As 1972 wore on, many Korean church leaders looked forward to the next year with anticipation. For some time, these leaders, led by Han Kyŏngjik had been planning for what they hoped would be a shot in the arm for Korean evangelicalism: a Billy Graham revival. In early 1971 some of these leaders and the staff of the Billy Graham Crusade (BGC) had held a preparatory meeting. At that time they had made important decisions regarding the upcoming crusade; tor example, expenses for the event would be shared by the BGC and the Korean sponsors, with the former assuming all the expenses related to inviting and boarding Graham and other visiting speakers and the latter assuming the remaining expenses, such as renting the necessary equipment and facilities.
The official title of this event was “Korea ’73 Billy Graham Crusade” but it was also called Fifty Million to Christ. Its theme was “Find a New Life in Jesus Christ.” In 1973 the crusade took place in Korea in two phases. In the first phase, between May 16 and 27, a team of BGC revivalists (except Graham) held preparatory revivals in Pusan, Taegu, Incheon, Taejŏn, Kwangju, Ch’ŏngju, Ch’unch’ŏn, and Cheju—Korea’s largest cities after Seoul. In the second phase from May 30 to June 3, Billy Graham himself led evangelistic gatherings at the huge Yŏŭido Plaza.
Given Graham’s prominence and the success of the Thirty Million to Christ campaign, the organizers of this crusade had reason to expect a high turnout. Yet probably few of them expected the kind of turnout the crusade actually generated. In the regional campaigns alone, the crusade drew 1.36 million people, 37,000 of whom made the decision to believe for the first time. But even this regional campaign was superseded by the second phase of the crusade.
The Yŏŭido Plaza at the time was a huge tract of open area (slightly larger than one and a half square miles) in Yŏŭido, a Han River islet near the heart of Seoul. Even in densely populated Seoul, this area was kept off-limits from developers so that it could be turned into an airfield in the event of war. Despite its size, however, from May 30 to June 3, 1973, the plaza became the most densely populated area in Seoul, serving as the site of the most successful Billy Graham Crusade to date.
To make this crusade a success, just about all the Protestant denominations in Korea cooperated. Even Park Chung Hee’s government helped out, giving permission to hold the event in the plaza, temporarily rescheduling the bus routes near it, and sending its army construction corps to build a choir section big enough to accommodate a 6,000-interdenominational chorus.
On the first night, the crusade drew an audience of 510,000. Impressed by the turnout and the preparatory work that had gone into the crusade, Graham predicted that the evening would be the first assembly of the largest evangelistic rally in the history of the church. The turnouts of following nights bore out Graham’s prediction. On each of the first four evenings of this five-evening crusade, the turnout averaged about 526,000, and the last night’s service was attended by 1.1 million people. In addition, during each night of the revival, about 4,000 people stayed up all night to pray. In all, 44,000 of the participants made the decision to believe for the first time.
In this crusade, Graham delivered typical revivalistic messages, emphasizing the sinners’ need to repent, to be born again, and to gain true freedom by accepting God as the sovereign of their lives. By and large, his message found a receptive audience. On the other hand, it did run into some criticism. Most liberals, for example, dismissed Graham’s sermons as being too simplistic and formulaic. They concurred with L. George Paik, not a liberal himself, who opined that Graham delivered what amounted to an “Apostles’-Creed” type of sermon. Some of them also criticized Graham for failing to take a more prophetic stance—that is, for not addressing issues like democracy and freedom in Korea.
In contrast to the liberals, evangelicals found no problem in Graham’s messages. But they did feel dissatisfied that the whole crusade had been conducted under the leadership of foreign revivalists. They felt that Korean evangelicals should have been able to conduct such an event on their own, with their own resources, addressing their own evangelistic needs in their own tongue. These two developments—liberals’ criticism of evangelistic campaigns for ignoring sociopolitical issues and the evangelicals’ desire to Koreanize them—and the tension created between them would surface again in subsequent evangelistic campaigns.
After the Billy Graham Crusade, the next massive evangelistic campaign to take place in Korea was Explo ’74, held at the Yŏŭido Plaza from August 13 to 18, 1974.