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‘What Reverend Graham was saying could transform lives’

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Most influential preacher: the late Billy Graham with members of his entourage (Photograph by Michael Markham)

Life drastically changed for Michael Markham one New Year’s Eve. It was sometime in the 1960s.

He was in the midst of celebrating in London’s Trafalgar Square when he was nearly trampled to death. His life flashed before his eyes.

“I was in the middle of the crowd and thought, without a doubt, I was going to die, but the ambulance personnel came and pulled me out,” Mr Markham said. “That was an earmark moment in my life.

“I heard someone clearly say, ‘You had a chance to do it your way and now do it my way’. I saw that as God speaking to me.”

He didn’t grow up in a Christian home or attend church but, after having that epiphany, he did some research into his family history.

As it turned out, one relative, Clements Markham, had been the Archbishop of York.

A couple years later, Mr Markham’s faith was further spurred through a meeting with Billy Graham.

The late evangelist, considered one of the most influential preachers of the 20th century, passed away on February 21.

He is said to have led 3.2 million people in the invitation to accept Jesus Christ as their personal saviour through his crusades — conducted in 185 countries around the world since 1947.

Mr Markham first heard about the famous preacher while at a missions conference in Holland.

As the founder of the group World Council on Spiritual Diplomacy, he got involved with Billy Graham’s ministry, Youth for Christ.

“I went to a meeting that Billy Graham had organised for itinerant evangelism where he was reaching out to people in the third world,” Mr Markham said.

“Around 1972, I was also doing work for evangelical TV stations in Holland and Billy Graham had a number of crusades or things happening in Europe, so that’s when I first started taking his photographs.

“I was doing photo journalism and was able to interface with him backstage and take his picture.”

Mr Markham said the impact the preacher had on him was profound.

He remembers 10,000 to 20,000 people coming out to Mr Graham’s speaking events yet, behind the scenes, the evangelical speaker appeared humble and genuine.

“I had never heard him preach before I started taking his picture. To be honest, I thought, ‘Why are all of these people coming out for this event? What’s happening here?’

“We were behind the stage one day so it was just myself and him and I was in the background with my camera.

“I caught him in a religious or spiritual moment, so I didn’t take pictures, but he was on his knees and I could hear him praying to God before getting up to go out on the stage to preach to people.

“I said to myself, ‘This isn’t like other celebrity personalities I had taken pictures of.’ He was genuine and, to see the way he prayed, that’s when I realised this was someone who was sincere and what he was saying could transform lives.”

Mr Markham was later presented with the opportunity to do ministry work with Youth for Christ in Geneva, Switzerland and Canada.

He was never in Mr Graham’s inner circle however he interacted with many people who were close to the preacher.

He experienced many “mixed feelings” on learning Mr Graham was very sick.

“People knew that he was ill and there were lots of discussions about who his successor would be,” Mr Markham said. “On a positive note, I knew that Billy Graham knew he was going on to Heaven, so in that respect I didn’t mourn for him personally.

“But on the other hand, I knew that an era had passed and an important Christian voice was gone. His life had touched many people internationally, including mine.”

Mr Markham believes one of Mr Graham’s biggest contributions was his work in the Soviet Union.

In those days, churches were highly regulated and controlled by the Government, however through his relationships with Russian leadership Mr Graham helped to “open Russia to the West”, Mr Markham said. “His work there was remarkable. He prayed with generals and officials.”

Michael Markham