Billy Graham’s historic 1973 Crusade in Seoul, South Korea, saw crowds totaling 3.2 million over five days, with the final meeting drawing an incredible 1.1 million people to hear the Gospel at Yoido Plaza, a milelong former airstrip. The Crusade’s effects have been far-reaching over the past 50 years.
Church leaders say that because of the Crusade, people began to realize the positive impact and benefits of Christianity. The Crusade spurred a trend away from theological liberalism and toward evangelical faith, an increase in church growth and missionary-sending, and a higher level of collaboration and unity among the churches. Bible schools were founded, and churches emphasized strong Bible teaching, discipleship and missions.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Crusade, Franklin Graham and sons Will and Roy traveled to Seoul to participate in a number of evangelistic events at the invitation of Dr. Billy Kim, the chairman of the Far East Broadcasting Company. Dr. Kim serverd as Billy Graham’s interpreter in 1973.
Preaching to the Press
More than 60 media outlets, including South Korea’s three largest TV networks and two largest newspapers, attended a June 1 press conference about the anniversary events.
As he answered media questions, Franklin Graham clearly expounded the Gospel and explained why he had come to Seoul. “There is Holy Spirit-filled power in the Gospel message. It preaches in every generation that Jesus Christ is God’s Son. He came to this Earth to take our sins. He died and shed His blood for our sins. He took our sins to the grave. And if we’re willing to accept that by faith and turn from our sins, God will forgive us. That’s for every generation.
“I’ve come to preach a simple message: God’s love for the Korean people,” he said. “I want the people of Korea to know how they can have a personal relationship with God. And that’s through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.”
One person posed this question to Will Graham: “Famous grandfather, famous father; how can you find your own identity?”
“We have a saying in the western church that God has no grandchildren but only children,” Will said. “I’m grateful for my father and my grandfather, but they cannot get me into Heaven. I had to ask Jesus Christ to come into my life, and ask Him to forgive me of my sins. I was only 6 years old, but I knew I was a sinner, and I asked Jesus Christ to come into my life and to forgive me. Ever since that day, I’ve been trying to follow Him wherever He leads.
“I have a big nose, like my grandfather—that’s one of the characteristics in our family. I may sound like my grandfather at times. But each and every day, I hope I can become more like Jesus, to look more like Him. That’s my prayer for my life.”
Declaration to Dignitaries
The following day, Franklin addressed some 350 guests at a luncheon hosted by Dr. Billy Kim and attended by many government dignitaries and church leaders.
Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol brought greetings by video.
“I am delighted that, continuing the legacy of Dr. Billy Graham of 50 years ago, his son Franklin Graham is here with us today,” he said. “I thank you, Pastor Graham, and I believe that you will deliver a message of grace to us all.”
The Honorable Kim Jin-pyo, the speaker of the National Assembly, added, “The 50th anniversary of Billy Graham’s Seoul Crusade was a real milestone for the Korean churches, an experience that we’ll never forget. On behalf of my Korean National Assembly, I deeply appreciate Reverend Franklin Graham for your coming and speaking tomorrow at Seoul World Cup Stadium.”
Others in attendance included Prime Minister Han Duck-soo; Philip Goldberg, U.S. ambassador to Korea; the Honorable Kim Dong-yeon, governor of Gyeonggi Province, and several other nations’ ambassadors to Korea.
“It’s been 50 years,” Franklin told the dignitaries. “The world is no safer today than it was 50 years ago. … So with the storms that we see on the horizon, what are we to do? We are to pray.”
He related the story from Matthew 8 in which Jesus and His disciples were in a boat when a violent storm arose, and the disciples, fearing for their lives, called on Jesus to save them.
“When we are in the boat with Jesus, His boat does not sink,” Franklin said. “It’s my prayer that each and every one of you here today has invited Jesus Christ into your heart, into your life. There are storms on the horizon. But if Jesus Christ is in your heart and in your life, you don’t have to be afraid.”
Franklin then presented a gift to Dr. Billy Kim—a bronze statue of The Sower, from Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13. “It is an honor to give my father’s friend a gift from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association,” Franklin said. “And when you look at this, Dr. Kim, we pray that you’ll remember us and remember my father’s love for you.”
For the Next Generation
That evening, some 6,500 people attended a youth rally with Will Graham at SaRang Church, whose influential senior pastor, the Reverend Jung-hyun Oh, was a key leader in organizing the anniversary events.
At the rally, the Reverend David Lee, a pastor from Los Angeles who is serving as an English teacher in Suwon, said his school had brought 280 people on six buses. “I really pray and hope that just like 50 years ago, God works and starts a new wave of people coming to Christ, really drawing closer to Him,” Lee said. “I believe, and I’m expecting something amazing to happen tonight.”
The rally began with heartfelt worship from the band We-Love. Young people rushed to the front, as they often do at concerts, but immediately the atmosphere was one of magnifying God, as the crowd sang lyrics such as “Glorify the Lord, He who has the authority, honor and power,” and “I will praise the Lord of Heaven forever.” Some of the young people stood crying softly, others weeping loudly, as the band led in a song asking God to restore their soul, and cleanse and purify them by the blood of Jesus.
Will Graham preached about the cross of Christ. “For the Christian, the cross changes everything,” he said. “God’s gift to you is free; He’s already paid the price. All you have to do is receive it as a gift. And you receive it by asking Jesus to come into your life and asking God to forgive you of your sins.
“Deep down inside, you know that you’re a sinner. … But I want you to know that God still loves you. He is offering you forgiveness. Are you going to take it? In 1973, many people took that free gift. Now it’s time for the next generation to make that same decision.”
Hundreds stood to make decisions for Christ after Will’s message.
One young man said, “I was not certain that I was saved. But now, I have become a Christian for sure. It’s indescribable; I’m just so glad, so happy.”
The son of a pastor prayed to receive Christ: “I realized that Jesus Christ died for me,” he said afterward, adding that after this event, he would like to become an evangelist.
More than an Anniversary
Saturday, June 3, marked exactly 50 years since the closing meeting of Billy Graham’s 1973 Crusade.
The crowd of 70,000 at Seoul’s World Cup Stadium exceeded the stadium’s stated capacity, with many people sitting in hallways or in the stadium’s aisles. This was not simply a day to remember a historic event; Christians had been praying for the meeting and inviting people to come and hear the saving message of Jesus Christ.
Triumphant songs of praise rang out from a 10,000-voice choir, accompanied by an orchestra: Amazing Grace. How Great Thou Art. Because He Lives. The Hallelujah Chorus.
Franklin Graham, interpreted by the Reverend Hana Kim, senior pastor of Myungsung Presbyterian Church, posed a question to the crowd: “What is the most valuable asset you own?”
He asked the people to imagine owning all of the world’s real estate, all the technology, all the oil, all the gold. “It’s hard for us to grasp that,” he said. “But your soul is more valuable than the entire world.
“I want you to hear me today,” he continued. “I don’t think you are here by accident. God is speaking to you today. There are many of you here today who are in danger of losing your soul.
“If you’re here today and you’re not sure that your soul is secure in the hands of God, I’m going to give you an opportunity in just a few moments to invite Jesus Christ into your heart, into your life.”
And when Franklin issued that invitation, more than 6,400 people stood to pray a prayer of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
A Mighty Roar
A joyous prayer vigil closed the meeting. Tens of thousands shouted three times in unison, “O Lord!” before praying loudly all at once, which is typical among Korean churches. The voices mixed in a thunderous prayer as loud as any soccer crowd might cheer for a goal. Many held up wooden “prayer staffs,” reminiscent of Moses holding up his staff during the battle described in Exodus 17.
Deborah YS Ahn could barely contain her joy over the event. After it was over, she was still rejoicing outside the stadium. She explained that she has been praying for 10 years that BGEA would come back to Seoul. “Today is an answer to prayer,” she said. “God is very faithful. He never forgets our prayer—never, never. He answers—in His will, His way and His time.” ©2023 BGEA
Billy Kim: From Peasant Farmer to Worldwide Evangelist
Jang Hwan Kim—better known in the West as Dr. Billy Kim—was born in 1934 to peasant farmers in a rural Korean village. After World War II, he began a schooling program in agriculture and forestry, a huge undertaking for his poor family. To help pay for his schooling, he would rise at dawn and make a cattle feed—a gruel of beans and straw—and then deliver it by cow cart to surrounding farms for a few coins.
When the Korean War interrupted his education, 16-year-old Billy spent his days collecting and chopping firewood for his family’s household fuel. Often, after he and his friends had finished that work, they would go to where U.S. troops were stationed, hoping to be given some chocolate or chewing gum.
One day, a soldier named Sgt. Carl Powers beckoned for Billy to come into the barracks. Powers pointed to the wood stove, and Billy realized he was being asked to start a fire, which he quickly did. Then, noticing that the barracks were a mess, he washed the dishes, polished the soldiers’ boots and straightened up the room. Powers asked him to come back the next day, and Billy began working as a houseboy for the troops.
After some time, Powers asked Billy if he would like to go to America. Although Powers was not yet a Christian himself, he arranged for Billy to attend Bob Jones Academy and University, in Greenville, South Carolina, and he paid Billy’s tuition. Billy was in the ninth grade when he started school there in 1951.
Billy was lonely and homesick, but his heart and life were changed when an older student explained the Gospel to him. Billy put his faith in Jesus Christ, and his path was forever altered.
He went on to become a pastor and world evangelist. Many know him, of course, as the powerful preacher who served as Billy Graham’s interpreter during the 1973 Crusade, but God has used him in many ways to spread the Gospel around the world.
He spoke at BGEA’s international conferences for itinerant evangelists in 1986 and 2000. He addressed thousands of men at Promise Keepers stadium events, and roughly 1 million in 1997 at the “Stand in the Gap” event on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
He was pastor of Central Baptist Church in Suwon for 45 years. He has served as president of the Baptist World Alliance; met with heads of state and the secretary general of the United Nations; and has served as chairman and president of the Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC), sending the Gospel into countries such as North Korea, China, Japan, Russia and Mongolia.
In December 2022, the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte dedicated its latest expansion, a large meeting space, in his honor—Billy Kim Hall. And FEBC played a key role in the 50th Anniversary events in June.
The Grahams and Korea
The Graham family’s cherished relationship with the Korean people began in the early 1930s, when at age 13, Ruth Bell Graham—whose parents were serving as missionaries in China—was sent to study at Pyeng Yang Foreign School, in what is now Pyongyang, North Korea. At the time, that city was the center of Christianity in northeastern Asia and was known as the “Jerusalem of the East” after a massive revival broke out in 1907. The revival touched people from all walks of life and spurred widespread church growth.
In the days before Christmas in 1952, Billy Graham visited the U.S. troops in the Korean War, ministering to them and to the Korean people. His messages uplifted soldiers and resulted in many making decisions to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. “Our troops are responsive to the Gospel,” he wrote in a letter to friends. “Scores are accepting Christ as Savior … the morale is fairly good … the moral conditions are terrible.”
At the end of a five-and-a-half week tour of India and the Far East, Mr. Graham held several meetings in Seoul. He spoke at an evangelism conference, preached twice to Armed Forces members at the front and then to some 60,000 people at Seoul Stadium. He also met with President Syngman Rhee and his wife.
In the days leading up to the historic Crusade at Yoido Plaza, BGEA associate evangelists held a number of meetings in other Korean cities, preaching to more than 1.4 million people. The Crusade in Seoul saw crowds totaling 3.2 million over five days, with some 72,000 people praying to receive Christ.
Mr. Graham preached again at Yoido Plaza in August 1984, at the closing meeting of a weeklong celebration for the 100th anniversary of the evangelical church in Korea. Once again, the crowd was enormous, being estimated at about 1 million people, with as many as 10 million more watching on nationwide television.
When Franklin Graham preached in Busan, Korea’s second-largest city, Christians made up only 7% or 8% of the city’s population, significantly lower than in Korea as a whole. But hunger for the Good News of Christ was evident as attendance over the four-day Festival was 300,000, with 7,600 making decisions for Christ. Christian leaders say that today, evangelicals make up roughly 12% of the population.
Chaplains with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team ministered in Seoul last fall after more than 150 people were killed and at least 130 others were injured in a crowd crush during Halloween festivities.
Many of the people at a memorial site were young people grieving the deaths of friends in the crush.
Will and Roy Graham Preach in Seoul Churches
The morning after the anniversary event, Will Graham and Roy Graham both preached in local churches. Will preached at Yoido Full Gospel Church, near the location of Billy Graham’s 1973 Crusade.
He examined the story of Hushai in 2 Samuel, sharing with the more than 30,000 people in the main sanctuary and various locations watching that there are times we may feel like a “nobody” in life, but God wants to use us. “God loves to use humble people,” he said. “God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.”
Roy Graham preached in two services at Global Mission Church, in Seoul’s Mok-dong district. He taught from Mark 2:1-12, where four men tore a hole in the roof of a house to bring a paralyzed friend to Jesus. Jesus not only healed the man; He forgave his sins. And when Jesus told the man to pick up his mat, he obeyed immediately.
“When God tells you to do something, do it immediately,” Roy said. “I promise you from the bottom of my heart: You will regret not doing that.”
Photo: Shealah Craighead/©2023 BGEA