Fred Perry was a 19-year-old student at Detroit Bible College in the spring of 1962, still a new believer but zealous for sharing the Gospel. Fred and some other students sensed the Lord leading them to spearhead an ambitious endeavor: a door-to-door evangelism effort in Detroit in the weeks leading up to Easter, covering as much of the city as possible.
Initially, they recruited young people from local churches and other Bible colleges, including Fred’s future wife, Karen. The American Bible Society donated large stacks of the Gospel of John, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association delivered “a ton of literature,” Fred recalled.
In fact, when word got out that the group was using Billy Graham literature in their effort, a local church with ties to the college—and which considered Graham too worldly for their liking—pressured the college to make the young evangelists move their base of operation.
“That turned out to be a blessing, because the Highland Park Bookstore gave us their basement to use as our headquarters,” Fred said.
From there, the effort to evangelize the Motor City began to grow. Many people from churches and several Christian colleges took part. Later, after a Christmas outreach in Mexico City with Operation Mobilization (OM), Fred sensed a missionary calling on his life and joined OM. The next year, Karen answered the same call. They married a year later, and their lives together on the mission field impacted countless people in more than half a dozen countries from Western Europe to the Middle East to South Asia and East Asia. They often used BGEA materials to spread the Good News.
Fred’s affinity for BGEA was born of practicality. BGEA was prolific at offering doctrinally sound, well-written Gospel materials.
For Karen, Billy Graham was a household name growing up, and evangelism was consistently modeled in her family.
When Karen was 10, she attended a showing of the movie “Oiltown, U.S.A.,” made by BGEA’s World Wide Pictures, during a youth meeting held in a barn.
“I just ran down to the front of that barn and gave my life to the Lord and was baptized right after that,” Karen recalled.
After high school, Karen attended Detroit Bible College. She joined OM in 1965 and spent a summer serving in Spain before joining a team in Lebanon. There, alongside others who were using various platforms to share the Gospel, Karen and Fred focused on reaching university students.
They went to England and married in 1966, and for the next 45 years, they traversed the globe.
They spent two years in India, then a year in Germany helping get Christian literature and Bibles smuggled into communist countries.
From Germany, they spent three years in Iran, where Fred earned a bachelor’s degree at an Iranian university in order to witness to students. In 1973, they returned to the U.S. while Fred earned a Ph.D. in educational psychology from Indiana University. Five years later, armed with Fred’s doctorate to use as a witnessing platform, they returned to Iran, but it would be a short mission there.
Once it became obvious they could no longer stay because of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Fred, Karen and their three children moved to Britain. In the U.K., Fred launched a training program aimed at placing tentmaking missionaries in Muslim countries.
During their time in Iran, the Perrys had been able to see an old friend they had met in Lebanon in 1965. Mehdi Dibaj, who was eventually martyred for his faith, was a Muslim-background believer who was attending seminary in Beirut.
“He and I worked together at the American University campus,” Fred said. “I would invite a bunch of students over, we’d watch a Moody Science film and then Mehdi would give his testimony of coming to Christ.”
Using BGEA booklets still in print today like “Steps to Peace With God,” Fred, Mehdi and other team members would help new believers get established in the faith.
Mehdi returned to his native Iran in the 1970s, became a pastor, and ultimately became a target of the hardline Islamic regime. In 1994, after spending a decade in prison for the charge of apostasy, Mehdi was kidnapped and murdered, his body dumped in a Tehran park.
“When he was released from prison, our friends there were trying to get him out of the country, but he was determined to remain as a witness, knowing he might be killed,” Fred recalled.
The Perrys spent three years in Singapore, with Fred teaching and doing research at a university while discipling Muslim-background believers and helping churches reach Muslims. After that, they spent three years in Belgium with Fred coordinating OM’s headquarters and building a team to reach the many North Africans living in Belgium.
In 1986, Fred was hired to teach at a university in Cairo. They fell in love with the city, and Fred eventually was named a full professor. In 2010, after 24 years in Egypt, Fred and Karen retired from the university and settled in Phoenix, Arizona.
Today, Fred helps run a Christian bookstore across from the Arizona State University campus. It sits next to a coffee shop.
The Perrys have found a way to continue their work with the many international students on campus. And if the couple is involved in helping make disciples, there’s a good chance a copy of “Steps to Peace With God” is within reach.
“I was brought up listening and knowing about Billy Graham,” Karen said. “We’re just so thankful that his ministry was able to carry through with us all those years while we were working overseas. It was wonderful.”
Photo: Courtesy of Fred Perry