On to Hungary : Evangelist Billy Graham Sees a ‘Turning Point’
The durable American evangelist, Billy Graham, after packing stadiums in Great Britain for a month, flew into Hungary this week, proclaiming its religious life at “a great historical turning point.”
He said changes taking place there “are good for the Hungarian people” and “good for our world.”
After his lengthy stay in Britain, preaching to royalty in Windsor Castle and to multitudes in London’s tough East End, he moved into communist territory, praising its “new openness” and “spirit of creativity.”
“I believe our present visit is another sign of this new spirit of openness and change,” he said, noting that for the first time in Eastern Europe he would be preaching in an open-air arena, Budapest’s People’s Stadium.
His meeting there tonight is being sponsored by the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Hungary and Council of Free Churches in Hungary, in cooperation with Hungary’s Roman Catholic Bishops Conference.
Also for the first time in Eastern Europe, Graham said, an organized system is being set up for follow-up church nurturing of those who make decisions to accept Christ.
Graham, 70, who for 40 years has been setting new evangelistic records in his worldwide crusades, set another one in Britain. His services there were carried by national television networks in 30 African countries.
This added a television audience estimated at 22 million to 30 million, including 8.5 million at 15,000 meetings organized by African churches. It was termed the largest single outreach and biggest simultaneous audience in Graham’s career.
Many Make ‘Commitments’
In his 13 meetings in Britain, the last one in a rain-drenched Wembley Stadium, attendance totaled 1.2 million. About 80,500 of them made what the Graham organization calls “commitments to Christ.”
On his arrival at Budapest’s airport, Graham applauded removal of trade barriers and the openings of individually owned enterprises, alternate political parties and other efforts at democratization. But he added:
“The issues which face our world are fundamentally moral and spiritual, and they cannot be satisfied by economic or political solutions alone.
“How tragic it would be if Hungary fell into the same trap as many in my own country, and gained the whole world, but lost its soul. Material progress is important, but it can make us forget God and his will for our lives.
“All too often economic progress and expanded freedom have been accompanied by moral and spiritual decay, leading to a host of social ills such as alcoholism, drug abuse, disintegration of families, loneliness, crime and lack of compassion for others.”
Graham, who has preached directly to more than 100 million people, more than anyone in history, has several times filled churches and cathedrals in the Soviet orbit, but never before in his familiar stadium setting.
Making his fourth visit to Hungary, he said indications of revitalized church life abounded--new buildings, expanded publications, youth rallies, frequent religious conferences, church-operated schools.
“All these give evidence of a new period of freedom and opportunity for all the churches of Hungary,” he said, adding that churches now are able “to elect their own leaders and to evangelize, both within the church and outside the church walls.”