Last week I received an e-mail from my friend Bishop John Reid in Australia, to say that Marcus Loane had died a few hours before.
My memories of Marcus go back exactly fifty years to a day – it may well have been in April – during the Billy Graham Crusades of 1959 which literally touched the entire nation of Australia.
That day Billy spoke to a crowd of some five thousands students at Sydney University. It was a raucous gathering, very exciting. Sydney U was legendary for attempts to disrupt evangelistic meetings.
We had heard that many years before at Sydney U another preacher named Billy – the Irish evangelist known as Wild Billy Nicholson – was being interrupted by one particularly obnoxious fellow. He stopped in the middle of his talk, walked off the platform to confront the heckler, silenced him with a good uppercut, and went back to finish his message!
So we were hardly surprised when in the middle of our Billy’s message a student showed up dressed in a red devil’s costume and ran up to Billy with a pitchfork. But Billy was not put off. “There’s my old friend the devil,” he quipped. “I’ve met him many times.” And he went on undisturbed to finish his message.
Sir Marcus and I first met that day. He was a young assistant bishop; I the newest and youngest evangelist on the Graham team. We had been assigned to stay after Billy finished to meet seeking students afterward. We walked to a room that had been set aside and spent the rest of the afternoon in a room meeting hundreds of students who showed up, hour after hour. Either Marcus or I would give a short talk on how to start following Jesus, and then take questions and have personal conversations. Many made their decision for Christ that day, and in years to come I met some who looked back on that day as their spiritual birthdays.
Marcus Loane went on to become Archbishop of Sydney, at that time the largest Anglican diocese in the world. Gracious, scholarly, wise, a bit shy, he was respected for his leadership and evangelical conviction, and was later knighted by the Queen.
I met him and Lady Loane a number of times on my later visits to Australia. Once he suggested that he make me the Anglican evangelist to Australia. He may have been half-serious. I was half-tempted!
On my last trip to Sydney in 2005 I had the pleasure of visiting them at home for tea. Sir Marcus was quite deaf, but very alert and wanting to know about the health of his dear friend Billy. He was feeling he said like a cricket player who was off the field and had to watch the game from the sidelines. We occasionally exchanged letters after that. His handwriting was very shaky but his thoughts always gracious.
My mind goes back to 1981, when our son Sandy died during heart surgery. Many messages of sympathy came, but one in particular has stayed with me over the years. It was a note from Sir Marcus – also I believe handwritten – in which he expressed his sorrow over our loss, and then simply reminded us of the verse from Exodus which speaks of “the deep darkness where God is.”
That stark, spare, but powerful reminder was a comfort then and still is.
And now Marcus Loane is fully in the light, where God is.
I am thankful to have known him.
April 21, 2009