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From left, City Councilmen Lue Ward and Curtis Milteer, City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn and Councilman Roger Fawcett bow in prayer during Thursday’s Suffolk Leadership Prayer Breakfast.
From left, City Councilmen Lue Ward and Curtis Milteer, City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn and Councilman Roger Fawcett bow in prayer during Thursday’s Suffolk Leadership Prayer Breakfast.

Prayer and a tribute

Published 9:58pm Thursday, May 1, 2014

Speakers recall role of Billy Graham in their faith

The main guests and speakers for the Suffolk Leadership Prayer Breakfast on Thursday had at least two things in common: Their lives were changed through relationships with Jesus, and evangelist Billy Graham had helped shape those relationships.

Basyle Tchividjian, grandson of the famous 95-year-old evangelist, was the keynote speaker for Suffolk’s 30th annual official observation of the National Day of Prayer. A special video presentation by Louis Zamperini — a 1936 Olympian and a prisoner of war during World War II — followed Tchividjian’s speech, and Sylvia K. Porter offered a closing prayer.

Basyle Tchividjian, grandson of Billy Graham, was the featured speaker at Thursday’s Suffolk Leadership Prayer Breakfast.
Basyle Tchividjian, grandson of Billy Graham, was the featured speaker at Thursday’s Suffolk Leadership Prayer Breakfast.

All three were connected by the difference Graham had made in their lives.

As one of 19 grandchildren to “Daddy Bill,” Tchividjian said he’d learned valuable lessons from his grandfather.

Among the most important of those lessons, he said, was the importance of pursuing time and a closer relationship with Jesus. Given the choice, he explained, Graham tended to choose time with Jesus.

“He’d rather sit at the feet of Jesus than at the table of kings,” Tchividjian said.

But the focus of Tchividjian’s remarks — and his grandfather would surely have approved — was Jesus, the savior Billy Graham has been telling people about for scores of years.

“Daddy Bill sacrificed many days with his wife and children” to share the good news of Jesus, Tchividjian said. “The Gospel liberates us to love and serve others without expecting anything in return.”

But the returns from Graham’s evangelistic service were clear in the words of those who spoke after Tchividjian.

Zamperini spoke of having been spared death many times in World War II — including a period in which he spent 47 days in a raft adrift on the Pacific Ocean after his bomber was shot down. He was then “rescued” by the Japanese military and spent the rest of the war being tortured in prison camps.

When the war ended, he returned home to persistent nightmares and found his marriage quickly coming apart, he said. But first his wife and then Zamperini himself attended Billy Graham crusades and decided to follow Jesus.

He never had another nightmare about his time as a POW, Zamperini said in the video presentation. And in 1950 he returned to Japan, where he met many of his former captors, forgave them personally and was able to lead some of them to Christ.

Offering the final prayer of the program, Sylvia Porter described a similarly life-changing experience as a result of the relationship she found with Jesus during one of Graham’s many evangelistic messages.

Prior to the speeches, leaders representing various communities in Suffolk — elected and appointed officials, first responders, the military, business, students and families — offered greetings and prayers.

“Communities like Suffolk, Va., are the lifeblood of this country,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Robert Gusentine, chief of the Cyber Integration Branch of the Joint Staff in Suffolk.

“We pray as we face terrible forces threatening to tear our communities apart,” he said. “Hold fast, because our nation needs you. What happens day to day in places like Suffolk means more to our national security than anything we do out there.”

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