Interview

Remembering the 1978 Billy Graham Crusade, Part 2: A church united

by Gabriel Ong // December 5, 2018, 11:04 am

Billy Graham 2

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 40 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 lessons they learnt on unity leading up to the rallies.

HOW THE CRUSADE BROUGHT THE CHURCH TOGETHER

Canon James Wong, Vice-Chairman, Organising Committee

The Crusade brought together churches and individuals from various organisations in Singapore. There was an openness on friendship that was already being seen in the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Before that, they didn’t get together. They didn’t unite for a supreme work. But the Crusade brought church leaders and members of their congregations together, as well as the para-church organisations like Youth For Christ, Scripture Union, Fellowship of Evangelical Students, the Graduates’ Christian Fellowship.

Likewise, the businessmen brought the marketplace people together to support the Crusade in the counselling process. So that was very good.

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

Unity comes as a result of relationships. It was such a joy for me to to see church leaders relating. Of course, many of them were already friends. I noticed that my father, Dr Benjamin Chew, was a close friend with people like Bishop Chiu Ban It, Dr Khoo Oon Teik, Mr Goh Ewe Kheng … I could go on naming them.

They had been friends for a good number of years. They would meet together, they would pray together, they would chair together.

It seems to me that to have unity on such a level, it must start with the leadership: Top leaders who really have a passion for the Lord and a love for one another. And I saw that before, during and after the Crusade — they remained friends.

Rev Dr Alfred Yeo and Dr Ernest Chew.

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

Speaking about cooperation, even Billy Graham stood aside and gave the pulpit to his interpreter to give an illustration of Noah’s ark with the Chinese character, 船 (boat).

The interpreter, Elder Peter Yap, was very eloquent and he spoke in Chinese and English. So he told the whole story, and Billy Graham just stood aside and watched and listened. This was unheard of in any part of the world that Billy Graham went to.

Jim Chew, Counselling Chairman

Thus you see the humility of the evangelist, Billy Graham. People often ask me, what was my impression of Billy Graham? And that was it: Humility.

I had 20 minutes with Billy Graham alone, and to my surprise, he asked me to pray for him. Here was this great man asking me, a little fellow, to pray for him! He said: “Somehow, just before I go to the pulpit, I’m nervous.”

Can you imagine that? He says, “I know God is going to be with me, but would you pray for me?” That’s humility and commitment to his calling as an evangelist. Total dependence on the Lord.

Scripture is far bigger than you are. God is far bigger than you are. The Church is far bigger than you are. The Gospel is far bigger than you are.

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

In the course of organising the Crusade, I got to meet other people I had not met before. I think it is important to get out of our own usual ways of doing things, of going across.

The important thing is that there is a cost involved, and you have to be very careful in this work that you are being led by the Lord, the Good Shepard, who always says: “Other sheep I have not which are not of this fold: Them also I must bring.” (John 10:16)

Think of what the Church really exists for: It’s for those who are unchurched. That’s the point! Not to be comfortable with your own ways of doing things in your own circles.

The Celebration of Hope (a series of evangelistic rallies to be held in the National Stadium in May 17 to 19, 2019) is a demonstration of getting out of our own denominational emphases.

BREAKING DOWN DIVISIONS

Jim Chew, Counselling Chairman

During that time we saw the different strengths of the various churches. For example, the Pentecostal and charismatically-inclined really led in prayer.

Prayer was their best friend. And many of the prayer groups grew as a result of the Pentecostal influence. Also, if my memory serves me right, there were healings on the Crusade nights. Although Billy Graham was not going to have a “healing campaign”, there were people who did come forward for prayer for healing.

And the advisors were taught how to handle these situations – to pray for healing. That’s just the reality of preaching the Gospel, there were a whole variety of needs and we were set to help meet them.

An original 1978 pamphlet promoting the Singapore Billy Graham Crusade.

Canon James Wong, Vice-Chairman

I remember there was one denomination that really opposed the Crusade, and they organised a campaign — they wrote pamphlets with their viewpoints printed on them. A group of them would stand at the gate of a church, and when people came out, this group would pass pamphlets to them, telling them that they must not go to the Crusade. That disturbed the people.

If you’re a Christian, you see what was wrong about it. They were disobeying.

(Yet that was the exception.) In that time, you knew there was such unity because when the altar call was made at the Crusade, streams of people still came down the stairs – they came forward to accept and follow Jesus Christ. 

Jim Chew, Counselling Chairman

We’ve been talking about unity. But why? Why unity?

  • “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
  • “I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23)

I pray that I’ll have the same passion the Lord had to walk in humility towards others. I want to think of others as better than myself and have the mind of Christ, who being in very nature God, did not come with crowns but humbled himself. I want to learn that.

Jim Chew (80) sharing at the private forum.

DID COMPROMISES HAVE TO BE MADE TO ACHIEVE UNITY?

Dr Ernest Chew, Vice-Chairman

I can’t really recall differences or tension in the committees. There was such a wonderful unity – the seven-fold kind which Paul talks about in Ephesians 4. We had dealt with the core of our unity, and I can’t recall that we were really having any friction or differences which we had to resolve and compromise on. 

That was my recollection: I can’t remember the differences. I just remember the sheer unity and the passion to just present the Lord Jesus with the power of the Holy Spirit so that people might come to faith and be in Church.

Jim Chew, Counselling Chairman

I was stretched, really, but grateful – because I realised that I had prejudices in my own life. The Lord had to deal with those things. I had to get out of my comfort zone and go back to Scripture.

And you realise that Scripture is far bigger than you are. God is far bigger than you are. The Church is far bigger than you are. The Gospel is far bigger than you are.

That took care of my “discomfort” and “prejudices”. So I can hug my Charismatic brothers and say hallelujahs with them – no problem. I can dance with them!


This is the second 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 1] or [Part 3] for the rest.

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.