Whatever the complexities of Richard Nixon's soul, he knew when he needed prayer, and was not reluctant to ask for it.
I write this upon President Donald Trump's announcement that he will meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
Hearing the news takes my mind back to a day in 1972. It was just before or right after Nixon's surprising revelation that he was going to the People's Republic of China and meet with its rulers, including Mao.
After the announcement, a tsunami of phone calls surged into our office at the White House. Political leaders were stunned, or rejoicing, or indignant that Nixon the anti-communist conservative would visit "Red China"—the most closed nation on earth to the United States at that time.
I was surprised myself. I had watched Nixon try to pursue a course of détente with the Soviet Union, but, like many others, I felt China to be impenetrable. This sense had been reinforced through a trip I made to Hong Kong just a year before Nixon's announcement. My hosts in Hong Kong—still a British colony—drove me up to the New Territories, on the border with the People's Republic. I got out of the car, and walked as far as I could, to the edge of a precipice. I could see into China. A sweeping valley with rice paddies stretched out to the foot of mountains miles away (at least in my recollection decades later).
I looked closer, and far away I could see a Chinese rice farmer working in a flooded field. I could have yelled a greeting, but it was if the man were in another galaxy rather than the same planet.
And now Nixon was going to that land.
At my junior level I was not included among staff that would accompany the president. However, on the morning of Nixon's departure I was standing on the White House lawn with dozens of others—including my wife and children. I watched Nixon and his wife board the helicopter bound for Andrews Air Force Base, and Air Force One, and thought of an unexpected assignment I had received just a few days before.
Harry Dent, special counsel to the president, had rushed into my office that day. The president, he said, wanted us to mobilize people across America to pray for his trip. Harry tasked the assignment to me. At that point I had mere days before Nixon's departure. I had learned that I could get through to celebrities if I had the White House operators place the call. Few things get people's attention like answering a phone and hearing a polished voice say, "The White House is calling."
Thus the lowliest presidential aide—and I was barely on the totem pole—could speak to the high and mighty. I remember now talking to a wide-ranging set of the famous, from Nixon friend Zsa Zsa Gabor to Dallas Cowboys Coach Tom Landry, to singer-actor Pat Boone, as well as church leaders. I targeted celebrities who had scheduled appearances on the big talk shows—like Johnny Carson's—and who might be open to inserting an appeal for people to pray for Nixon's trip.
There was much for which to pray. Nixon had concluded that global security could not be stabilized if one of the world's major nations remained isolated. Further, the United States needed help in ending the Vietnam War, and winning the release of our POWs.
So now, almost a half-century later, as I think of Trump going to meet Kim, I feel the urgency of prayer.
In 1972, we needed a miracle, for the King of kings and the Lord of lords to step right into the meeting between the president and the despots. How desperately we need God's intervention in trembling 2018.
In the early twentieth century Pyongyang, capital now of North Korea, was known as "the Jerusalem of the East" because there were so many church spires rising over the skyline. Revival had swept the Korean peninsula, and Pyongyang had become a center of spiritual awakening.
That could happen again.
In 1971, I sat in a tense meeting in the home of the president of a nation I will not name here. Representatives of other regional powers were at the table. The intensity built until there was momentary rattling of sabers.
Suddenly a godly leader in the room said, simply, "Let's pray!"
My faith was weak in that era, and I wanted to shout: "We need Kissinger, not prayer!"
But pray we did, and when we finished, the spirit of war had been driven from the room.
It might not be possible for Trump to pray with Kim—perhaps the most ruthless persecutor of Christians in the world today (and that says a lot)—but we can pray. As I discovered almost a half century ago, prayer is not the "last resort" but the first priority.
The "heaviness" of God's glory has a displacing effect as I saw in 1971. The world's security may well depend on war being pushed out of the room when Trump and Kim eyeball one another.
Pray, church, pray.
Wallace Henley is a former White House and Congressional aide. He is currently executive director of the Belhaven University Institute for Ministry Leadership, and a teaching pastor at Second Baptist Church, Houston. Henley is co-author of God and Churchill.
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