June 3, 1973: Billy Graham Preaches to 1.1 million in Korea
On this date in 1973, Billy Graham closed his 5-day Seoul, Korea Crusade in front of a crowd estimated by local officials to exceed 1.1 million. Over the course of the Crusade, Mr. Graham preached to more than 3 million, which topped the totals of the historic 16-week, 1957 New York City Crusade. These excerpts from John Pollock’s authorized biography of Billy Graham, The Billy Graham Story, give us insight into that historic day.
In the wide Han River, which marks the western edges of downtown Seoul, lies the open space of Yoido island. The island’s chief feature is the “May 16” People’s Plaza, a long narrow paved runway, approximately one mile by two hundred yards, formerly the famous “Quay 16” landing ground of the Korean War. This was the place secured for the crusade.
About 300,000 people gathered for the first service. The ground had been grid-marked for crowd control, allowing almost exact statistics. As the team and staff members looked from the platform at the crowd stretching away in both directions of the long plaza, some wept openly as they felt “the waves of anticipation and joy and excitement pouring up” from the huge crowd down below. Billy had often said that statistics are totally meaningless in the sight of God, but no preacher could fail to be moved when he walked onto the platform and saw such a crowd under the arc lights. Ruth wrote to her family, “It is one of those things impossible to take in.”
Billy was determined that it should be for God’s glory, not the team’s. As one missionary commented, “Here were men and women who were really committed to the things of God. It became very obvious to me why he was blessing their ministry so richly: it was because they had no illusions but that it was all his. They seemed very careful from Mr. Graham on down, to protect that aspect not to get their eyes off Jesus – lest, like Peter, they sink in to the waves.”
Sunday, June 3, 1973, turned warm with only passing clouds. Two hours before the service time at 3 p.m., Billy and his interpreter Dr. Billy Kim, joined the stream flowing toward Yoido.
When Billy Graham mounted the platform, a solid block of humanity quietly awaited him. Every section, every aisle between, and away to edges of the plaza hitherto unused, sat an unbroken mass of people, who throughout that service, unless singing, stayed incredibly quiet.
For all who took part, that final crusade service is a dreamlike memory: the solemn responsibility of ministering to such a multitude, the visual impact of so many mortals in one place.
Billy Graham knew he had a special responsibility when he came to the invitation at the close of his sermon. With a million present, it would have been easy to trigger a mass reaction. He therefore made his invitation harder than usual. “If you’re willing to forsake all other gods, stand up.” There was a hush upon the audience at first. Then one here and one there arose, until thousands were standing. Billy led them in the prayer of accepting Christ…Then he said, “counselors with your material, make your way back to those people who are standing.” Over 12,000 cards came in that day. Thousands more followed by mail…and, as the future showed, a great many made genuine commitments who never were reached by a counselor at the plaza.
The million did not move during the counseling. Many prayed as they sat. Thousands upon thousands began to sing. Then a helicopter rose from behind the platform. Dr. Han, the chairman, put up his hand for silence. He explained that Billy Graham was leaving Korea that afternoon, and he could not say goodbye personally to everybody, but his helicopter would circle in farewell over the plaza.
At Dr. Han’s word, the entire million and more stood and waved their hymn sheets or newspapers or whatever they carried. It was unbelievably poignant. Billy found the breathtaking view of this waving multitude indescribable: “The only comment I have is, Thanksgiving to God for all he did.”