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Of course, I was excited when the telephone rang and it was Ronald Reagan. He was calling from Rancho del Cielo in California to let me know how much he had enjoyed the meeting the previous night. Along with other religious leaders, I had just hosted an event titled "The National Affairs Briefing." It was August 1980, just a few weeks before the presidential election. The event was designed to bring together thousands of concerned American voters who had, so to speak, "come out of the closet" to stand against the moral decline in our country, excessive taxation, the Soviet buildup, and the overall mood of discontent among our citizens.
Somehow I had convinced Governor Reagan that this meeting was critically important, and against the advice of many advisors, he was anxious to come.
He sat politely and attentively on the platform while I delivered a message encouraging all Americans to participate in the electoral process and hold up the principles on which I, along with many, believe this country was founded.
Just prior to this public event, I had met privately with Reagan and former Texas Governor John Connally (who was wounded years before as President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas). Governor Connally had encouraged the Republican presidential nominee to listen to my message as it reflected the sentiments of hundreds of thousands of his voter base. As we met, I suggested Reagan open the National Affairs Briefing with the statement, "I know this is a non-partisan event, so you cannot endorse me. But I want you to know, I endorse you!"
"I like that," Reagan said. He went on to deliver that line, which earned him the first of many standing ovations that night from the 17,000 people in attendance. It became the headline in newspapers around the country.
The day after the highly successful event, the soon-to-be president called to express his gratitude. A few minutes into the phone call, Reagan had to take another call. "Here, Nancy wants to talk to you--I'll be right back," he said, handing the telephone to his wife.
The two of us talked for a considerable time. She reaffirmed her husband's excitement about the event and thanked me for helping organize and energize it. When Mr. Reagan came back on the line, we discussed other issues related to the country and the election, then we prayed together and hung up. That evening, more than ever, I knew that American needed a man with the principles, conviction and communication ability of Ronald Reagan as our 40th President.
Months before the National Affairs Briefing, while Reagan contemplated a presidential run, several religious leaders had met together at the Airport Marina Hotel at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The late Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ International, and Rev. Billy Graham had toured the world extensively and expressed a mutual concern for imminent threat of the Soviet Union. Despite the treaties, the Soviets continued to expand what Reagan would later label their "evil empire" into the Third World and other unstable regions. Both Bright and Graham predicted that freedom had only 1,000 days left unless the Soviet ideology and military aggression were defeated. They were in the process of capturing the economic strength of the world necessary to take their military might to an unstoppable level. Dr. Charles Stanley expressed his dedication to our country, saying he would "lay down his life," if necessary to preserve our freedom. Others agreed. We determined that we would fervently pray while working together to emphasize a necessary philosophical change based on the principles necessary for freedom's survival. We all believed Ronald Reagan had the ability if he also had the convictions necessary to lead our nation.
Shortly after that, I met with Governor Reagan in an Atlanta hotel to express the concerns that had been raised amongst the religious leaders and voice our desire to see America redirected. During our conversation, I looked directly into the eyes of the governor and said, "May I ask you something very personal, of a spiritual nature?"
"Yes," he said.
"Is Jesus real to you?" I asked.
He lowered his head, paused for a moment, then looked up. "Well," he said in his unique way, "my father was an alcoholic and I did not really know him. My mother was the greatest influence in my life. The only way I know how to answer your question is to say that Jesus is more real to me than my own mother."
I was both stunned and thrilled. I knew he was a great communicator. I knew he was a man of courage. And I knew he was committed to principles. Now he was saying that the One whom Christians hold their Lord and Savior was as real to him as his own mother! I knew right then that this was a great moment spiritually, both for the governor and for the country.
Shortly thereafter, when Governor Reagan decided conclusively to run for president, I knew that prayer and faith had moved the man who would ultimately become one of the most admired, respected and effective leaders in the world. Thank God for Ronald Reagan!
During that phone call just before the election, as I spoke with the governor and his wife, she said to me, "I don't know that I've ever seen Ron more excited." Well, Mrs. Reagan, if you could see your husband, our most admired president, right now, you would see him "more excited," as he is now and forever in the presence of the One he said is "more real to me than my mother."