“God put me through 32 years of training”: Billy Graham translator Peter Yap Huat Tuan
On the 40th anniversary of the Singapore Billy Graham Crusade, Salt&Light brings you a series of behind-the-scenes stories.
Seetoh Wing Luk // December 7, 2018, 6:00 am
When asked if he was apprehensive about addressing a crowd of more than 60,000 every night, Yap replied: “It was not me doing the work, but God with His abiding grace working through me. During the course of the crusade l went on my knees every day with my wife and we surrendered ourselves afresh to Him." All photos courtesy of Armour Publishing.
Meeting Peter Yap, the official interpreter for Dr Billy Graham during the Singapore Billy Graham Crusade, turned out to be quite a pleasant revelation.
Like thousands of others, l was impressed by this polished interpreter who stood alongside Dr Graham, confidently matching the renowned evangelist gesture for gesture, intonation for intonation, without so much as a hint of hesitation, and whose commanding voice rang with authority through the packed stadium.
l had impressions of a rather austere and authoritative man, perhaps even a little brisk. The person who shook my hand in the lMPACT office was rather the anti-thesis.
Yap was extremely amiable and warm … disarmingly cordial.
“He confidently matched the evangelist gesture for gesture, intonation for intonation without so much as a hint of hesitation.”
As we talked, it was plainly evident that working with Dr Graham had been an outstanding event in his life.
As an interpreter, he lived with the crusade team at Hyatt Hotel. His polished rendering of the messages belies the fact that there were no extensive preparations. Since Dr Graham did not preach from a complete script, he only discussed the outline of his messages and the Bible verses with Yap. This was done each afternoon before the meetings.
Yap observed: “I think he is the best orator l have worked for, but I was much more impressed by his humility and purity. I think this accounts for his successful ministry.
“He treated me like a brother and I felt completely at ease as we worked and prayed together each day. As his interpreter, I was with him on other occasions besides the evening meetings and l observed that he gave personal attention to everyone he met. He was personally interested in people.”
On several occasions when Dr Graham’s tight schedule did not permit their afternoon meeting, Yap was only given a synopsis of the message as he travelled with the evangelist to the stadium or in the VIP lounge just before they stepped on to the platform.
A God-fearing home
I asked Yap how he acquired his skills in interpretation.
“I think he is the best orator l have worked for, but I was much more impressed by his humility and purity.”
He thought about it for a while, then said: “I think two events led to the kind of ministry I now have and I need to explain them in detail if you are to understand how they shaped my life. Would you permit that?”
Two interesting stories unfolded.
In December 1920, a Chinese couple, Mr and Mrs Yap Lee Chip (Peter Yap’s parents) arrived in Singapore from Fukien, China. They had accepted an invitation to work for their fourth uncle, Yap Chor Keng, who had established the Yap Tiong Hoe Brickworks in Singapore … hopefully, a better alternative to the hard farm life in China.
However, their excitement of starting life anew was marred by the death of their fourth daughter on board the ship. Their three elder daughters had died as infants. But there was hope, for Mrs Yap was again heavy with child. They set up home and began working for their uncle who, with his wife, were dedicated Christians.
Sensing the unhappiness of his nephew and wife, fourth uncle talked to them about the hope that he himself had found in Christ. The young couple turned to God with the kind of devotion and abandonment which only deep sorrow could bring. Four months later, their first son was born.
Though new believers, they decided to dedicate their first male child to God, to tell others about the Christ who had given them peace. So they named him Yap Huat Tuan (法傳, literally translated: To preach Christ in God’s way).
“I am Huat Tuan,” said Yap. “I was brought up in a God-fearing home and I believe that what I am today has a lot to do with my parents. They instilled in me a sense of devotion and reverence for God. My mother reminded me many times that, as my name suggests, I should devote my life to serving God.”
A season of training
Yap discovered his own oratorical gift early in life. He won prizes in speech contests both in Mandarin and English. Later, as a language teacher, he often addressed the school assembly. During those early years, he began to serve as interpreter in Christian meetings but more often from Mandarin to Hokkien.
His parents named him Yap Huat Tuan (法傳, literally translated: To preach Christ in God’s way).
The turning point came in 1946, interestingly through an Irishman named Jimmy Glover.
Glover, a diesel engineer with the Naval Base, was an unusual character. He had a consuming desire to preach the Gospel to the Chinese people. (One of his standing jokes was: “I have a white man’s nose but a Chinese heart.”) His biggest hindrance was that he could not speak Chinese.
One fateful day while distributing tracts at Nee Soon, Glover fell into a huge monsoon drain and was so badly hurt that he had to be hospitalised. There he was visited by a friend, Pastor Daniel Sundrum, who was then the principal of the afternoon session of Victoria Institution.
“l love the Chinese people. I want to preach to them with my lantern slides (what colour slides were called in those days), but no one understands lrish English,” Glover lamented.
“l think I can help you,” remarked Pastor Sundrum. “I know a young man who may be able to work with you.”
This incident started a three-year partnership and a life-long friendship between Peter Yap and Jimmy Glover. Soon after, they went on preaching trips at least twice a week, with Glover at the wheels of a monstrous Naval Base truck, Yap at his side and the “lantern slides” packed in the rear.
For about three years, the two men worked together as itinerant evangelists and covered many parts of Singapore. (Glover was later transferred to work in India and then Hong Kong, where he founded a church called Ebenezer Gospel Hall at Lin Tong Mei, close to the China border.)
“Beginning with Jimmy Glover, God put me through a 32-year training programme.”
“My partnership with Jimmy was the turning point in my life,” Yap recalled. “He was not very big physically but was extremely energetic, had a terrible Irish accent and spoke much more rapidly than Dr Graham.
“Working with him was the best training any interpreter can get. I had to think very fast and match his fiery preaching. I was young then and enjoyed every minute of it though it was tough and tiring work.
“Later, I was more and more called upon to serve as an interpreter. l also worked as a part-time interpreter for the Legislative Assembly (the predecessor of the present Parliament) from 1959 to 1962. After the (1978) crusade, many people asked me how I managed to interpret so smoothly.
“Well, beginning with Jimmy Glover, God put me through a 32-year training programme.”
After the crusade, Yap sent a letter with a crusade photo to Glover, now retired and living in England. It bore these words on the photo: “Dear Brother Jimmy, the young man whom you trained in 1947 became the official interpreter for Dr Billy Graham, God’s prophet.”
Today, Yap, who retired from the teaching profession (first at Poi Eng Public School and then at the Nanyang Girls’ High School) in 1977, is an active layman. He serves as director of the Board of the Singapore Bible College and also on the Singapore Committee of the China Graduate School of Theology in Hong Kong. He estimated that he had made more than 40 ministry trips to Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Four of his five children are married and he has five grandchildren.
(*Editor’s note: This article was written in 1979, when Peter Yap was 57. He passed on in 1985 at the age of 64.)
The gift of a surrendered life
It was nearing dinner time. The afternoon had slipped quickly by. I asked my final question: “Were you not even a little apprehensive speaking before an audience of more than 60,000? How did it feel like?”
“It was not me doing the work, but God with His abiding grace working through me.”
“It was not me doing the work, but God with His abiding grace working through me,” replied Yap. “During the course of the crusade l went on my knees every day with my wife and surrendered ourselves afresh to Him.
“I always ended my prayer with these words: ‘Lord Jesus, I commit myself unto Thee. l surrender my body, my soul and spirit to Thee. Cleanse me with Thy precious blood. Take away anything which is not clean. Make me a suitable instrument. Use me. I am here. Amen.’”
Many thousands saw the result of this man’s surrender.
This article, written in 1979 by IMPACT Magazine‘s associate editor Seetoh Wing Luk, was subsequently included in the annexe of Faith of our Father: The discipleship walk of Peter Yap Huat Tuan. It is republished in Salt&Light with permission.
Some thought Billy Graham interpreted for him!
When Dr Graham arrived at the Singapore Airport, Elder Yap was a part of the special welcome delegation, and he set off to work — interpreting for Dr Graham at the airport welcome, then at the welcome dinner, professional and pastors’ reception, press conference, pastors’ meeting and the dedication service which was attended by 30,000 participants.
One night, Dr Graham requested Elder Yap to tell the story of Noah’s Ark as depicted in the Chinese character for “boat”. It was captivating how he unravelled the ideogram “船” which represented eight persons in a vessel. Dr Graham just stood by his side listening intently to him speaking in Chinese and English.
That was the only time in all of Billy Graham’s meetings around the world when he requested that his interpreter preach.
Due to Yap’s thorough preparation, experience and spontaneity, he interpreted Dr Graham’s messages explicitly, fluently and powerfully. Some Chinese-speaking Christians actually thought that Yap Huat Tuan was the preacher in Mandarin while Dr Graham interpreted in English!
The newspapers reported that 75,000 attended the final-night gathering (at the Singapore Billy Graham Crusade) on 10 December 1978. It was a record number in Christian gatherings in Singapore!
This is an excerpt of the foreword written by Rev Dr Alfred Yeo Chee Heng from the book, Faith of our Father: The discipleship walk of Peter Yap Huat Tuan. It has been republished here with permission from Armour Publishing.