Less than four months after the Berlin Wall was opened, evangelist Billy Graham preached to a crowd of 10,000 to 15,000 East and West Berliners who gathered near the historic Brandenburg Gate.

But the turnout for the March 10 outdoor meeting before the German Reichstag for the most part disappointed the East and West German Evangelical Alliances, which had requested Graham’s visit only six weeks prior to his arrival. More than three decades ago, in 1954, a similar service in Berlin attracted 80,000 people; another in 1960 had been attended by 90,000. Despite half-page advertisements in many newspapers, including the Communist party’s Neues Deutschland, imminent East German elections and a chilling drizzle apparently kept large crowds away.

In his message, which was aired live on East German state radio, Graham urged his audience to turn away from materialism, hedonism, and self-gratification and toward moral and spiritual values. The evangelist commented on the recent remark of Czechoslovakia’s new president, Vaclav Havel, who said the salvation of the world lay not in slick political slogans but rather in the human heart.

While hundreds responded to Graham’s call for dedication to God, the sounds of the “wall peckers”—young people chipping off pieces of the Berlin Wall—could be heard in the background. Several Christians climbed the wall holding a banner reading “God’s love has no limits,” while other believers sang on the East side of the gate. Graham Association coordinators reported receiving 1,600 response cards after the message. Some 1,100 of them came from East Berliners.

The hasty planning caused some disagreement among German Christians. Though the Lutheran bishops of both East and West Berlin issued a brief word of ...

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