Remarks at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast

 

February 4, 1988

 

You know, hearing these wonderful young men from Wheaton College here took me down memory lane a little bit, because some years ago, before they were born, and possibly before some of their fathers were born -- [laughter] -- I played football against Wheaton College. And it's kind of nice that I can say here -- if one of them asked me -- it ended in a tie game. [Laughter]

 

At the risk of sounding facetious, I just want to say here in this room -- and as has been so eloquently stated by the people who've spoken already -- about the uniqueness of how all of us, from so many different heritages, have come together here in the name of that one man. I have long been unable to understand the atheist in this world of so much beauty. And I've had an unholy desire to invite some atheists to a dinner and then serve the most fabulous gourmet dinner that has ever been concocted and, after dinner, ask them if they believe there was a cook. [Laughter]

 

But I want to thank each of you for being here today and for sharing with us the spiritual message that God has placed in your hearts. God's love shines through every word. His truth is the ultimate power source, and it's always there. It's available to ministers of the Gospel, Presidents, and the local grocery clerk. His comforting hand -- well, I could never carry the responsibilities of this high office without it.

 

Our forefathers drew on the wisdom and strength of God when they turned a vast wilderness into a blessed land of plenty called the United States of America. God has truly blessed this country, but we never should fall into the trap that would detract from the universality of God's gift. It is for all mankind. God's love is the hope and the light of the world.

 

Recently a letter found its way to my desk, I'm pleased to say, and in that letter was a copy of a prayer. It was sent to me by a woman who had lost her husband in World War II. This prayer had been written and delivered in a shellhole during World War II. It read:

 

Hear me, oh God; never in the whole of my lifetime have I spoken to You, but just now I feel like sending You my greetings.

 

You know, from childhood on, they've always told me You are not. I, like a fool, believed them.

 

I've never contemplated your creation, and yet tonight, gazing up out of my shell hole, I marveled at the shimmering stars above me and suddenly knew the cruelty of the lie.

 

Will You, my God, reach your hand out to me, I wonder? But I will tell You, and You will understand. Is it not strange that light should come upon me and I see You amid this night of hell?

 

There's nothing else I have to say. This, though: I'm glad that I've learned to know You.

 

At midnight we're scheduled to attack. But You are looking on, and I am not afraid.

 

The signal. Well, I guess I must be going. I have been happy with You.

 

This more I want to say. As You well know, the fighting will be cruel, and even tonight I may come knocking at Your door. Although I have not been a friend to You before, still, will You let me enter now, when I do come?

 

Why, I'm crying, oh God, my Lord. You see what happens to me: Tonight my eyes were opened.

 

Farewell my God, I'm going, and I'm not likely to come back. Strange, is it not, but death I fear no longer.

 

And he did not come back. This prayer was found on the body of a young Russian soldier killed in action in 1944. I also received some letters -- five letters, in fact --  from Russian soldiers in Afghanistan who had deserted their government and their army. Each one of them wrote a letter to me and in that letter revealed their belief in God and that they had deserted not out of fear of battle but because they could not carry out the unholy orders that had been given them.

 

And just last week, one of those five -- we did get them out. Their plea was for sanctuary. One of those five was in my office, a handsome young man in his early twenties. And it was evident -- and not only from his letter but from his words -- when he was thanking me for what we had done, that he believed in God. And I asked him how much religion did he believe there was in his own country. And he said, well, among young people like myself, it is spreading fast.

 

So, I know with all of us here, brought together, as we've been told so often this morning, in His name -- I just thank you, and God bless you all.

 

Note: The President spoke at 9:30 a.m. in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel. Prior to his remarks, the Wheaton College Men's Glee Club of Wheaton, IL, sang two hymns.