By Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai
Doug Coe was in his office when we arrived. Lars had already made the appointment. The office secretary escorted us into his office, which is housed in a two story building on the estate.
“I have to introduce you to a man who is also part of a revolution that believes in global peace,” Lars told Mr. Coe. He stood up and welcomed me with fullest warmth. “Would you like tea or coffee?” Doug asked me. “I came here just to meet with you,” I responded. But I always felt good when my friends accept my own invitation for tea or coffee when they came to visit me. Accordingly, I did not resist. “O.K. Coffee will do,” I said.
Mr. Lars Rise, a parliamentarian from Norway, had suggested I meet Doug Coe during a visit I had made to his country in 1998 with late Dr. Ayub Thakur, President of ‘World Kashmir Freedom Movement’ to meet with government officials and other parliamentarians.
I had been invited to meet the man who has been most responsible for maintaining a nationally recognized and highly respected event in Washington DC known as the ‘National Prayer Breakfast’.
Just this past February 2, President Donald Trump made headlines when he offered a prayer dripping with irony for his successor on the television show Apprentice, Poor Arnold Schwarzenegger. His involvement had caused the show’s ratings to descend through the floor after Trump had managed the show quite successfully for more than 14 years.
President Trump’s controversial prayer, interestingly enough, brought attention to the Annual Breakfast, which is faithfully held each year at the Hilton Hotel in Washington DC. The event has been a prominent event for Congress, the President and other world leaders. Organized for Congress by Doug Coe’s organization, the International Foundation, the Christian organization is also known as The Fellowship and alternatively The Family. The event is an opportunity once a year to have morning coffee, breakfast and a little schmoozing with the President of the United States and members of Congress. Begun in 1953, the gathering has the political clout to have been attended by every president and vice president since Eisenhower.
My meeting, however, was not directly associated with the National Prayer Breakfast. I had been invited to meet its host, Douglas Evans Coe, a man with considerable international influence and respect who has been called by Time magazine the “stealth Billy Graham,” due to his rather quiet and unpublicized manner of conducting diplomacy with Congressmen and leaders from all over the world. Though an extremely influential evangelical minister, he was hardly ever seen in public, even during President Trump’s attendance at the Prayer breakfast, never looking for any fame or seeking to give an interview.
Located on a quiet residential street in Arlington, Virginia, the Fellowship is a rather imposing estate that sits at the highest point of the Potomac River, with spectacular views of Washington, a pool and tennis courts.
“How is the situation in Kashmir,” Doug asked me? Lars had briefed him about the situation but he has never been to that beautiful land of Kashmir, he said.
I wanted to be as factual as possible, because I knew that he has so many sources to validate any information that I would give to him. I told him that the basic objective of the people of Kashmir was to decide the future of their nation through tripartite peaceful negotiations.
“Yes, peaceful negotiations. We are all for global peace and the people in your country have suffered a lot to achieve it,” Doug told me.
“Dr. Fai, I am sure that you know the power of prayer. We must always believe in the power of prayer. Then he asked Lars and me to join the hands and pray for the people of Kashmir. I still remember the kind words that he uttered for the people of Kashmir. He told me that he would introduce me to a few people who are his partners in global peace.
He was such an affectionate and kind person that he asked me twice if hunger was an issue in Kashmir. He was undoubtedly a global champion who wanted to do whatever he could for the poor people of the globe.
On another occasion, Ali Shahnawaz Khan, Executive Director, Kashmiri Scandinavian Council, Oslo and I had an appointment with Doug Coe. When I reached his office, I was surprised to see the late Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan and Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Prime Minister of Norway, talking to people who were also waiting to meet with Doug. Ali approached the secretary and told her that this was the time given for an appointment with Dr. Fai. Was it O.K. to see Doug now?
I was surprised when the secretary told us that we were next to meet Doug once the party which was meeting him comes out. I asked Ali, what about Mohtarma (as we used to call Benazir Sahiba) and Mr. Bondevik? Aren’t they also waiting to meet with Doug? Ali in his own peculiar way responded, “They can wait. This is the time of our appointment.”
That is exactly what happened. Mohtarma Bhutto and Mr. Bondevik were busy talking to people outside his office and Ali and I were called in to meet with Doug.
This was the height of his simplicity. I was a nobody but I could get his audience first and two prime ministers had to wait. This was unbelievable.
Hillary Clinton said of him, “Doug Coe, the longtime National Prayer Breakfast organizer, is a unique presence in Washington: a genuinely loving spiritual mentor and guide to anyone, regardless of party or faith, who wants to deepen his or her relationship to God.”
Doug Coe has understood the power of quiet diplomacy. Besides being himself a quiet person, he quietly brought together warring parties not only at the local level but also at the global level to try to resolve their differences.
According to the New York Times, Coe’s organization was instrumental in the success of the Camp David Middle East Accords in 1978 which brought together President Jimmy Carter, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. His has been described as one of the most politically well-connected ministries in the world.
The Times pointed out that “Mr. Coe was regarded by many political and business leaders as a spiritual mentor who blurred the line between religion and philosophy. Many in his orbit, including presidents and members of Congress of both major parties, described him as a quiet organizer who used spirituality to build relationships, often with unlikely allies.”
Sadly, Douglas Evans Coe passed away on February 21, 2017 in Annapolis, Maryland at the age of 88. His unique presence and influence in Washington will be greatly missed. He was named by Time magazine as one of the twenty-five influential leaders in the United States. Even President George H. W. Bush had no words except appreciation for the quiet diplomacy employed by Doug Coe in trying to resolve some global conflicts.
He was undoubtedly a man of peace, affectionate and kind. He was a man who always thought about the poor of the globe. He was a man with vision and mission. He has left his impression on the heart and minds of millions.
As his daughter Paula and son-in-law Lee Corder told me on March 4, 2017, when I went to express condolences, Doug Coe, the man, is gone but his vision and mission is alive and goes on. That is the message we need to carry on.
We will miss him a lot.