Interview

Remembering the 1978 Billy Graham Crusade, Part 1: The men who planned the Crusade

by Gabriel Ong // December 5, 2018, 10:51 am

Billy Graham

The year 1978 saw Singapore’s largest evangelistic campaign in living memory. The Singapore Billy Graham Crusade, held from December 6 to 10 that year, saw about 20,000 Singaporeans who came forward during the Crusade to be counselled after impassioned preaching from Dr Billy Graham, the great evangelist who passed away earlier this year age 99. 

This year, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Crusade, Thir.st co-organised a private forum — “Remembering the Crusade – A Church United for the Gospel” — that saw about 30 church and lay leaders interact with a panel of four members of the original Crusade organising committee.

In this article, we hear from the four panelists – in their own words – about the parts they played in 1978, and the unity they saw in the local church.

THE ROLES WE PLAYED

Rev Dr Alfred Yeo, General Secretary of the Singapore Billy Graham Crusade 1978

I was the General Secretary of the Singapore Billy Graham Crusade. There were a lot of things that led to that event taking place, but I just want to highlight one thing.

The year before, in 1977, Mrs Billy Graham came to Singapore to attend the Chinese and Western Cooperation Consultation. And it was held in the Seaview Hotel and also Geylang Chinese Methodist Church.

At the Sunday lunch, we talked to her (about our plan to invite Dr Billy Graham) and how we had waited for quite some time. She was so touched. After the lunch, she went to National Stadium to have a look and she was very impressed by that stadium.

When she went back to America, I think she must have twisted her husband’s arm! And he consented to come to Singapore, praise the Lord!

Dr Ernest Chew, Vice-Chairman of the Singapore Billy Graham Crusade 1978

I’m one of the eight vice-chairmen of the Crusade Committee, which was chaired by my father, Dr Benjamin Chew. I was the youngest of the eight vice-chairmen. I’m a historian and I should add some little known facts about the background of the crusade.

The first invitation to the Billy Graham Crusade was issued in 1958, just before Singapore became self-governing. The second invitation was in 1966, just after we became independent. But Billy Graham could not accept this invitation then. Instead, he sent one of his closest associates, Dr Grady Wilson, for a Crusade that was held in the National Theatre in 1969.

(From left to right) Rev Dr Alfred Yeo, Dr Ernest Chew, Jim Chew and Canon James Wong.

So that was the prequel, and you can see that it was in the Lord’s timing that these things were brought about. It was not just a matter of planning and organising, but a matter of a movement by the Spirit of God. You see, by 1978, many things had come into place! We saw the establishment of Singapore Youth For Christ, Navigators, Campus Crusade, and the Eagles — many other groups had come into being by the 1970s.

And so they all came together: The para-church organisations, both the English and the Chinese congregations. The Charismatic renewal had begun. Canon James Wong can tell you more about that, but he and Bishop Chiu Ban It – who was the Chairman of the Advisory Council for the Crusade – well, men like these were really moved by the Lord in the Charismatic renewal.

So the timing was terrific by the time we came to 1978. So don’t think of the Crusade as just a one-off thing: The whole thing was the Lord’s movement among the evangelical Churches and movements leading up to December 1978.

Jim Chew, Counselling Chairman of the Singapore Billy Graham Crusade 1978

As Counselling Chairman for the Billy Graham Crusade, one of the joys of my job was to meet pastors and others. We had these counselling classes with different districts and the amazing thing — by the way, they were called Christian Life and Witness Classes — was that it was not only for those who were going to be counsellors. We invited anybody who could come to these Christian Life and Witness Classes.

For example, in the Katong District, we would have the classes at Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and the neighbouring churches like Bethesda Katong, St Hilda’s or Pentecost Methodist Church. Some of them would step into another church for the very first time.

During these pre-Crusade counselling classes — we had more than 800 who made first-time decisions!

How? Well, on the third session of each class, we had role-play: So when I role-played as the instructor, I would show how to present the four steps to peace with God. And then they would role-play – and there would be people who were supposed to be counsellors who would actually receive Christ for the very first time!

We trained counsellors, and we had advisers to see that everything was in order. I saw the 1978 Crusade as a whole process; before, during and after – we saw the hand of God.

Canon James Wong, Vice-Chairman, Organising Committee

I first took part in the 1959 Billy Graham Crusade in Sydney, Australia, where I was a church counsellor.

In 1977, I went to Manila, where Billy Graham was preaching. I had the opportunity to meet him to tell him that we in Singapore would like him to come visit us.

He was very gracious. He said he would pray about it, so after I came back, we gathered the Church leaders. Because we knew that Billy Graham would only come when the churches are united – when they are of one mind and one Spirit. So before we sent an official invitation to Billy Graham, we had to get the Church to come together. They agreed.

So that’s how the Crusade was started in 1978 in Singapore.

THE UNITY WE SAW

Image from The Diocese of Singapore website.

Rev Dr Alfred Yeo, General Secretary

We felt that pastors ought to be at the forefront.

I was very impressed by the large number of pastors gathering together in different districts. Dr Tony Chi of Wesley Church was the Chairman of the Pastors Committee, and we called pastors from different churches to come and be grouped in the different districts and in different churches. The pastors had never stepped into some of these churches before.

We briefed them about it and we answered questions. (Mostly) they were very happy. And those who were not happy … we prayed about it and they accepted it. It was a wonderful time of cooperation.

We printed a newsletter – quite a number of pages – and a pastors’ information bulletin. And this went out to the pastors once a month so they were always informed first of what’s going on. The programme was just fabulous.

Dr Ernest Chew, Vice-Chairman

The thing that really sticks in my mind is the choir – 4,500 people strong!

The chairman of that committee was Paul Abisheganaden, who was a very prominent figure in Singapore’s music scene. My sister and brother-in-law were in the choir.

But just to think of the choir singing To God Be The Glory and Just As I Am – tremendous impact. Different churches getting together for rehearsals, just imagine the effort to get them all together — all 4,500 of them!

A section of the 4,500 strong choir.

Jim Chew, Counselling Chairman

Many of the choir members are church leaders today, by the way! Not that they could all sing well! (Laughs)

One of my joys was working in the Crusade office at Bible House and being able to see the excitement and the oneness of the team: Alfred, Dave Dawson, myself and Hank Holley from the Graham team. Day in and day out we were working on the logistics and preparations as a team.

The administrative part behind the scenes was extremely important and we had prayer together, of course. We all came from different backgrounds, different denominations, but it was okay. We were one in Christ.

Canon James Wong, Vice-Chairman

Before the Crusade, the para-church organisations were very separate from the local Church. So as the Crusade united the Church and the para-church organisations, many of the latter came forward and offered their services. The churches welcomed them and a new unity was forged together.

One thing that really impressed me about the Crusade was a supernatural phenomenon. We all know December is amid the monsoon season in Singapore, so it was very wet. Every day, it rained in the afternoon.

But we thank God for the Christians in the churches who prayed for good weather. The Lord, in a wonderful way, manifested His hand and His presence upon us.

Because a wonderful thing happened for all five nights of the Crusade: Though it rained in the early afternoon, it would stop by the evening each day. That gave the volunteers an hour to go around the stadium to dry the seats. It never rained in the evening, so people could come.

That was a visible way of how God’s hand was upon the Crusade.


This is the first article of a 3-part series on the panelists at “Remembering the Crusade – A Church United for the Gospel” – a private forum held for local church workers to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Crusade. Click on [Part 2] or [Part 3] for more.

About the author

Gabriel Ong

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.