Across the bridge: Billy Graham fondly remembered in Nagaland

Across the bridge: Billy Graham fondly remembered in Nagaland
Glimpses from the 1972 Kohima Crusade where the late Rev Billy Graham had preached. (File Photo)

 

The Kohima crusade in 1972 is remembered as “Kohima Miracle”

 

Morung Express News
Dimapur | February 23

 

William Franklin Graham Jr., popularly known as Billy Graham, the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, died February 21 at 99. “America’s Pastor,” as he was dubbed, died at his home in North Carolina, U.S.

 

Thousands of miles away, a generation of Nagas fondly remember the “great man of God” who in November 1972 came to Nagaland to preach at a crusade in Kohima. The crusade, organized by the Nagaland Missionary Movement, from November 17-22 was attended by more than a hundred thousand people from all over Nagaland and beyond.

 

It was a difficult time as Naga political groups and the Indian army continued to clash and the Government of India had initially refused Rev. Graham permission to visit Nagaland.

 

In the book, “Billy Graham: American Pilgrim,” the authors informed that Graham’s visit to Nagaland was his second to India.

Then a strife-torn state, Nagaland saw skirmishes before and during the crusades, but authorities did not deem these sufficient reasons to cancel the event, in part because 100,000 people had come “from all over the region and were causing less trouble than they might if their long-held hopes were dashed by state authorities,” according to excerpts from the book.

 

In his biography, Graham recollected that when they arrived at the Kohima Local Ground to hold meetings, there were 90,000 people already inside, with thousands more outside.

 

“They arranged by tribe, and each tribe had its own interpreter with a public address system pointed to their area. As I spoke, I paused after each sentence. There followed a cacophony of sound as all seventeen bullhorns blared at once, each in a different dialect…”

 

The three-day crusade was not a “Billy Graham Crusade. To this day, we call it the ‘Kohima Miracle,’” one minister deeply involved in the effort stated in American Pilgrim.

 

46 years have passed since the crusade and many of those who attended the crusade are now in the dusk of their lives. The Morung Express managed to speak to a few of them.

 

‘It was as if God was coming’
Prof. Tali Alinger remembers the Local Ground at Kohima packed to capacity. “He preached powerfully by the power of the Holy Spirit,” Alinger, then a 39-year-old, recalls adding, “Many committed to Christ during the altar call.” He also proudly mentions that he retains possession of the song books used during the crusade.

 

Mhonlumi Murry, 72, remembers the whole of Nagaland waiting “as if it was God coming”.

 

At the time, seeing white people was a “rare spectacle” and when it was announced that Rev. Billy Graham would be holding a crusade in Kohima, many turned up to listen to “the big preacher”.

 

She would attend the crusade with her husband, as Rev. Graham preached on “The love of Jesus.” “Many were crying,” she says viewing that the chance to see and hear Rev. Graham had made many emotional.

 

Rev. VK Nuh remembers Rev. Graham being struck by the beauty of Nagaland. “Nagaland is a beautiful land with beautiful people,” Rev. Nuh recalled the late evangelist remarking during the visit. The former General Secretary of the Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) views that the late evangelist was “a gift to the world from God” who had a great “burden to save the lost souls around the world and impacted many lives.”

 

A retired nurse, Makenla Ao, who was working in Naga Hospital Kohima at that time, fondly remembers as the biggest gathering of people she has ever attended.

 

‘The West can learn from Nagas’
In a message to his crusade in Kohima in 1972, Graham noted that the Nagas are “remarkable people.”

 

“We could learn many lessons in the United States from their way of life…The Nagas are great family people.

 

Relatives such as uncles and aunts feel duty-bound to look after nieces and nephews as well as other relatives. If you were to live near school and the children of a relative from some distance away were to go to that school, you would be expected to house and feed them.” They also love and respect older people and take care of them, he had added.

 

However, he voiced concern at the nominalism among Naga Christians. “One of the problems of evangelism here in Nagaland is similar to the one we face in American or Europe. There are thousands of people here who profess Christianity as a religion or culture, but who have not received Christ as Lord and Savior,” he noted.

 

At the NBCC Platinum Jubilee Celebration (April 19- 22, 2012), his daughter Anne Graham Lotz, one of the main speakers told a DIPR interview that, “A bond of attachment between the Nagas and the Grahams’ family still exists.” Her father, she added, “still holds Nagaland and the Nagas close to his heart.”

 

The Billy Graham Road in Kohima was named after the famous preacher to remember the crusade.