Billy-Graham-in-Singapore

In an unprecedented event, more than 337,000 people gathered to hear Dr Billy Graham speak at the National Stadium on December 6 to 10, 1978.

“The thing that really sticks in my mind was the choir. It was 4,500 strong.”

So said Dr Ernest Chew, one of the seven vice chairs of the Singapore Billy Graham Crusade organising committee.

Wait. What? 4,500?

My church, in commemorating its 120th anniversary, already had such a hard time finding 120 people to sing in the choir for the anniversary. Yet, the Singapore Billy Graham Crusade (SBGC) in 1978 managed to pull together a 4,500-strong choir from churches across denominations?

Singapore’s church population was significantly smaller then. How about the food? How did they feed so many people? Jesus didn’t turn up blessing the crowd with five loaves and two fishes.

How about communications, information dissemination? How did they inform everyone when and where to turn up? Where to even stand? They didn’t have mobile phones back then.

I was dumbfounded to hear of the 4,500-strong choir that came together to worship God in our Singapore National Stadium, during SBGC.

A Church united for the Gospel

I recently had the immense privilege of hearing from our elders, a panel of four members from the 1978 organising committee of the SBGC: Rev Canon James Wong (vice chair of the organising committee), Alfred Yeo (general secretary), Jim Chew (counselling chair) and Dr Ernest Chew (vice chair).

I am sure most of us at the sharing, being in our 20s and 30s, will agree it was indeed a privilege to hear the four gentleman recall the heady days of SBGC. It was a peek into Singapore’s church history.

More than 19,600 people surrendered their lives to Jesus at the Singapore Billy Graham Crusade, among them many present church leaders.

To give some context, in May this year, some 30 Christian ministry workers were invited to an intimate forum: Remembering the Crusade – A Church United for the Gospel.

It was an occasion to hear from the generation who had front row seats to the phenomenal lead-up and miracle of the milestone SBGC event that drew a record 337,000 over five days to the National Stadium in December 1978.

Guests could hear the message in six different languages because volunteers distributed more than 8,000 sets of headphones designed for this purpose.

At the conclusion of the Crusade, more than 19,600 people surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ, among them many of our country’s present pastors and church leaders.

It was an event that handed down a legacy of faith.

A picture of unity

At Remembering the Crusade – A Church United for the Gospel, the panel was asked this question: “Tell us, if you can recall, one story or experience at the crusade that struck you as representing a beautiful unity.”

That was how Dr Ernest Chew shared about the 4,500 strong choir.

“Different churches, gathering together for the rehearsals … just imagine the effort!” Dr Chew replied.

Of course there were no mega churches back then in Singapore. The big churches we have in Singapore today came forth through and after SBGC.

So if it was 4,500, it meant many small churches, from different denominations, throwing their hat in the ring. And there were far fewer churches in Singapore back then.

That is indeed a picture of unity.

The unity did not only manifest in the crusade’s choir. In Alfred Yeo’s words, “it was a wonderful time of cooperation. Once a month, we would send out a newsletter to inform pastors of all the activities that were going on. We wanted pastors to be informed first”.

I saw this as an act of honouring those who were serving in leadership.

For Jim Chew: “One of the joys I had while working for the crusade at the Bible House, was to see the excitement and the oneness of the team – the atmosphere day in and day out, doing the logistics and the preparation – we were a team, we all came from different backgrounds and different denominations. But it’s okay, we are one in Christ.”

By this all men will know we are His disciples

Canon James Wong chimed in: ‘It was a supernatural phenomenon. December, as you know, is a rainy month. So many Christians came together to pray for good weather and the Lord, in a wonderful way, manifested His hand, His presence amongst us.

Hearing how volunteers dried the National Stadium chairs, I was reminded how the smallest act of worship contributes to something bigger.

“The rain would come down in the early afternoon for all five days, and then it would stop at 6pm. We would have one hour for volunteers to dry the 55,000 seats in the National Stadium. That brought about unity in a visible way. God’s hand was on the crusade.”

Oftentimes, when we serve God through the mundane, be it stacking chairs or clicking the powerpoint slides, we wonder if what we do is truly significant or meaningful.

As I sat there listening to them share about how volunteers wiped dry the National Stadium chairs, or just did the administrative logistical preparations, I was reminded how the smallest act of worship contributes to something bigger. We honour God with the small and mundane too.

It was evident that the unity, the oneness in spirit, was the picture the panel recalled most readily.

It is also one of the few things that is to distinguish followers of Jesus from the rest of the world: “That we love one another, by this all men will know that we are His disciples, if we have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

One of the best ways to express unity in the body of Christ is when the Church worships Him in one spirit and voice. Will we one day find ourselves worshipping together in one voice, one spirit, to our one God?

About the author

Joey Lam

Joey is learning to be an effective communicator and mobiliser in Interserve. He loves collecting, processing and exchanging puzzle pieces with others in God's Kingdom. His heartbeat is to equip younger ones to fully live out the Gospel wherever God has placed them.