Christmas

“God’s work in Singapore is far from over”: Jim and Ernest Chew of the Billy Graham Crusade

On the 40th anniversary of the Singapore Billy Graham Crusade, Salt&Light brings you a series of behind-the-scenes stories.

by Karen Tan // December 10, 2018, 12:00 pm

Bill Graham Crusade team

Dr Graham with some members of the Singapore Billy Graham Crusade committee. Seated L-R: Dave Dawson (Asst Director for Counselling/Follow-up, Director of the Singapore Navigators), his wife Mary, Dr Benjamin Chew (Chairman of the executive committee), Dr Billy Graham, and Bishop Chiu Ban It (Chairman, Advisory Council). Standing: Dr Ernest Chew (Vice-Chair), Victor Koh (Chair, Operation Andrew), Rev Alfred Yeo (Gen Sec), Rev Dr Tony Chi (Chair, Ministers), Chan Chong Hiok (Campus Crusade), Prof Khoo Oon Teik (Vice-Chair), and Caleb Loo (Interpreter/Asst). Photo from The Navigators, Singapore.

It is not every day that you get to work alongside both your brother and father, especially when you all have careers in vastly different fields.

One a medical doctor, another a university professor and the third a missionary.

But it was the Heavenly Father’s Kingdom work that saw the three pulling for the same team.

“There was a tremendous sense of revival in the Church – a sense of evangelism, disciple-making and Christian social responsibility.” 

Ernest Chew shares: “My father, the late Dr Benjamin Chew, was the Chairman of the 1978 Singapore Billy Graham Crusade general committee. Jim, my older brother, oversaw the counselling committee. I was the Vice-Chairman of the steering committee. My sister, Ai Lin, and brother-in-law, David Tan, also sang in the crusade choir.” 

The 1978 Singapore Billy Graham Crusade not only brought churches and para churches together, it also knit families together to advance the Gospel.

And for that reason, siblings Jim and Ernest Chew hold the memory especially dear.

“That was extremely very special that we worked as a family,” reminisces Ernest, who is the younger brother of the two.

Billy Graham and Chew Family

Billy Graham (middle) with the extended Chew Family. Ernest is standing in the extreme left, Jim stands on the right of Billy Graham, while their father, Dr Benjamin Chew, stands to his left. Photo courtesy of Ernest Chew.

On the broader national front, the 1978 Billy Graham Crusade brought a change to the spiritual climate in the Singapore Church.

“Busyness doesn’t translate as blessedness. The better thing is our hands must be in this posture of total dependence.”  

Jim, who is the older sibling and a retired missionary, recalls, “Bang on after that, you heard testimony after testimony of people who have come to the Lord and who remain leaders in the church today.”

Ernest, who is also a professor in history, chronicles the impact: “There was a tremendous sense of revival in the church. There was the creation of new churches and the whole movement towards a sense of evangelism, disciple-making and Christian social responsibility. It contributed to the tremendous movement of church growth in Singapore in the 1980s and 1990s.”

An autographed picture of Jim and his wife together with Billy Graham. Jim recalls: “I had 20 minutes with Billy Graham during the crusade and he says, ‘Jim can you please pray for me because I’m going to preach and I’m totally fearful.’ His humility and total surrender struck me.” Photo courtesy of Jim Chew.

God has indeed blessed his Church and prospered the nation of Singapore over the years. The little red dot has moved from third world to first world status in several decades. Singaporeans enjoy one of the highest income per capita in the world, making it one of the wealthiest nations on the economic stage.   

However, Singapore’s affluence can cut both ways and it presents another side to the success story.

“While we thank God for the blessing of the city, there are other issues that have come up, like materialism and the erosion of family values. Busyness doesn’t translate as blessedness. The better thing is our hands must be in this posture of total dependence.  

Ernest Chew, seated on the extreme left and Jim Chew, holding the microphone both served in the 1978 Singapore Billy Graham Crusade.

Ernest Chew (left), Jim Chew (middle) and Canon James Wong (right) served together in the 1978 Singapore Billy Graham Crusade. Photo from Thirst Collective.

“Success can become a barrier. In other words, when you’re so successful, you may think, ‘God’s blessing me’ but you must learn to walk with God day by day,” Jim notes.

Ernest is fast to concur: “With all the material affluence you can also see the evils which come when the Lord is not there. When Mammon is pursued, you can’t serve God. The good things can become a challenge.”

“In Christian leadership you never drop the baton, you always hand over carefully, so that the Lord’s work doesn’t suffer because of gaps.”

Jim weighs in: “The key for the church in Singapore is leadership. It’s extremely important for senior leaders not only to pass the baton, but also mentor, and not just for the next generation but the next two generations.

“Leaders need to strengthen and develop a sense of godly accountability in this whole process from generation to generation.”

Ernest adds: “Another lesson we both learnt from an elder in our church: In Christian leadership you never drop the baton, you always hand over carefully. You make sure that it’s done with care so that the Lord’s work doesn’t suffer because of gaps.

“That means to nurture and mentor leaders. This is a passion we both share.”

Jim, 80, and Ernest, 75, continue to teach in their local churches, taking the opportunity to impart, encourage and engage the younger generation in and out of the confines of their own churches.

Ernest Chew (right) and Alfred Yeo (left) sharing their insights from the 1978 Singapore Billy Graham Crusade with the next generation in a forum, Remembering the Crusade: A Church United for the Gospel, earlier this year. Photo from Thirst Collective.

They were part of the panel that met with the millennial generation earlier this year to share their gleanings and memories from the Singapore Billy Graham Crusade in 1978. The brothers share a hope for the younger Singaporeans. 

“Even though the Church has grown, God is concerned about those who are still not reached. That must be our burden as well.” 

“I believe that the future is as great as the promises of God. We have a God who is the same yesterday, today and forever. That gives me encouragement; the people of faith are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

They are convinced that God’s work in Singapore is far from over.

“Redemption and salvation really means ‘in His fullness’. The Lord is telling us He wants to do a new thing in Singapore,” says Ernest. “Even though the Church has grown over the years from 5% to 10% to 20%, God is concerned about those who are still not reached. So that must be our burden as well.”

Find more stories on the remarkable impact of the Singapore Billy Graham Crusade herehere, here and here, and in Chinese here.

About the author

Karen Tan

Karen was a producer at Asia Business News (Singapore), Bloomberg News and CNBC Asia. She subsequently joined the Far East Organisation to oversee corporate social responsibility. Karen is now Associate Editor at Salt&Light.