A Tribute by the National Council of Churches of Singapore
On 21 February 2018, the Rev. Dr Billy Graham died from natural causes at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, at the age of 99. Billy Graham was arguably the most significant Christian evangelist and preacher in the 20th century. In his 60 years of active ministry, he has preached the Gospel to more than 100 million in person. Through the use of the media of the day – radio, television, satellite and film – Graham has reached millions more across the globe. It is estimated that nearly 3 million have responded to his simple but compelling invitation to ‘accept Jesus into your heart’.

In addition to his work as an evangelist, Graham was also instrumental in inspiring the formation of organizations and institutions which had a global impact such as Youth for Christ, Wheaton College in Illinois, and the Christian publication Christianity Today.

Graham stood up for Christian values. In many of his sermons, he spoke against drugs, sex and violence. Graham refused to visit South Africa during the Apartheid era until the government allowed integrated seating at his events. He was also the first Christian evangelist of note to speak behind the Iron Curtain. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s in the United States, Graham joined the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the fight against discrimination and segregation. Both Graham and King preached to more than 2 million people in New York City alone. King was reported to have said that ‘Had it not been for the ministry of my good friend Dr. Billy Graham, my work in the Civil Rights Movement would not have been as successful as it has been’.

His influence was not limited to the West. In December 1978, Billy Graham conducted five nights of Gospel Rallies at the Singapore National Stadium which attracted 337,000 attendees in total. It was reported that 19,631 people came forward for counseling during the five nights.
The evangelistic rallies took place at a time when the churches in Singapore were already active in evangelism. Some authors have described the 70s as the ‘decade of evangelism’. Mainline denominational churches like the Anglican and Methodist churches as well as Assemblies of God and independent churches and Christian organizations were steadily reaching out to different sectors of the population since the late 1960s. The evangelistic rallies helped spurt the momentum of church growth.
During his visit here, Graham envisioned Singapore’s potential global role, especially for Christianity in Asia. Seen in this context, the evangelistic rallies may in some sense be said to epitomize the work of evangelism and outreach that the churches in Singapore had been faithfully doing. It made visible the unity and collaboration which had already begun among churches in Singapore.
Billy Graham has received many accolades during his lifetime. He has been described as ‘America’s pastor’ and ‘the greatest evangelist since the Apostle Paul’. But it was the late evangelical leader, John Stott who gave him the greatest tribute.
In his reminiscences of the American evangelist, Stott said: ‘If I had to choose one word with which to characterize Billy Graham, it would be integrity. He was all of a piece. There was no dichotomy between what he said and what he was. He practiced what he preached’.
Perhaps this is Billy Graham’s truest legacy.
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