Henry Holley, 86, once served as a special assistant to Billy Graham, the world- renowned Christian evangelist, who relied on Holley to orchestrate massive gatherings of Christians overseas.
“He is a proclaimer. He is a communicator,” Holley said about Graham.
Holley’s exposure to Asia started in the United States Marine Corps when he landed in Tsingdao at the end of World War II to help with the official surrender of the Japanese Imperial Army that had occupied much of China.
“That is when the Lord gave me a heart for China,” Holley said.
He also served in the Korean War before retiring in 1966 after 23 years of active duty and seven years reserve duty as a master sergeant.
Immediately after retiring, Holley joined the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to prepare for Graham’s crusade in Tokyo.
A large wall in the living room of his 1970s split-level home in Indian Hills is covered in personal pictures of Graham throughout the years.
“Everything you see, he is,” Holley said about his friend’s integrity. “Billy Graham stands for truth, genuine truth.”
In May, Holley visited Graham, who at 95 years old is bedridden and tended by round-the-clock nurses. But during their talk, Holley said they discussed the “happy days we have had together.”
“He is the greatest man I have ever known,” Holley said.
Changing the world, one city at a time
In Holley’s basement are lines of framed pictures from each crusade Holley was integral to creating.
On a few of the images are personal notes from Graham, one that reads “To my friend Henry Holley, who helped make this possible.”
The aerial photographs capture the hundreds of thousands of people crowded into massive arenas as multiple days of events culminate in a preaching by Graham.
For example, the 1973 crusade in Seoul, South Korea drew in 1.1 million people on the final day.
“Billy would always say people do not come to see him, but come to God,” Holley said.
Also in Holley’s basement is a bright silver metal trunk, which he used to travel an average of 150,000 miles over 200 days each year.
Speaking with Holley is a geography and history lesson, listing every corner of the world he has seen, including Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, the Philippines, Singapore, Finland and Brazil.
One, two or even three years before a crusade, Holley would work with local church leaders in another country to organize and motivate the Christian community to prepare for the “proclamation of the Gospel.”
After the large event, the work would continue to preserve what has transpired, a transformation of a city, in which thousands upon thousands of people had committed their lives to Christ.
The key was having the local population be responsible for the crusade, Holley said, taking ownership in setting up the infrastructure and volunteering the man-hours.
“I plant the thought from the very beginning, this is not something we will do, but they will do,” Holley said.
He also emphasizes it is not a fundraising venture for Graham or the organization, which does not take money out of the countries.
The largest crusade is in China’s future
As vice president of China Affairs for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Holley has gone to some of the most isolated parts of the world, such as his 17 visits to North Korea.
Holley said he is not scared of traveling anywhere at the direction of God, who opens doors and lights a path.
“I would rather be in the most dangerous place in the world in the will of God, then in the safest place out of his will,” Holley said.
At 86 years of age, Holley is still active in ministry, but now travels five to six times a year for two-week periods.
“I have been out there enough,” Holley said. He later added, “I don’t want to retire until I am old.”
Holley said his older age is actually a benefit for his work in China, where the retirement age is 55 years old.
“My tenure, my white hair, helps,” Holley said.
In the entryway of his home is a wall with bright red displays of Chinese art.
“We cannot ignore China. It is the largest country in the world population wise,” Holley said.
The Chinese pieces are reminders of Holley’s responsibility to develop a ministry in China, cultivating not only church leaders, but the government.
“We have a great favor with the leadership. … They trust us,” Holley said.
He said the Communist-controlled state oversees government officials, media and the military, but the country has become very open to free enterprise, knowing a successful business makes money that can be taxed.
“It is a great system that they have,” Holley said.
He adds there is also freedom of religion, where although churches must register and be licensed, a ministry can preach and give out Bibles.
But proselytizing is forbidden off church grounds, Holley said, keeping China from experiencing a crusade by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Still, Holley thinks China will open up to the idea of a massive Christian gathering in the next five to ten years.
With God above and a wife by his side
Holley, who was born in Texas in 1927, met his future wife, Bettie, on a blind date set up by two friends who were also dating at the time.
They were married in September 1949 and will be celebrating 65 years of marriage this fall.
In 1971, Graham asked Holley to work out of an office in Atlanta to be near the airport. The Holley family has called Cobb home ever since.
The couple has three grown children, with several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Holley, who was ordained in 1995 by his local church, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, is quick to give much of the credit for any success overseas to his wife, who shared the mission to walk in faith together.
While talking about their travels, Bettie Holley said everyone she met, from influential people to church ladies, were wonderful and gracious.
“We still have some wonderful friends all over the world, who we remain in contact with,” she said.
“I love Asia,” she added, and listed Hong Kong as her favorite city because of its beauty, location on the coast and being filled with international travelers.
In his pocket, Henry Holley carries a heavy blue marble with the world painted on it. The weight in the pocket is a reminder of all the people Jesus told his disciples to reach.
The nearly life-long journey in the mission field has been a lesson, Henry Holley said, to know Christ better and help others know him.