Evangelist Billy Graham conducts a Sunday service at Yokota Air Base in January, 1994.

Evangelist Billy Graham conducts a Sunday service at Yokota Air Base in January, 1994. (Stars and Stripes)

TOKYO — Yokota Air Base worshiped with Billy Graham Sunday.

The American evangelist, in Japan for a four-day crusade in the Tokyo Dome that begins Thursday evening, was a guest of the Yokota Chaplain Corps, and about 1,800 people gathered at the base's main fitness center to hear him.

All but two of the regular Sunday services at the base's East and West chapels were canceled or rescheduled, and the faithful gathered for "community worship" in place of their usual 11 o'clock services.

The Pacific Air Force Band, directed by Capt. Alan Sierichs, and a 52-voice choir provided the music for the service along with George Beverly Shea, the longtime Graham associate whose baritone at 80 was as strong and crisp as that of many singers half his age.

Graham was welcomed by Air Force Brig. Gen. Michael J. McCarthy, the base commander, who called the evangelist "a minister to the common man" despite his closeness to world leaders.

The evangelist used the 23rd Psalm as a focus for his message on commitment to Christ, liberally interspersing anecdotes of his travels and contacts with well-known persons to illustrate his points.

He praised the choir and its soloist, SSgt. Douglas Jordan, for their rousing renditions of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "When We All Get to Heaven," directed by Senior Airman Robert Jefferson.

"I'd like to take you all back with me to our crusades in Cleveland, Ohio, and Atlanta, Ga.," Graham told the choristers, most of them recruited from the chapel choirs on base.

Graham recalled his first visit to Yokota in 1951 when he flew in "from Korea in an old C-54 in bad weather." It was the first time he'd experienced and appreciated instrument landings, he said.

In his message, Graham emphasized what he perceives as a "spiritual famine throughout the world," and he echoed the Psalmist's conviction that God can restore the soul.

He spoke of the pressures of the modern world, interspersing a light illustration of pressures he feels trying to recall the names of his four great-grandchildren.

Graham, who turned 75 in November, is the father of five and has 19 grandchildren.

Reminding his mostly U.S. military listeners that David, the Old Testament hero and traditionally held author of the 23rd Psalm, was "a military man" under great pressure. Graham said David's commitment to God allowed him to write "I shall not want."

"We're all going to die," Graham said, commenting on the psalm's reference to "the valley of the shadow of death."

"I'm not looking forward to dying," Graham said, "but I'm looking forward to being in the presence of God."

He then related a poignant scene from a time he was called to the deathbed of former President and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower at Walter Reed Hospital in Maryland.

"You've explained it to me many times, Billy, but explain it again," Graham recalled the dying general saying. "I want to be sure I know Christ."

Graham, who at the time was about to embark on a trip to Vietnam, again explained the gospel message to Eisenhower.

"I'm sure," Graham quoted Eisenhower as saying. Then the general added: "Give those old dough boys my greetings, and tell them an old soldier is praying for them."

In closing, Graham urged his listeners to make "a quiet commitment" to Christ that would provide them with "peace and serenity now."

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