower was at Walter Reed Hospital and Mr. Graham was visiting him. (I want to quote Graham’s next paragraph from page 205):
“As my scheduled twenty minutes with him extended to thirty, he asked the doctor and nurses to leave us. Propped up on pillows amidst intravenous tubes, he took my hand and looked into my eyes. ‘Billy, you’ve told me how to be sure my sins are forgiven and that I going to Heaven. Would you tell me again’” (page 206)?
Christian, Missionary, Pastor, you give out the same truth Mr. Eisenhower hungered for. Big or small, influential or no-bodies, educated or unaware, we all need the same Truth.