Evangelist Billy Graham’s mission to Hong Kong was beamed by satellite across Asia to an estimated 100 million.
Billy Graham preached five sermons in Hong Kong last November, and an estimated 100 million people from more than 30 countries heard his message each night. If the Hong Kong audience’s rate of 7.2 percent making a commitment to Christ holds up, the church in Asia will have grown by some 7 million.
“In some ways, I feel that I am ready to go to heaven now,” Graham said after the crusade. “I have seen the greatest crusade of my life, which I never dreamed I would see at my age.” Graham turned 72 just prior to the start of the crusade.
A Communist Hong Kong?
The significance of Hong Kong as the venue for this campaign was not lost on Graham and the crusade organizers. “With the approach of 1997, when Hong Kong officially becomes a part of the People’s Republic of China, our work here becomes more urgent,” Graham told CHRISTIANITY TODAY. “The people here are uncertain about the future.” (For more comments from Graham, see “Preaching the Minority View.”) In a brief message to 1,100 ministers, Graham said, “You have a threefold task: to conserve the past, to challenge the present, and to chart the future.”
Local church leaders and missionaries agreed that 1997—especially since the June 4, 1989, massacre at Tiananmen Square—weighs heavily on the hearts of the territory’s small (3%) Christian community, as well as the general population. “We really do not know what to expect, and that has turned many people inward,” noted Young Man Chan, pastor of a large church in Hong Kong and Graham’s interpreter during the crusade. “It is sobering to realize that if a hard-line Chinese government is in power in 1997, people like me and members of my church could face tremendous hardships. That’s why many believers are leaving, and I do not blame them.” Chan also noted that many in Hong Kong have found that their traditional and folk religions offer little comfort.
The uncertain future and an industrious team of volunteers help explain a record turnout for the crusade, despite unexpected heavy rains in Hong Kong. On the final day, 43,000 people packed Hong Kong Stadium’s 29,000 seats and muddy soccer field to hear the American evangelist. Another 30,000 sat patiently in a nearby athletic field watching a 48-set video wall, while thousands pressed against the surrounding fence, blocking traffic in the Causeway Bay section of Hong Kong.
Local church leaders and missionaries say the event far surpassed their expectations. “We were surprised to see such large crowds coming out to the stadium, especially with all the rain,” said Samuel Wong, executive secretary of the crusade.
Pastors from the 890 cooperating churches in Hong Kong received names within 24 hours of each invitation from the 4,950 (average) who responded at each meeting. By the second night of the crusade, many observers were using the word revival to describe what was happening. It was estimated that the Christian population grew by 10 percent as a result of the crusade.
“The Bible Says” Via Satellite
Through Mission World-Asia, the second in a series of regional outreaches (CT, Aug. 18, 1989, p. 48), the Hong Kong crusade used a variety of technologies to share Graham’s message with much of Asia. Several countries received his message live via satellite, while others taped the satellite-delivered message for broadcast the next day.
In India this month and next, more than 66,000 minicrusades in 21 languages will be conducted in homes and auditoriums with videocassette versions of the Hong Kong meetings. In addition, the nation’s only television network will broadcast the crusade in English and Hindi during prime viewing time.
“Technology is not our goal, just a tool,” noted Mission World executive director Robert Williams as he reeled off the staggering logistical accomplishments needed to reach 100 million people per program. “We have more than 125,000 churches throughout Asia actively participating in this effort, with more than 400,000 trained counselors to assist those who respond to the gospel,” Williams said. In many areas, including Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and the Philippines, the crusade was broadcast on national television during the prime viewing hours.
Mission World technicians erected a complete television studio, dubbed “circuit city,” in a parking lot adjacent to the Hong Kong stadium. After interpreters translated Graham’s message, editors worked through the night to produce six different editions of each program, wrapping 55 different musical packages and 30 testimonies around the messages to adapt to the cultures of the various countries receiving the crusade via satellite.
East Greets West
Eastern religions predominate in most of the countries reached by Mission World. Graham’s appeal, according to national church leaders, is his focus on the essentials of the gospel. “The message of the Cross—of a man giving his life for another—is especially effective throughout Asia,” Indian evangelist Robert Cunville said. In the Solomon Islands, 15,000 people who were packed into a small stadium and overflow area cheered when Graham announced that Jesus had risen from the dead. And at one of the satellite sites in Macau—a tiny enclave built on gambling interests—missionaries were ecstatic at the quick response to Graham’s invitation to accept Christ.
Interpreter Chan marveled at how a Western-style event could draw so many people in Hong Kong. “This is a very sophisticated city, and if you take a look at the format, it’s just like a regular evangelical church service, with Bev Shea singing, Cliff Barrows leading the congregation in a hymn, and Dr. Graham preaching,” Chan said. “But the message of the gospel always appeals to those who are spiritually hungry.”
Said one university student on the way out of Hong Kong Stadium, “I have been looking for God for a long time. Tonight I found him.”
By Lyn Cryderman in Hong Kong.
Preaching the Minority View
Billy Graham talks with CHRISTIANITY TODAY about Hong Kong and the future.
Why Hong Kong and why now?
Hong Kong is one of the strategic cities of the world. We held crusades here twice before, and those were well attended. But the 1997 date gives this crusade a greater sense of urgency. The people here are nervous about the future.
Should they be?
Obviously, there are reasons for concern, but I’m not as pessimistic as some are. I feel the future holds great opportunities for Christians in Hong Kong and China.
Many pastors and church leaders have left Hong Kong because of their fears about 1997. What is your advice to those remaining?
That’s up to the individual before God. If I were here I probably would stay, because I believe in the power of the gospel that strongly. And I also believe that as Christians we should expect to suffer. It is our calling to deny self and take up the cross and follow Christ. That’s been the history of the church.
In this region it would seem that two things work against you: the dominance of Eastern religions and the perception of Christianity as a foreign religion. How do you present the gospel to a young Buddhist who views it as an American religion?
I tell them that’s a false impression of Christianity—that Christianity is a small minority, and that America is not a Christian country. I explain that we are a group of people who may live in any country but who will always be a minority.
You’re 72 years old, yet you have a full schedule of crusades ahead. What motivates you to keep going?
The command to go into all the world and proclaim the gospel. Jesus didn’t say to go into all the capitalist world or to go into all the free-market world. He said go into all the world, and that was the deciding factor in going into the communist world a few years ago. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that somebody retired.
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