Originally published June 22, 1973
All over Korea during May and early June, farmers were busy transplanting rice seedlings. On the Christian calendar, however, it was harvest time. The nation was penetrated by the Gospel as few if any countries ever have been. The spring spiritual effort was climaxed in Seoul May 30-June 3 when Billy Graham preached to more people in five days than he had ever confronted in any crusade of any length before. It was also apparently the largest gathering in Church history.
Using a system of pre marked sections that allowed for about three square feet per person, Korean organizers of the Seoul crusade estimated that 3.2 million came to the five meetings, including 1.1 million at the closing Sunday afternoon rally. (Police estimates were about 50 per cent less.) Crusade totals thus surpassed by more than 900,000 the total attendance at Graham's 1957 New York City meeting, which lasted sixteen weeks. Also falling was the record established at Glasgow, Scotland, during six weeks in 1955, when the cumulative total was 2,647,365.
The crusade was backed by virtually all the 1,600 Protestant churches in Seoul; Catholics, Buddhists, and Confucianists were in the enthusiastic crowds by the thousands. "I seriously doubt if we will ever see meetings like this again in my ministry," the evangelist said at the end of the series. What he had seen were the fruits of some ninety years of evangelical missionary work plus unprecedented cooperation among the churches in recent months of preparation. Graham often publicly acknowledged the contributions of both the missionaries and the churches, and in his final statement he declared, "Those of us who had the privilege of participating in it will never forget what God did in Korea."
What Graham saw in Seoul, six of his associate evangelists saw in six provincial cities (Taegu, Taejon, Pusan, Chunchon, Kwangju, Chonju). They each conducted week long crusades and spoke in a variety of auxiliary meetings. (For example, Grady Wilson on one occasion addressed 60,000 students in Pusan.) Cumulative attendance at their crusade was estimated at 1,177,300 while approximately 135,000 heard them in other meetings (such as in schools, military bases, and businesses). Few of the team members had ever before had larger audiences.
After the associates concluded their crusades, they came to Seoul to take on additional meeting engagements. Other members of the Graham team also spoke extensively in the capital area. In nearly every meeting, opportunities were given for public profession of faith in Christ. In the two weeks preceding the crusade, nearly 40,000 Christians from 6,142 churches distributed Christian literature to every home in Seoul (population: 6.6 million).
Statistics on responses to the invitations were difficult to obtain, since many of the meetings were held in close quarters and there was no possibility of getting inquirers to "come forward." Some of the Korean leaders expressed the opinion that for every decision card received in Crusade headquarters there we re three other unrecorded decisions.
The number on record the last day of the crusade, however, was over 75,000 (including the inquirers in other cities and meetings).
Christian leaders in Korea saw the spring evangelistic effort as a landmark in the nation's history.
"It is a new epoch in the history of the Korean church and a new beginning for Christian unity and cooperation in our church," commented the Reverend Kyung Chik Han, chairman of the crusade executive committee and pastor emeritus of the internationally known Young Nak Presbyterian church the world's largest Presbyterian church.
The impact will be felt beyond Korea's borders and throughout Asia, according to an assessment by Presbyterian seminary professor Samuel H. Moffett of Seoul, a second generation missionary who believes the event was "a history making turning point in the history of Christianity in Asia."
He also said the crusade brought a new spirit of Christian unity to South Korea's splintered Protestantism and lifted the morale of the believers, conscious of their minority status in a land that is 90 per cent non Christian.
Moffett's father was the first Protestant clergyman to enter Korea as a missionary. He came ashore at Seoul about a mile down river from Yoido, the island on which the crusade was held. "Never in his wildest dreams would he have imagined rivers of people streaming across that river to hear the Gospel," the son said of his father.
Night after night they did stream across the bridges, most of them on foot. Some walked two hours or more each way. One widow was reported to have saved for a month to buy a ticket for an hour long train ride. Few came in cars, and most of those who did drive had to leave the vehicles on the other side of the bridge and walk over since there was virtually no parking space. Hundreds of buses drove across the bridge and discharged their capacity crowds and then went back into the city to pick up more passengers.
Besides the seats for platform guests, the choir, and a few special guests, the only seating available was the pavement of a former runway now used as a military parade ground. Some people brought straw mats or scraps of plastic, but many sat on pieces of newspaper or nothing at all. A decades long curfew was lifted, allowing a number to stay overnight.
There was no protection from the elements, and on the first three nights the weather was unseasonably cool, with stiff winds blowing. For the final rally, an afternoon event, the sun bore down on the crowd.
More than 6,000 sang in the choir in Seoul. There were other thousands in the choirs in the provincial cities. Counselor training was virtually unknown before the meeting, but thousands took the course and helped in the crusade. In one of the satellite cities, few older Christians took the course, so nearly all the counselors were young students. Many of the ushers were women dressed in their traditional costumes.
Assistants came from nearly all missions operating in Korea. Para church organizations that work in the nation were deeply involved, too.
One of the groups helping out and observing at close range was Campus Crusade for Christ, which plans to hold Explo '74 in Korea next year (300,000 expected). Many of the international organization's leaders were on hand. Campus Crusade has developed such a following in Korea that it uses an eighteen story building in Seoul for a training program. Graham plugged Explo from the platform.
He also repeatedly spoke of the spiritual power in Korea and suggested that from a base in Korea Asia could become a "gravitational center" of Christianity. He said, "I urge church and theological leaders, especially in Europe and America, to come and study the Korean church. I believe the secret of the power and strength of the Korean church is that they believe and proclaim the Bible. They have a strong evangelistic and missionary interest. They couple all of this with a great social concern."
The Korean church has been growing at a rate four times that of the population growth. It has been doubling every decade. Graham said that it was "the fastest growing church in the world."
One part of Asia that looked somewhat askance at what was happening below Korea's demilitarized zone was the Communist controlled sector. In violation of the agreement under which talks had been going on for several months between North and South Korea, the Communist radio attacked the crusade and accused the government in the South of forcing a large attendance. The embarrassment for the North was especially acute, since more than half of the executive committee in Seoul is made up of refugees from the North. They were unmoved by the broadcast claims that the government had brought in Graham to chase away "evil spirits" and to oversee a "gambling" attraction.
Originally published June 22, 1973
Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Also posted today is:
Missions Incredible | South Korea sends more missionaries than any country but the U.S. And it won't be long before it's number one.
Prophecy and Politics | How revivals and the Olympics made Korea the wunderkind of missions.
Honoring Pioneers | The early missionaries to Korea serve as examples to modern-day ones.
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