At 82, and a spirited minister to world leaders, Harald Bredesen may be forgiven his excesses. Not only does he have a gift of the gab, but an enthusiasm for quoting so loudly from Scripture in public places that it turns heads. (In our hotel coffee shop, he has to be thrice shushed.)
As fit as a fiddle and with the energy of a man half his age, the founder and chairman of the Prince of Peace Foundation is newly flown in from Fiji. “I was talking with members of the government, suggesting a day of repentance, fasting and prayer to help resolve the problems between indigenous islanders and immigrant newcomers who largely run the place. There’s fear of civil war.”
He made Japan his next stop after Australia and Hong Kong through reading an article in Fortune magazine headlined, “Suicide in Osaka.” It reports that the economy here is so bad that company executives are killing themselves. “That’s terrible. I’m hoping to hold talks with Japanese leaders about the possibility of organizing a national day of prayer.”
Excuse me, Harald, while I choke. In the main, I try to explain, prayers in Japan are for personal gain rather than with any altruistic motive. As for fasting, Japan’s greed for the good things of life is about the only thing keeping the economy afloat.
Harald falters for only a second. “Is that so? Very interesting. Well, we’ll have to see. Miracles can and do happen. Now let me tell you how all this started. . . .”
A former PR man who came to the end of himself, Harald Bredesen is regarded by some to be the true leader of Christians in America. Just ask people like singer Pat Boone, former Secretary of State James Baker and dozens in between.
“I was pointed toward Washington by the founder of the presidential prayer group.” After an ignominious start (“I really got my comeuppance”) he moved to New York to organize prayer groups on Wall Street, and at institutions like Harvard.
Ordained into the Lutheran ministry, he was soon speaking all over America. But then came his epiphany. “Attending a Pentecostal meeting in Montana, a minister laid hands on me and told me I was off the Middle East to do God’s work.” (Pentecostalists believe in the gift of prophecy.)
Naturally he was skeptical. ” I was always such a screwball and scatterbrain. But after I read (in the Bible) ‘I have chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise,’ I felt 100 percent qualified.” Realizing that he didn’t have to be tall, blonde and academically brilliant, he says he was happy to place his hand in God’s own like a small child.
It was at that point, he believes, that the Holy Spirit entered into his being and he began speaking in tongues. “This is what the modern church lacks, a belief in the supernatural. It dates back to when the Roman Emperor Constantine declared Christianity a state religion; he came to rely more on carrying flaming crosses into battle than the power of God.”
Just as Bredesen pulled strings as a PR agent, God opened doors. “In 1978 I found myself in Egypt with an ABC film crew to interview Anwar al-Sadat. How? I wrote to him and asked. But when we arrived, he had gone into seclusion to consider his response to the invasion the previous day of Lebanon by Israel.”
Receiving a note from Bredesen, in which he repeated Sadat’s own words from jail, “I have met the God you know,” the Egyptian leader flew back to give an exclusive interview. Sadat then went on to join Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in negotiating the Camp David accords, for which the two won the Nobel Peace Prize.
The ABC interview, which concluded with Sadat and Bredesen warmly embracing, had been gathering dust on a cutting room shelf. As the Middle East faced up to war and Camp David appeared doomed to failure, even Barbara Walters stated that no summit had ever begun with so little hope. It seemed the world had run out of solutions.
“We sent taped copies of our meeting and an accompanying letter signed by Sadat and myself to all the world leaders. By that time he had become a great friend; he regularly asked me to fly to Egypt to pray with him,” Harald recalls. “If a Muslim and a Christian could agree to differ, why not a Muslim and a Jew?” For two weeks there was no agreement, except a call for prayer around the world. On the 15th day, just as everyone was despairing, the miracle occurred.
Now Fiji and Japan appear to be running out of answers. Hence his trip to the South Pacific and Asia. “I’m hoping to meet Diet members and officials in many fields, as well as other members of the press. If I run out of time to do what needs to be done, I’ll come back.”
He had plans to leave within 24 hours for China, to try to establish contact with leaders there, and also visit the eighth century church in Xi’an named Uzumasa (using the same kanji as Koryuji, Kyoto’s oldest temple). Then it would be back home to California and “the little woman.”
“Kids? Tads of them. . . . Two we made and two we adopted, found in a chicken coop in Colombia, plus all their own children. My wife? She’d really like one of your Honda electric cars!”
Having heard my first-time charismatic order soup because he was starving, I watched Harald sup up the broth through the vegetables. The man who sat with the shah of Iran as he was dying. A man who has strong views about the moral standing of his own country: “God is getting ready to deal with America. In what sense? Its pride and selfishness.”
Harald founded the Prince of Peace Foundation in 1980 as a Christian award to servants of peace. When it was announced that Sadat was the first recipient, the Egyptian leader described it as the high point of his life. He didn’t go to collect his Nobel Peace Prize because it was “political.” But he traveled to the U.S. to receive the silver salver picked out from Tiffany’s and suitably inscribed.
Mother Teresa, the next recipient of the $1 million prize, asked for it to be spent on medical supplies for her charity in India. The Prince of Peace Prize 2000, presented to King Hussein of Jordan, was accepted by his son. “Who do you think deserves it next? The Dalai Lama? You reckon so? And the prodemocracy leader in Burma? Who is she? I’m really open to suggestions from Japan.”
Explaining that I had imagined him preparing to rescue Palestine and Israel from engulfing the region in war, he looks surprised. “Do you think it has come to that?” he asks. “I had no idea. Maybe that’s why you’re here: to tell me to go back to the Middle East.”
Goodness, I’ve been thinking ever since. I do wish he’d hurry.